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Avoiding Burnout: The Working After Hours Rulebook

We’ve all been there. Those situations where there is too much to do and not enough time to get it done. It’s a common problem in just about all fields, but it seems especially so for freelancers. Because, when you’re working solo, everything rests on your shoulders.

Therefore, the temptation to work after normal business hours is strong. And while it can result in making some serious progress on your workload, it can also stress you out.

Working when seemingly everyone else is relaxing can feel a bit unavoidable. Maybe it’s just part of the lifestyle we’ve chosen for ourselves. Even so, if we’re going to do this, it would be helpful to set some ground rules. This way, we can stay on the good side of that fine line between productivity and exhaustion.

With that in mind, here are some basic guidelines to follow when it comes to burning that midnight oil:

Do Extra Work Only When You Have To

The working life of a freelance designer is very much feast or famine. Sometimes you have so much work piled up that you may need a small miracle to get it all done. But there are also times where you’ll be sitting there with virtually nothing to do.

The funny thing is that, even when you don’t have a million things going on, it can still feel like you just have to be productive. Don’t fall into that trap. Take advantage of the slow times to do things outside of work.

Making yourself sit through work sessions purely out of a sense of duty is actually counter-productive. Instead, give yourself the freedom to get out and have some fun. When your workload gets insane again, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to take on the challenge.

Man sitting in a mountain range.

Set Aside Specific Times to Work

Just as you have a daily work schedule, you should also do the same when it comes to overtime. Otherwise, you may find yourself having to decide whether to binge-watch your favorite show or fire up the laptop and write some code.

While that may seem like a harmless decision, having some downtime for your brain is important. Wrapping yourself up in work 24/7 is unhealthy and can lead to an eventual burnout.

The healthier alternative is to schedule in some time to tackle that extra work. Pick a time that’s relatively quiet and allot yourself a specific number of hours to get it done. For instance, you might set aside a weekend morning between 8:00 – 11:00 am. This way, you know when you’re going to work and when you’re going to stop.

Just having that schedule in mind can help you better separate work from the rest of your daily life.

Calendar

Define Clear Goals

Whether you’re working within or without of your normal business hours, having a specific goal or progress benchmark in mind will give you purpose. It may even be more important when putting in extra time, as you’ll be able to more easily walk away from the computer once you have accomplished your goal.

This will also help you avoid the temptation of trying to fit too many tasks into an extra work session. Since you’re not working within the parameters of a typical workday, you might attempt to take on a variety of projects. Even worse, the possibility of multitasking. Feverishly switching between apps or browser tabs during what’s supposed to be your “downtime” won’t help you relax.

Another item to be aware of in this context is email. We live in a world where we can be reached 24/7, but it’s vital to set boundaries. Answering, or acting upon, messages you receive after hours can be stressful and lead to the expectation that you’re always going to jump the moment something comes in. It’s not the ideal precedent to set.

Dartboard

A (Sometimes) Necessary Evil

Putting in those extra hours is something that just about every web designer will have to deal at one time or another. How you feel about that really depends on your personality. Some designers love the opportunity to sit in a quiet room with no distractions and just get things done. To others, it may feel more like a prison sentence.

Regardless of your feelings, having the right approach will help you make the most out of the time you spend.