February Means Tired Freelancer Brains

There’s another month in the can, and boy, I don’t mind telling you–I’m a little tired. February, despite being relatively short, was a very busy month for me. In fact, I usually try to schedule vacations in February.  In the past, it worked out because my webdesign for authors and publishers business was slower at the start of the year, but for the last couple of years, there hasn’t been much of a “start of the year” drop-off. The result is that my brain feels a little overcooked, and things I usually enjoy doing, work-wise, have lost some luster.  Fortunately, we’re planning an extended trip overseas in a couple of months, so I should have some recovery time. That brings me to today’s short blog topic: burnout and time management for freelancers.

One of the hardest parts about being self-employed is learning where to draw the line between your life and the job. It’s entirely possible to work ten or twelve hour days for weeks or even months at the time. The problem is, this is not a sustainable practice. You’ll end up in really bad shape, with back problems or mental health ones at a minimum.  Taking weekends is a minimum, and instituting work hours for yourself is highly recommended

One of the ways I combat this is by planning out my schedule half hour by half hour on my Google Calendar. This helps make sure I keep rolling the ball forward for all my current projects, although it’s not entirely great for flow (sometimes I like to spend more than 30 minutes coding. Like, uh, today in which I coded without a break for 5 hours.  Not healthy.  But productive!). Still, I make myself stick to the schedule. At first, it feels weird blocking out time on your calendar to spend time with the family and eat meals, but I actually find it takes a lot of mental strain off to have a device tell me what to do (based on my own orders, of course). Google Calendar becomes my asshole boss with a heart of gold. Is it five o’clock?  Go play with your son! Otherwise, get your ass back to work.

It doesn’t work if something breaks and needs urgent fixing at 8 PM, but I’m much less likely to burn out if I regulate myself this way.  Of course, it also means less money in my pocket and maybe some decline in client satisfaction as I’ve been saying “no” more often this year.  After nearly ten years of doing this full time, I think I can safely say that there is no perfect time management solution, but we learn our own rhythms and schemes as we go.

So what do you use to manage your time?  Pomodoro?  Inbox Zero?  What strategies do you put in place to keep yourself productive, but balanced?

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