The Side Hustler’s Guide to Burnout Prevention
7 Ways to Beat Freelancer Burnout and Side Hustle Stress
According to Forbes, freelancers make up 34% of the workforce, and this percentage is expected to increase in the coming years.
If you’re one of those people, kudos to you! Freelancing and side hustles allow you to explore new skills, meet new people, and work with your natural skills. And while taking on a side hustle is exciting, it is time-consuming and makes you more susceptible to burnout.
Your beloved side hustle could make you sick if you’re not careful.
I started my side hustle business as a way to gain a skill that could sustain me in an unstable work environment. But it’s hard work, and after a year, it finally took a toll on my body and mind.
I got very sick, and after many doctor’s visits and medications that didn’t work, I was finally told I was overstressed, and my body was using up all my stress hormone reserves. I was overdoing it and not sleeping enough.
When you’re overstressed and under-rested, your hormones become imbalanced, and your body starts to break down. Here are some symptoms you could experience:
- Migrains & headaches
- High blood pressure
- Joint pain
- Constant fatigue
- Trouble sleeping or needing too much sleep
- Irritability and/or increased aggression
- Weight gain and all the free prizes that come with that
- Rashes and excema
- Anxiety and panic attacks
Your health is your wealth
If you’re not healthy enough to work, you won’t make any money on your day job or side hustle.
So what can you do to prevent side hustle stress?
Be aware of the symptoms of burnout and manage the following 7 steps to keep your body healthy and your brain productive so you can manage your side hustle like a boss.
1. Make sure your side hustle reflects your natural skills.
Does the work you do in your side hustle business reflect your most favored and confident skill set?
If not, you’re in for burnout.
Find a side hustle that reflects your passions and values.
Freelancing writing isn’t the only type of side hustle you can have.
Do you love meeting and talking with new people? Why aren’t you driving for Uber or Lyft?
Do you love dogs and kids? Why not start a dog walking business in your neighborhood or babysit for your friends and neighbors?
Are you an introvert and a whiz with social media platforms? Why not become an online VA?
Do you create trinkets, artwork, or physical products? Why not open an Etsy store?
I love to write, learn, and teach so naturally blogging and researching online is my side hustle. It complements my skills as a lifelong learner.
Pick a side hustle that uses your natural skills, so you’ll enjoy doing it.
2. Be intentional with your time
A side hustle means more demands on your precious time. Just because you have a business, doesn’t mean you get extra hours in a day.
You still get 24 hours, 8 of which you need to sleep, and another 8 is required for your day job. So budget your time wisely.
Set a schedule around your most productive periods
Are you a lark and love early mornings? Schedule your most important work at the beginning of the day. Things are in reverse if you’re a night owl and love late nights.
Figure out when you do your best work. If you have a day job during times of peak energy, don’t worry, you probably have a second energy boost later in the day.
I’m a lark and happiest when I wake up early. In fact, I have two peak times. 10am-12pm and 7-9pm. My day job schedule shifts between nights and days so when I’m working days, my side hustle gets my attention at night between 7-9pm. And vice versa when my day job becomes a night job.
It may take a few weeks to figure out when your peak times are. Keep a daily mood journal to see when you have your most energy.
Once you figure out when you work best, always time block your tasks. Set a timer for a reasonable amount of time (10, 20, or 30 minutes) to work on tasks. And you get bonus points if you batch your tasks.
Be realistic with your schedule
We’ve already allotted 16 hours of your day for the day job and sleeping, that leaves you with 8 hours left to work on your side hustle.
Weekends or days off not counted, be realistic on how many hours in the day you want to dedicate to your small business.
Downtime with the kids, walking the dog, spending time with a significant other or friends is just as important as managing your business. Even if you can only budget 30 minutes of side hustle time Mon-Fri, that’s better than trying to “wing it” with your schedule.
Planning a realistic schedule can sometimes mean that you give up certain things like your favorite TV show, a nap, or even a whole project. Taking on too much just puts you on the straight path to burnout.
Which brings me to the next point.
3. Learn to say no
This is a golden rule of life - clear boundaries.
Learning to say no helps you stay focused on the work that is most meaningful to you.
Remember when I said to be realistic with your schedule? Well, saying no helps you stay real with your time and makes sure the projects you’re saying yes to are worth the time and effort.
It’s okay if you have to say no to potential clients, just be professional about it. And bonus points to you, if you can refer them to someone whom you know, could better serve them.
Saying no doesn’t stop at your business
You need to also learn to say no to family and friends that put demands on the times you’ve scheduled to work on your business. But be nice, let your family and friends know when you plan to work so they know when to leave you alone.
And if you have people in your life that don’t support you, maybe it’s time to rethink the relationship.
4. Automate and Outsource
Don’t forget that you can outsource and automate some of your tasks. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
Take a look at all the tasks you do for your business, are there any tasks that could be automated?
Perhaps you can use a tool like Asana or Airtable to keep track of your work schedule and send you reminders.
