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Most new freelancers wonder how they will get enough clients to really make a living. Few of them realize that, once you have built a business and shown that you have in-demand skills, it is easy to find yourself with too much work.
If you’re in that place, you know what I mean.
Having enough work is a great feeling. Having too much work is not.
Freelancers are hustlers, so all work seems welcome.
But when it stops being a net positive in your life, you have too much work.
Working as a freelancer is supposed to offer freedom, flexibility, and a great work/life balance. If you are instead drowning in a to-do list that never seems to get any smaller, you’re probably feeling more stressed than you ever did at your day job.
Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. In this article, we’ll talk about how you can tell if you have too much work, the consequences of continually overworking yourself, and what to do instead.
Read on if you are desperate for a break.
5 Signs you have too much work
Often, freelancers don’t have the luxury of delegating tasks to coworkers or taking paid vacation days. And it can be difficult to turn down new clients when you aren’t sure when you’ll get another referral. Especially early in your freelancing career, it can be hard to know if you are just busy or if you truly have too much work.
Here are 5 signs that you have too much work to handle:
1. You aren’t productive
With too much work to do and not enough hours in the day, you may start skipping sleep in order to fit more billable tasks in. Or your brain just might turn off because you are overwhelmed. Either way, too much work can lead your productivity to a screeching halt. If you are unable to focus on what needs to get done, you have too much work.
2. Your support network notices
As entrepreneurs, we all know that it takes hard work and sometimes long hours to get a freelance business rolling. However, if your family, friends and the people who know you best start to notice that your job is taking over, it’s important to listen to them. When they tell you that you’re sacrificing relationships for your job, you have too much work.
3. Your body protests
When you can’t sleep, your eating habits change, you are continually sick, your energy level is low, or your body and mind feel off in any number of other ways, you have too much work. You know your body, and your body knows when it is time to slow down. Don’t ignore those signs.
4. Work feels like a burden
Odds are, you got into freelancing because you are passionate about what you do, and you’re great at it. It’s a lot of fun to put good out into the world and change industries one project at a time. Everyone has off days, but if you have completely lost that sense of passion and your work just feels like a chore, you probably have too much work.
5. You never have a day off
Freelancing gives you the option to work from anywhere—but sometimes that means that you also work everywhere. Taking your laptop on all of your vacations, constantly answering emails on your phone at your kid’s t-ball game and working every weekend without fail are all signs that you have too much work.
How too much work can affect your health
Stress and burnout have real consequences that we are starting to see as a society. It’s tempting, when you are building your own business, to ignore the signs that you have too much work.
Too much work can actually impact your health in ways that you may feel for years to come. In 2016, the World Health Organization published a study that showed that working for more than 55 hours/week can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
That’s not all. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone was dealing with more stress and higher workloads, the world suffered a secondary mental health crisis.
It’s simple. Too much work leads to a lot of stress, which impacts your physical and mental health in negative ways. Over the long term, this is dangerous and unsustainable.
5 Ways to combat too much work
Too much work is more common among freelancers than you might think. A 2021 Forbes survey revealed that about two thirds of freelancers have enough or too much work.
So what can you do about it?
It is absolutely vital, not only for your physical, mental and emotional health, but for the health of your business, that you watch for the signs that you have too much work, and take steps to change your situation.
Here are 5 ways to combat too much work:
1. Take care of yourself
Self care may be a buzzword these days, but taking time out for exercise, healthy eating habits, and disconnecting are all good ways to preserve your health and sanity.
Put a lunch break on your calendar so clients can’t schedule meetings during that time, set regular working hours, whether that’s in the daytime or evening, and don’t work when you are off the clock. Preserving that personal time for both you and your loved ones will boost your productivity and help you feel like yourself again.
2. Raise your rates
If you have too much work, odds are that you aren’t really charging what you are worth. Raising your prices is a natural way to filter out the clients that aren’t worth your time.
For some reason, raising rates is something that a lot of freelancers struggle with. It can be scary to negotiate with businesses that are usually larger and have more resources than you.
Try to remember: if you have too much work, it’s a strong sign that you have valuable skills. If clients aren’t willing to pay you enough to have a better work/life balance, there are more where they came from.
3. Hire someone
If you find that your skills are so in-demand that you have more work than you can handle, you might be able to grow your business by bringing on another worker.
Many freelancers outsource extra work to someone else. You can often find someone with less experience than you to take on some of the easier tasks for a lower rate.
Of course you will make less money in the short run if you have to pay someone else, but the ability to take on more clients without taking on too much work personally gives you the chance to scale and grow your income over time.
4. Invest in technology
There is only one of you, and you only have so much time in a day, which can limit the amount of work you take on.
Luckily, smart people have developed all kinds of freelance tools to help business owners be more productive in less time. If you have too much work to handle, consider putting some of your income towards software that will tackle administrative tasks like billing, scheduling, project management and more.
It may take some of your previous time to learn how to use the program, but eventually, you will have a smooth-running process that gives you more time for the self-care I mentioned.
5. Ask for help
Too much work is a burden for anyone. Don’t be ashamed if you can’t handle everything yourself. Reach out to your family and friends if you need childcare, someone to make a grocery run, or just a listening ear.
Reach out to your peer group (Millo has a great one!) if you need ideas on how to run your business more efficiently or if you are unsure if your difficult client is worth the hassle.
It’s hard to be vulnerable in that way, but odds are, the people around you are willing and eager to help you when everything is just too much. And always, if pressure is mounting and you feel that your mental health is at risk, know that there are resources available—here in the US, you can call 988 if you have thoughts of harming yourself.
I often joke that too much work is a good problem to have.
While this is true in a way—we all need to pay the bills—there comes a breaking point where too much work is really just too much to handle.
If your productivity is suffering, personal relationships are taking a hit, your health is suffering, or you are starting to feel like your freelance work is a little too much like the job you quit in the first place, you have too much work, and it’s time to make a change.
Take back the freedom of freelancing by adding some tools to your portfolio, outsourcing, raising your rates, or just saying no! It feels good to have a lot of clients competing for your services, but there is real power in knowing your limits, setting boundaries and choosing projects that are truly fulfilling for you.
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