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There are times work passes by calmly and times you’re run off your feet. Busy times help the hours move faster and keep our minds engaged, yet when hectic days perpetuate burnout flourishes. It surfaces in all walks of life, and it can throw your equilibrium out of whack.
Suddenly you put cumin in your oatmeal instead of cinnamon and orange juice in your coffee. Suddenly you forget meetings and miss deadlines. Suddenly you’re filled to the brim with anxious thoughts and knee-deep in stress.
We all experience being overworked differently, maybe it’s something as simple as forgetting to lock the car or having little time and energy to take the dog for a walk. Whatever your burnout symptoms are, it’s time to do things a little differently. An overworked brain shouldn’t be the norm, but rather an occasional kind of thing.
While we all push our limits from time to time in the office, knowing when enough is enough is an important talent to learn. You can hardly perform your best work or feel at ease in your job when you’ve overextended yourself. So, why overdo it? Why push yourself off the ledge?
There’s no doubt that saying no is sometimes easier said than done. And when it comes to work commitments, no can feel like a taboo word or an excuse to be less productive. Who doesn’t want to impress their boss by accepting new tasks or tick off all the items on their to-do list?  Of course, accepting all the work thrown at you would be ideal, but the bottom line is that it’s not worthwhile if you can’t manage it all.
Understanding and communicating your limits is an essential aspect of working smartly. So, if you’re feeling overstressed or lack the confidence and the ability to turn down extra work, here is some helpful guidance.

Know your work capacity

Only you can know what you can and can’t complete in a week. Sure, higher-ups may have a picture of what’s doable in your job role, but only you know the nitty-gritty details of what’s possible. The more you understand your capacity, the easier it is to discern what is and isn’t achievable.
To do this, you can:
  • Track the time it takes to complete projects/tasks
  • Create an effective to-do list
  • Make a list of all your tasks

Speak to your boss

While this concept may seem terrifying at first, know that people are sometimes more understandable than you might think. All your boss wants (or should want) from you is to complete your best work and to achieve your duties in a timely and efficient manner. You can’t do this when you’ve exceeded your limits.
A few things to keep in mind when approaching your boss:
  • Present your boss with a list of the work you complete each day or week (reminder: they don’t always know every detail of what you do day in and day out)
  • See if there’s a budget or space for a supporting team member to help out or if one can be hired
  • Be clear and honest about your workload and the impact it’s had on your mental health or stress levels

Get organized and prioritize

If your emails, filing systems, desk and to-do list are utterly disorganized, it can be extremely difficult to keep on top of important work and prioritize the ‘must-do’ tasks from the ‘non urgent’ ones. So, before you can wrap your head around what work you can manage day-to-day, tidy up your organizational system. In fact, this should be your first step.

Be kind to yourself

You are your own best pal. So, speak to yourself internally the same as you would your closest friends and family. Try not to allow any thought of shame, disappointment and frustration to get the better of you.
The more you nurture your mental health, the more your headspace will defog. So, practice being kind to your mind, body, and soul regularly. A few ways you can do this are:
  • Add fitness and movement into your daily routine
  • Practice positive mantras
  • Give meditation a try
  • Drink plenty of fluids and choose healthier food alternatives
The better you feel about yourself, the more confident. understanding and clear you will be.

Track your productivity

With the many distractions we have at our disposal in the modern world, things like social media, mobile games, TV, and instant communication, productivity can be easily reduced, without ever noticing the time you’ve wasted. So, tracking your productivity can make a huge difference in your overall output.
To examine your productivity, try the following:
  • Track your productivity using an app like TimeIvy – it showcases the time you spend on apps and online activity and helps you to see where time is being lost
  • Be more aware of mindless browsing activity and make a conscious effort to lessen it
  • Make a note of the apps or websites your frequent too often and see where you can (and should) make adjustments
  • Set goals or delete mindless apps that you overuse

A freelancers guide to avoiding burnout

For freelancers, time is of the essence, and for the most part, they don’t have a team to support or a boss to run to when they’re overworked. So, for the freelancers out there, know that it all comes down to you and the jobs YOU decide to take on.
Sure, you’ve got bills to pay and targets to hit. Though, you can only do so much within working hours. Life is too short to live without some form of balance.
Here is a little guide for freelancers who are overloaded with work and struggle with knowing their limits:

1. Pick and choose clients

If you’re starting out as a freelancer, picking between clients won’t be much of an issue, as any new business is a welcome surprise. Though, for seasoned vets, it can be easy to say yes to new business even though you don’t have the capacity to take them on. If you don’t have enough time in the day to do the additional work they require from you, you’ll need to get comfortable with declining offers or being upfront about your availability.
If you get an exciting new client offer and are hesitant to turn the opportunity down, see if there are any other clients in your roster who perhaps don’t pay as well or are unreliable, and who you’d feel comfortable parting ways with.
Build a team of clients that you want to work with and can support without losing sleep.

2. Keep your calendar and schedule up to date

The clearer you are about your availability and workload, the better you can support existing and new clients. So, tidy up that calendar and review your schedule regularly.

3. Review your rates

Know what you’re worth and make sure that your rates complement your expertise and value. As you progress with your freelance business, your rates should evolve as well. Look at competitors as a sound check. Research industry standards. And make a habit of reviewing your rates often, so that you can set achievable and productive goals.
This can also help you to decide which clients are helping you bring in the big bucks, and which ones aren’t.

4. Get clear on what’s achievable in a day

Only you know how much time and effort it takes to finish certain projects, so clarify and prioritize your limits. For example, give yourself 3 hours a day on one project and half an hour on another. Once you add quantifiable time to your work, set deadlines that are reasonable, achievable, and kind to your pressure levels.
If you find in this process that you’ve overbooked yourself, revert to Step 1 – pick and choose clients.
Whether you’re a freelancer or an office worker, the above tips will ensure that you maintain a peaceful, enjoyable, and perfectly challenging work experience. So, before you make the mistake of putting cumin instead of cinnamon in your oatmeal or utterly burnout, discover the true value of your limits.
In the words of Ariana Grande, learn to say, ‘thank you, next’ or in your own words ‘thank you – never’.
Caitlin Kerr

Written by

Caitlin Kerr