You can also automate your money by using Quickbooks Self Employed (aff link) to manage your bookkeeping or use a freelancer-friendly bank like Spark by Capital One to keep all your money in one place.
For a few dollars a month, you can take back your time and automate some of your business tasks.
Carrie Smith from CarefulCents.com taught me this one.
Make a list of all your tasks and take note of the ones you can’t do and the ones you don’t like doing.
The tasks that you can’t and won’t do are the ones you want to outsource.
Personally, I outsource my WordPress management troubles to Grayson over at iMarkInteractive.com. And very soon, I’ll be outsourcing my social media management to one lucky virtual assistant.
There is no point working on things that you don’t have the skill for or you don’t like doing. It takes away from your precious time and causes you more stress.
5. Stop comparing your business to others
This one is a big deal. If you start comparing your business to someone else's business, you’re clouding your own goals and values.
You’ll start thinking, “maybe I should be doing that?” or, “Wow, I need to spend money on that!”
While it’s good to see what the competition is doing or find inspiration for your own stuff, it’s not healthy for you or your business to start comparing your milestones with theirs.
Your business goals are your own, and you need to stick to them.
6. Hang out with a group of like-minded side hustlers
Find a Facebook or Slack group of people who do what you do. Look for one with freelancers, side hustlers, entrepreneurs, solo biz owners, or a group that resonates with you. You may even find in-real-life groups that get together from time to time to talk business.
Just be sure it's a group that helps out and raises people up, not tear them down or talk badly about the competition.
It’s so important for you to have a sounding board with others who understand what you do and are going through the same things. You can get ideas for your business, share ideas, offer help and get help from others who have been in the same situations. I don’t have enough room in this post to explain all the stress relieving benefits of being part of a group that you can resonate with.
7. Sleep, Fuel, Exercise!
The most important things you can do to prevent side hustle burnout is making sure you get enough sleep, fueling your body with the right foods, and getting daily exercise.
Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep.
Find out how much you need by keeping a diary of how much you sleep and how you feel after waking up. I need anywhere between 6.5 to 8 hours of sleep, but not more or less than that because then I’ll feel terrible.
Fuel your body with healthy snacks and beverages.
I get it. I love coffee more than anyone else in the world! But I have to stay away from it after 11 am while working a day schedule or else I won’t sleep. Make sure you’re drinking ample amounts of water. Juices and sodas don’t count because the sugars in most drinks will only make you crash an hour later.
Exercise, even if it’s a 20-minute walk or bike ride. Do it every day.
Depending on the type of work you do, you may be sitting most of the time. You want to keep your joints supple so keep them moving.
Don’t take my word for it
Here’s what other professional freelance writers say about burnout
Victoria Heckstall is a veteran freelance business blogger, so she’s no stranger to recognizing when a burnout is about to happen:
“I know I’m in burnout when I am just not motivated to work. I may experience a migraine and overall tiredness. When that happens, I try to focus on one of my other money making ventures. For example, if I’m burned out with business writing I’ll take time off from that and concentrate on my lifestyle blog or work on social media projects for my clients. I try to prevent getting burnt out by taking breaks throughout the day. I try not to sit at my computer for extended periods of time. I also try to go out and do something fun at least two weekends a month. I find that most of my burnouts come from constantly working and not taking the time to enjoy fresh air outside my home.”
Victoria says it perfectly. To prevent burnout, you need to break up the constant work with fun things to do and movement. Especially if your job keeps you sitting at a desk. This is why scheduling downtime is just as important as scheduling work time.
Stefanie Sears a veteran freelance writer and vlogger who explains how being a perfectionist can work against you:
“My perfectionism is attached to my work. I never feel like it is ready or good enough to submit or publish. I always have to read it, edit, and revise it over and over again to the point where I end up overthinking everything and this just makes me anxious, especially when deadlines are looming. It’s exhausting and often makes me question if freelance writing is something I should be doing if I feel this way. However, I’m trying to incorporate a new way of thinking...I need to give in my best quality of work, but I also need to dish them out quickly to work better. It’s helping me to have more confidence in my work and not stress too much about it. My writing ends up being good and making everyone happy, so there’s really nothing to fear.”
Stefanie makes a good point. Overthinking your work and trying to make it “perfect” will put you on the straight and narrow path to anxiety and burnout. As a side hustler, you need to set limits on how you do things. Don’t over think your projects and stick to a time block.
As a writer, I won’t edit something more than 3 times, and I’ll take day-long breaks between editing sessions so I’m not too close to the content when I edit. Sometimes my work isn’t perfect, but I won’t stress over it because I’m on to the next project almost immediately.
What are you doing to prevent side hustle burnout?
Your health is your wealth! Taking on a side hustle as a freelancer, Uber driver, dog walker, babysitter, or Etsy shop owner can be rewarding.
No matter what you do, freelancing and side hustling makes demands on your life force that could lead to burnout and ill health. But you can prevent it by managing your time and taking care of your body and relationships.
When you notice yourself burning out, what do you do to start feeling better?