• Advice

Is your plate too full? Strategies for staying sane

When I first started freelancing, I was cautioned about the feast or famine pendulum. I was told that there would be months when I would have an abundance of clients, projects, and revenue. Conversely, there would be seasons when my project load would be light and my revenue low.  Often, we talk about strategies for the latter, but what about the former? What can you do when you have a lot going on — maybe even too much?

In a traditional work setting, we might seek the counsel of a supervisor who might delegate some of our responsibilities to our other co-workers; or we might even have a team member who is willing to assist us. Furthermore, these relationships can serve as springboards to process or vent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite like that — especially for freelancers who are functioning independently.

What can work is having a plan in place to ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed and that you are able to complete all of your tasks. Try some of the following strategies when your freelancing plate gets too full:

Space out your due dates. One of the biggest mistakes that a freelancer can make is having several projects due on, or around, the same date. No matter how much you manage your time and no matter how gifted you are, this is not a best practice. Instead, spread out your due dates so that they are staggered. The key to this is making sure that you articulate project deadlines before you begin.

The ability to forecast the amount of time it will take you to complete a project gets easier over time. Of course, no two projects are the same, but once you have a sense of your own throughout rates, you can plan accordingly. Lastly, be sure to give yourself some cushioning — life does and will happen. You don’t want to create added stress and anxiety. You also don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver.

Prioritize your projects. Understandably, some projects will take more time than others. Equally so, the level of complexity will vary from project to project. When you find that you have an overwhelming amount of work, you may want to start with the project that is the easiest to complete or the one that is the most urgent.

Make sure that you factor in your other responsibilities and your life outside of work.  Of course the freelancing projects are important; but, so are you. If you have a healthy routine that works for you then don’t interrupt it because it is your busy season. Yes, you may need to adjust it, but you don’t want to stop doing those things that bring you joy and comfort outside of your professional sphere.

Talk to other freelancers. They have a keen sense of what it means to freelance— the good, the bad, and the ugly. This isn’t to suggest that others cannot be empathetic; instead, it is to suggest that venting and even processing additional strategies to complete the tasks at hand may come from those who have walked in your shoes.

Other freelancers probably won’t shame you into thinking that you cannot or shouldn’t have feelings that are attached to your livelihood. Whereas some people may balk at the idea of someone complaining about having too much work, a fellow freelancer will probably get it.

Ask for an extension. I only recommend this as a last resort. Clients’ due dates are often set for a reason. There may be other moving parts that you are not involved in, so your missed date may affect the rest of the project. If you do find yourself needing an extension, be really clear as to why this is necessary and even clearer about the new completion date.

Most importantly, make sure that you hit that new due date. You don’t want to get a reputation as someone who can not adhere to stated deadlines or expectations.

Whether you use one of these four strategies, create your own, or use some combination thereof, your overall well being is important. If you have truly taken on more than you can handle, then your best strategy is honesty, especially if being too busy prevents you from creating and producing your best work.

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.