From one overachieving self-employed helper to another, I have a semi-honest but admittedly sarcastic question for you: Why can't the result of working extra hard for way too long just have amazing, long-lasting results for you and everyone involved, all the time? Is that too much to ask of the world?
You're probably here because:
- You've been told that you need to rest. And if you're like me, you don't know how so you're researching it.
- You've spent hours, weeks, or months making powerful content, learning new entrepreneurial skills, buying one too many deals on Appsumo (yeah, same!).
- You invested thousands in that one course or program so you feel obligated to go back and implement it (even though it's possibly outdated by now, because online marketing trends shift and change every time you fill up your gas tank, which is more often than any of us are willing to admit)
While your side hustle may not be your full time job yet, the best time to implement a solid resting and recovery practice is NOW.
You know you need rest. So instead of spending the next few weeks trying to become an expert at email marketing or Instagram hashtag research, let's make sure you don't fall into the same trap as everyone else by burning yourself out (and possibly sabotaging the success that awaits you!)
Symptoms of self-employed burnout
- Procrastination. You know you need to do important things, but you're not doing them.
- Loss of self-confidence. What used to be a great plan now seems too big to handle, or not worth pursuing after all.
- A lack of creativity: writer's block, artist's block, low sense of passion or inner drive.
- Physical fatigue or even exhaustion.
- Difficulty sleeping, either falling asleep or staying asleep. Not to mention the nightmares!
- Unexpected feelings of loneliness and isolation: You're doing this all alone, you don't have any help or support, and you're SO aware of it.
- Feelings of bitterness, jealousy, or envy when you see other solopreneurs sharing their successes online, even though you know it's a highlight reel (but really, did she HAVE to show a tour of her brand new 3-bedroom home?)
- A general thought or belief that you're burning out (If you think you are, it's most likely true.)
10 Ways to get some rest now so you don't burn out later
Let your boss know that you're taking a week off.
If you're self-employed, this is a very quick message, because you are your own boss. If it helps, put a sticky note on your monitor that says "Closed, Out of Office until Monday" and then tape a piece of paper to cover the keyboard. Whatever it takes. You can do whatever you want with your free time, you just can't work. If you feel like you'll be tempted check in, I recommend completely uninstalling your email and social media apps from your phone.
Practice staying hydrated
I know this isn't specifically related to burnout, but while you're taking some time off is a good time to re-establish good water-drinking habits. Treat yourself to a cute reusable bottle and figure out how many times you need to refill it to get your "full" water intake in a day. Since I work from home, I have a large plastic tumbler and I know that if I drink two of them per day, I feel good (despite how many times I have to go pee, but that's another topic). I have a timer that pops up on my phone at the same time in the afternoon every day, asking me if I've finished my first cup of the day. If I have, great! If not, then I take a minute to hydrate. Simple, but it works!
Do something creative.
Unless you work exclusively as a self-employed artist, your right brain probably needs some love. Grab some pens and paper, your kids' crayons and finger paints, and make some art. Pick up that instrument you haven't touched since high school and see if you can still play a few notes. Put on your favorite 90's jam, turn off the lights and have a solo dance party where you have to keep dancing for three straight songs in a row. Look up some karaoke videos on Youtube and have at it!
Fire up the endorphins (Get some exercise!)
Whatever physical activity feels good in your body, try it out! You can dance to a new playlist, take a spin class, go for a jog-but-mostly-walk outside. But instead of making it about calorie burning or losing weight, focus on the physical movements that make you smile. YouTube is a great place to find free workout videos. There are several apps available for free or for a low monthly fee that have pre-designed workout routines you can safely do at home, with no equipment.
Take a nap.
Take several naps, actually. Do whatever it takes to convince yourself that an afternoon spent asleep can be better for you than an afternoon reading a personal development book or writing out Instagram captions. Your body doesn't care what your launch schedule is. Power up that Fitbit or Apple Watch and start monitoring your sleep quality at night -- without judgement, of course. The point is to get better at sleeping and resting, not to be the first place trophy winner of highest quality sleep.
Write in a journal
If you've never tried it before, one of my favorite journaling practices is reaching for a pen and a journal immediately upon waking and just dumping out anything that's on your mind for a solid 30 minutes. Don't look at your phone beforehand! I learned about this concept from the book, "The Artist's Way," and so far it has been a way better habit to get into than grabbing my phone and checking my email first thing in the morning. Give it a try!
Become a tourist in your own neighborhood
Travel doesn't have to be long-distance to be appreciated. Try planning a solo retreat day in your local neighborhood and pick a few things you haven't seen or experienced yet. The last time I tried this, my rules were 1) Visit an antique store, 2) Go see natural water, and 3) Tacos at a place I've never eaten before. If you need more ideas, try a google search for "Tours near me," or check out Groupon for unique local opportunities.
