There are a few in the online freelancer crowd who might suggest that it’s best to always say yes. Yes, even if it’s not my specialisation. Yes, even though I can’t fit it in. Yes, even though I haven’t had a day off in more than a week. Some of these points are perhaps debatable to some extent, but I’m here to discuss the latter of these three examples.
Freelancer burnout is common: it’s difficult for us to separate work and home life when we work at home. Especially at the beginning when work can be scarce, we can get into a habit of putting work above everything and anything. I’ve found this to be true, especially as work started to pick up after the first few months in business. Every time I’ve attempted to slow my workflow, I’ve faced feelings of guilt or panic. What if they don’t contact me again? What if they think I’m lazy or incapable of working under pressure? Do I really need a break, or could I wait a few more days?
The answer to all these questions is: a good client understands rest is essential to a high standard of work. We do not, in any profession, produce our best work after several days on end of working at full capacity. I speak from experience. I used to work whenever I was asked to until a very good client of mine once sent me a project after I’d worked for 9 days in a row. This project was interesting, and I had a good relationship with the client, so I said yes. I didn’t want to let them down. After I had returned the file, the client asked me if everything was okay. She asked if I needed more time because, although there were no major issues, it wasn’t what they usually expected from me. I apologised, explaining that I had been working a lot, and reviewed the text. The client assured me that if I ever needed to reject a project or extend a deadline, they would understand.
I was lucky in this case. I should not have taken that project, or I should have done so by agreeing on a later deadline. At the time, I thought I would be letting them down if I said no, but I did no one any favours by burning myself out. Another client may have decided not to work with me again, but my good relationship with them prior to this project saved me.
Now, almost two years later, I’m learning the value of rest again. Although I haven’t worked for more than 5 days in a row since this incident, I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks: moving to a new house, work, and issues with electricity supply in my new apartment have all contributed to a schedule that has kept me extremely busy. I needed a break and with family in Barcelona, I was lucky enough to be able to spend the weekend with them, away from work. The value of this was twofold: I got to spend time with friends and family I haven’t seen in a while, and I could not, even if I were tempted, look at my emails, calendar, diary, or schedule. Complete, mandatory mental disconnection.
While I understand that there are other factors which cause some freelancers to accept any and all projects, I think turning down work because we are at full capacity is important. Not only for our own wellbeing but for the quality of our work. If creating high-quality translations (or work in any field) for happy clients but on our own terms is the goal, shouldn’t our quality of life be a major consideration in this, given that it directly affects the quality of our work?
This is why, in the last year or so, I’ve pushed to be stricter on my 5-day limit. It benefits me and my clients, and anyone who comes into contact with this grumpy pre-coffee translator in the early hours of the morning.
Do you have an anti-burnout plan? Let me know!