What to do when you're overwhelmed by freelance work

It starts with a trickle. A few too many tasks, a little too much work on the to-do-list. Then, it all keeps piling up until the sink breaks. From time to time, every freelancer gets overwhelmed.

What to do when you're overwhelmed by freelance work

When busy periods come, espresso shots and chocolate-covered coffee beans aren’t enough to keep your sanity. In order to survive the storm, you need to change your approach to work. Here is what to do when you’re overwhelmed by freelance work, as told by SCK Group.

Put things in perspective

That prospective client wants those samples now, your old client wants that project done yesterday, and those invoices were due a month ago. Falling a little behind can get frustrating, but, unless you are running a nuclear disarmament program, it won’t cause the end of the world.

More completed projects mean more money and opportunities, but they often mean more stress as well. So, instead of being more productive, you end up being swamped and feeling panicky. Are your shoulders up to your ears? Relax them. Everything is okay. You will get it done.


Looking at a massive wall of to-dos is frightening. To move ahead, you need to break down your to do list and stop focussing on the bigger picture. This will make it easier to stop looking at every small job you need to do and get a clearer picture of your immediate tasks.

Where can you find a little give in your life? Can you rain-check tea with that friend? Can you delay updating your website? You don’t have to be the world’s most talented freelancer with a side career as a professional triathlete, a packed social calendar, and a perfect shining kitchen floor. Sometimes, it’s okay to let some of your “musts” become “shoulds”.

Categorise the items on your to-do-list according to their priority. For instance, you can put one check next to items that are not so important, two checks next to items that can wait for a bit, and three checks next to tasks that should be done ASAP. You will be surprised how few items deserve three checks when you weigh items comparatively.

Get organised

By making your to-do list even more specific, you can further reduce stress. Organise items into bite-sized chunks. Add a deadline for each item. For instance, you can write “Call Tracy by 5:00 Wednesday” instead of simply writing “Call Tracy.” You will be able to order “due” tasks first and feel more in control if you eliminate ambiguity.

No matter how busy you are, try sticking to the 45/15 rule. Take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of work. This will help you battle both procrastination and exhaustion.

Alternatively, you can try out the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer to 25 minutes (one 25 minute interval is one Pomodoro). Focus on your work until the timer rings. Then, take a 5-minute break. When you complete four Pomodoros, take a 15 to 30-minute break.

If you are working from home, you may have a hard time staying productive. It’s easy to get distracted by pets or your Instagram feed when your bedroom is your office. If you are not able to get much work done at home, consider a rented office.

Outsource and delegate

You may hate to admit it, but you can’t do everything all the time, all by yourself. Everyone needs help sometimes. If you have been freelancing for a while, you probably have many contacts in the freelance world. Outsourcing some of your work to a friend may be a good idea. They may also be able to offer you some advice on how to handle a contract.

If you are used to doing your own invoicing and accounting, hiring an accounting firm that works with self-employed professionals, such as the SCK Group, can make your life much easier.

When it comes to low-priority projects, you can always ask one of your more flexible clients for an extension. As for chores and errands, ask your partner if they can handle the laundry this week. Don’t picture yourself as an island. When you are overwhelmed and stressed out, don’t be afraid to reach out to others. In general, people are overwhelmingly supportive and kind, just be sure to return the favour in the future.

Learn how to say no

When you are a freelancer, saying no is hard. You may feel like you are letting your clients and yourself down. But, saying yes all the time will lead you to the brink of burnout. Here are a few ways you can learn how to say no:

Say no to perfectionism

  • Stop trying to learn everything about a certain work-related topic.
  • Stop spending hours and hours on a blog post because you feel like something is missing.
  • Stop tweaking your website or portfolio.
  • Just do it. You can tweak and learn as you go.

Say no to clients

Say this out loud: There will always be more clients. It’s true, no matter how hard it can be to believe it. Chances are, you have some clients you know in your gut aren’t good for you. When push comes to shove, start with them.

Say no to projects

Ideas are tempting, and they come so often. A new ebook, a new course, a new service, a new revenue stream. There is always so much more you could do. You may be thinking:

  • It will help me reach new clients.
  • Tracy will hate me if I say no.
  • If I don’t do it now, someone else will.

But, when you have too much on your plate, you can’t put your best stuff out there. Say no now, so that you’ll be able to give it your all later.

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