How busy is too busy?
Look, I'm not trying to brag (ahem), but I have a lot of business. Too much business, honestly. I'm overworking myself -- yet I just can't stop continuing to want to take opportunities.
At some point, as a freelancer in any field, it becomes easy to overbook yourself. It's hard to estimate exactly how much time a job will take, and if you're high off an easy job, you'll be lulled into that false easy feeling. Getting a job only takes a few hours; but executing takes days, maybe weeks.
I feel annoyed by clients and tired by inquiries. So how do I get out of this craziness, without being bad-tempered, working myself to depression, or losing out on my life? Also, how can I keep myself at a more reasonable pace of work for the long term?
Here's a few ways that I'm trying to figure it out; these thoughts might be good for anyone out there feeling a little overwhelmed.
Seeing burnout coming
You feel like life is becoming repetitive, cyclical; you keep working but work just doubles. You're sleeping less, eating weird takeout foods at bizarre hours, and your eyelids are starting to twitch (I had to google if that was okay). Been there before?
There's a strange joy to it all, too, isn't there -- the feeling of a night of progress, and the knowledge that your work is going to pay off in the long term. But when that little bit of joy starts to feel far away, the burnout is coming very soon.
The best thing you can do when you feel it arriving is to immediately back away from future commitments. Stand down, even if things are offered to you. If they are too juicy to refuse, make it a must to stretch out the timeline. Do not prioritize that opportunity, I don't care how big it is. We're talking about the long term here -- you want this to work for years, right?
I overestimate my energy constantly. Try to be a little more generous. I know you need to get things done, but the first step to getting your breath back is to slow down a little.
Step away, for a bit
I know you have way, way too much work to step away. But if it's so urgent that it needs to be done now, you shouldn't be reading this. So if you are, then it means you're OK, at least for twenty minutes. Calm down a little. I know you want everything done now, but it doesn't have to be that way.
A walk is a great cure. It's short, so you won't have time to get worried that you're not doing work. It will break your train of thought a little, which can shake you into new solutions. And most of all, it will restore a little bit of your wonder at life; the trees, birds, little things. You have to have these in your life, too; not just pushing all the time.
When you come back home, jump on a project if you had a brainwave. If you're feeling a little bit more relaxed, then sit down and don't work just yet. It's a good time to reorganize yourself and schedule things out a little.
The importance of scheduling
I'll tell you something: I'm a freak about being organized. I have a rolling to-do list every day, and things just carry on and on and on. I have calendars, and Trello, and Slack, and Asana, etc, in different projects and different places. It all helps.
But right now, I don't need to read the to-do list for my new WP plugin, or pore over the documentation. It's more important to schedule my time off.
You need to schedule this too, because you need to mentally know that a break is coming, a space where you can know you've done enough to stop for a bit. It can be a whole day (if you're that lucky), or just four or five dedicated hours in the next few days. Block that time off for yourself. Do it.
Then, make a list of the projects you have now, in priority of urgency and difficulty, and plot them over the next few days. If you're like me, you'll find that you might be trying to do much too fast, and consciously spreading it out a little helps to ease your anxiety. Or maybe this'll scare you more. Sorry.
Coming back to the ground
Honestly, for me, the writing of this blog was a therapeutic enough activity that it took me out of the worried state I was in, into a more reflective place. That's all you really need to give yourself in order to manage the danger of burnout. Not that I go somewhere and forget about the work. No -- instead, it feels like it gets its proper mental place. Perspective.
Work isn't everything, but it's normal to overdo it now and again. Re-establish yourself and your boundaries, draw up a schedule where you have a space to breathe, and then get to work again, healthily, for the long term.