When it Gets to Be Too Much
As work evolves toward a more remote, freelance, and transient future, the boundaries between work and life we so valued will become thinner and thinner. This is has become painfully clear to all of us in recent times. While this change isn’t all bad if you’re able to properly adapt to it, you do need to first overcome some obstacles that arise from this easing of borders. One of the most immediate, and substantial, is overworking. Now you don’t want to be too reactionary to this idea and immediately start working less. We need to be able to discern everyday stress from being overworked, so we can retain productivity, but avoid physical and mental exhaustion, and eventual burnout.
SPOTTING THE SIGNS
Overworking is nothing new. The biggest issue in combating it has always been knowing where the line is. “Am I being overworked or is this just a busy day?” In many cases, overworking can feel normal, and then you get caught in a cycle of overworking that you’ve convinced yourself is just how work should be. At a full-time job, this can be easier to discern. There are set boundaries at many full-time jobs, and you’re usually aware when they’ve been surpassed (you get overtime). The pressure to overwork is often external, coming from a manager or fellow employee asking you to work beyond those boundaries. As a freelancer who builds their own schedule, the pressure comes primarily from you. There are of course demanding clients, but you get to choose who your clients are. When it’s you that’s put yourself into an overworking cycle, it can be both harder to tell, and harder to break yourself out of.
Overworking can even appear in the form of physical ailments like getting sick too often, fatigue, tension headaches, heartburn, digestion problems, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. It can appear in the form of mental ailments like stress, anxiety, brain fog, and depression. You probably know all of this, and experiencing one of these symptoms is the thing that makes you finally see that you’re overworking. You don’t need to let yourself get there though. Reaching a state of fatigue or anxiety, even just once a month, isn’t healthy. Freelancers especially can get into unhealthy thought patterns. They give themselves an extra degree of pressure to work hard as they fear not having a boss will make them lazy, or they feel every minute not spent working is money lost. For these reasons it’s important for freelancers to be extra vigilant in noticing symptoms of overworking.
If you haven’t noticed any of the warning signs (or did and ignored them) and continue to overwork yourself, you will likely begin to enter a new phase: burnout. Do you constantly feel unmotivated? Not just for one client but all of them? Have you stopped pursuing any hobbies? Stopped hanging out with friends? family? partners? Chronic overworking (i.e. burnout) is in fact a leading cause of all breakups. When you give so much energy to work you stop being able to do anything else, even other work.
While overworking is an issue, it can be remedied by a change of schedule and some rest. If you find yourself overworking so much that you burnout, you may want to seek out therapy, find a new job, or even a new career. Burnout is a sign of a more deeply rooted problem and gone untreated can affect your relationships, and even lead to chronic heart problems and type 2 diabetes.
If you feel yourself burning out you can attend to your health via some basic stuff like getting an adequate amount of sleep (the Sleep Foundation recommends 7-8 hours of sleep per night for the average adult), eating a healthy diet, limiting smoking and alcohol (as these can impair productivity and sleep), and practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation or yoga. You can attend to your career needs by reflecting on what it is you really want. Maybe this instance of burnout really was just a one-time thing, or maybe it’s a sign of a more chronic issue. You’ll never know unless you get the bottom of it. Therapy can definitely help here, but there are plenty of reflective exercises one can do for free.
ROLLING DOWN HILL
As long as you have the tools to prevent overworking, and by extension burnout, you should also know that sometimes, overworking can be positive. We all have those weeks that just kill us. Work comes in like a title wave (some industries just naturally have very busy times of the year) and drowns you for a while. It sucks, but if you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing and plan your time well enough that you have at least a little time off, you can certainly survive a few days to weeks of overworking (although it’s important to know how long you will be in this period; don’t let it go on too long). In fact, tackling a time period like that, doing good work, and coming out the other side unscathed, can be very beneficial for your confidence and sense of mastery. Knowing that you can operate successfully at a high level will improve your mental fortitude, plus, when other people see you working well in stressful situations, you’re going to be sent more job offers.
There are simply times where you have to miss a birthday party or a family dinner. It sucks, but it’s work. As long as it isn’t happening week after week, or you feel it’s affecting your health or mental state, keep your head down, and you’ll be fine.
The better you get at detecting signs of overworking, the better you’ll get at avoiding it; and in some cases, even letting yourself go there for the betterment of your career and your ability.