Burnout: The Slow Killer

Burnout is the killer of so many freelancers and small development teams. There comes a point when you are freelancing or working on a small team when you get pushed to your limits. 80 hour work weeks and tight deadlines can be a pressure cooker for a burnout.

Avoiding burnout has been one of my biggest struggles. It can be difficult to have a good work-life balance when you want to push yourself or your work further. For me, days can have no specific start time and no specific end time. This can be liberating at first but frustrating over time. Getting up not knowing how many hours you’re going to put in that day can be stressful. You might have a 4-6 hour work day or a 12-14 hour day depending on what comes in or what needs to be done. Avoiding burnout for me has been an issue with making sure I have a regimented schedule.

One of the best things I have done to combat burnout is to make a strict schedule for my work week. For example, I set my mornings for every day of the week. From 9am to 10am I check my email, our company’s project management tool (Basecamp), and check in with any clients that need it. From 10am to 2pm I have a solid block of work. That means no email checking, no social media, nothing. A solid block to push things forward is key to making sure I still feel productive during a work day. From 2pm – 4pm I check my email again, schedule my calls, and update our Basecamp with I completed. Then finally from 10pm – 11pm I write my blog posts, reflections on the day, read, and do any final team check-ins before the start of the next day. Having this schedule makes my day seem more rigid. It allows me to draw some lines on when I am working and when I am not. This has really helped me to avoid burnout.

The feeling of burnout often comes with being overworked with little to no recognition for your work. I love what I do, I love making websites, but when I spend 80 hours in one week on a project and a client wants to change everything we did it becomes disheartening. This is where the burnout feelings can arise. Unless you manage your schedule better, this feeling will not go away quickly. To help avoid burnout, set a fixed schedule and stick to it. Also, make sure you do better at leading your client feedback sessions. Getting poor feedback day after day can really bring you down. Either negative feedback or not useful feedback both can take away the joy I get from coding. This is where managing your clients better can also help you to avoid burnout.

When it comes to managing your clients, there are a million ways to do it. The key to making sure they are happy and you are happy is to over-communicate. I have touched on this before but it is a crucial point. Over-communicate with your clients, they will thank you for it. When you go into a meeting with a client, have a planned meeting structure and talking points. Run the meeting to show the client you are confident and the right person for the job. When you look for feedback on designs, or version 1 of the website, make sure you tell the client what sort of feedback you are looking for. Do you want them to critique the design, the UI/UX, the hover effects, the image placement, the colors? Make sure you tell them, “We are gathering feedback today for the blog post styling and page layout. We placed the hero image up top with the blog post title over it because…” Tell a client why you made your decisions and the logic behind it before you ask for feedback. When you send an open ended email for feedback you will get all sorts of non-helpful responses. This causes stress and causes you to feel like this client may not be easy to please when in reality they did not get enough direction from you. To help avoid burnout, make sure you take care of your clients and have a professional and respectable relationship with them. If you establish this, avoiding burnout will be much easier because your clients are generally happy with you and your work. Getting that positive feedback from clients keeps me going. When they love the work it makes me happy. This all helps me to avoid the burnout of running my own business.

When it comes down to it, avoiding burnout is all about knowing what makes you tick. If you can stop some of your constant daily stressors, you can help to avoid a burnout. Make sure you manage your clients and your time well, this will have a huge impact on your overall attitude towards your work. We all feel burnt out at times, the key is to recognize why you are feeling burnt out and what you can do to combat it if you want to keep doing what you are doing. It is a hard task but it is necessary if you are your own boss or trying to start a business. You need to draw lines in the sand and have structure within your day, this will help make sure you are set to succeed in the long run in good times and bad.