Start a new daily meditation practice.
If you're new to meditation, set a small goal to meditate for 5 minutes every day and increase the amount of time as you feel more comfortable. My favorite app for this is the Balance app, which offers a free first year of membership. It gives you a curated series of mindfulness-based meditations based on your personal experience using the app. There's also a course called MBSR which stands for "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction" that's available for free if go to Palouse Mindfulness dot com.
See your doctor(s) if your burnout feels too difficult to manage
It's a good idea to see your general practitioner and a therapist at least once a year to get a professional assessment of how you're doing. Check your benefits paperwork to get familiar with what's available and covered. Don't be afraid to invest in additional treatments and tests until you feel comfortably certain about your physical health.
Track your rest!
If you can track your tasks and priorities as someone who's self-employed, you can track your rest time, too. I like to track how much energy I have left at the end of the day, on a scale of 1 to 5. A "1" means that I over worked myself and I'm feeling low-energy and tapped out. A "5" means I managed my energy and time well and I'm ending the day feeling invigorated. As a life coach once told me, when you take some time off, your job isn't to do nothing. Your job is to rest. So I encourage you to track what that means to you!
Tips for not burning yourself out in the future (all over again)
Make sure you know what you want and don't want.
If you haven't done this already, take some time to visualize and then document your most ideal future, badass-business-owner self and how they exist in the world. What things do they not put up with? How do they feel when they're interrupted? What do they do when they're burned out, given what they've learned and experienced so far?
Whatever that vision looks like, express it fully! Write it out, make a vision board, or you can do what I do and draw a cartoon of them doing all the "future you" things you know you want to be doing, regularly.
Have a heart-to-heart with yourself about whatever it was that convinced you that you have to suffer to earn your place on this planet.
All of us have a complicated history, but if you come from a marginalized community, then you're juggling your own struggles along with inherited generational trauma. If you can, visit your library and ask the librarian for resources on things like systemic racism, gender inequity in the workplace, neurodiversity, stress, and other personal development books.
Two good books I recommend are "The Upside of Stress," by Kelly McGonigal, PhD, and Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself by Kristin Neff, PhD.
This type of deep inner work is obviously not a one-evening or even a one-week assignment, but digging into some of the topics that you weren't allowed to discuss as a kid growing up in your household is an important step for finding your place in the world as an adult.
Become friends with your menstrual cycle, if you have one.
The world we live in today is based on the masculine 24-hour cycle and the assumption that everyone can process and work on a schedule that has been mostly designed and defined by cisgender, white, heterosexual, neurotypical, extroverted men.
If you menstruate, your body operates on a completely different schedule that usually more than four weeks long, and forcing yourself into the mainstream 24-hour cycle of existence is an injustice to your built in, biological magic.
Alissa Vitti has done extensive research on this, and I'm sure you probably already have an idea what I'm talking about. Some weeks you're equipped for production and management and taking over the world. Other weeks you're perfect for intimate, thoughtful conversations and deep work. Vitti has a book about it called In the Flo (which I admit I haven't read, because it's rather lengthy), but I recommend looking up a couple of podcasts where she's interviewed to learn the basics of it.
You may be burning yourself out simply because you're planning your launch schedule that isn't in sync with when your biological superpowers have kicked in. Not to mention, this new knowledge will help de-stigmatize periods as you implement what you learn, show up brilliantly in the world, and eventually share your own experience of how helpful menstrual cycles actually are.
Let go of the high stress launch and promotion schedule
Learn to eagerly anticipate the slow times of the year, and excuse yourself from the high-stress launch and promo schedule everyone else is teaching. You can plan ahead to embrace a quiet, thoughtful, low-key launch schedule instead of trying to re-experience this burnout every year.
For example, you don't have to be in work mode during Q4 aka "The Holidays." Go ahead and cross out all of November and December and see how that sits with you. I'll let you in on a secret: The money people make during holiday promos and sales doesn't happen during the holidays -- it happens in the 6 months leading up to the holidays and with the extra help we hire out while the promos and sales are running. The holidays are hard enough, and they're also a great time to get drowned out along with everyone else's sales and promos. Take this holiday season off (as far as big, extravagant launch-ey or sales-y things go) and set your eyes on a lucrative Q1 after New year, instead.
Closing Thought: Resting is personal and mandatory.
What we all have in common is that we all need rest, and we all probably need a lot more of it. Just because you're self-employed doesn't mean you have to work yourself to the point of burnout. I'm rooting for you as you find a resting routine that works for you and the work you feel called to do in this world. Keep taking care of yourself!