My grandmother’s sick.
The computer lost all my work.
Your email never came through.
Heard these excuses before? Offered them yourself? The root cause is the same: overwork. Over my 16 years of freelancing, I have honed some tricks to keep burnout at bay. When you run out of grandmas, you may want to try these tips too.
1. Place a bird feeder outside the office window. Of course, having a window in the office helps too. The periodic flurry of colour draws your focus to a longer distance (good for the eyes), changes your breathing (deeper, for more O2), and may even remind you that there is life away from the screen.
Even if the birds don’t get to it, a bird feeder provides distraction that leads to natural breaks.
2. Add a small child or dog to your days. As long as you respect their needs and don’t get into lazy habits, either of these additions will get you out to the park, moving, around other live humans, and generally back into the living world. They may even help you eat and sleep better and more regularly — less so if the dog is chosen.
*Kittehs have by far cornered the market on shut-in companionship. They do help combat stress and may encourage excursions outdoors for the sake of resupply ventures, but their capacity for sleep and indifference suggest that they are part of the problem more than they are part of the solution. #missMyCat
3. Find an active passion away from the keyboard. It has to be something fun, not just “exercise” for the sake of it. That would just feel like more work. If you possess innate cheapness, you can harness this for additional motivation: pay for a class that you will be determined to get your money’s worth out of.
You are invited to try one of my hobbies: hiking, kayaking, skiing, Ultimate Frisbee, sailing, belly dancing, fire fighting, yoga, ice climbing, swimming, biking, running. Even a painting or photography habit will help get you away from the desk. Heck, even walking the aisles of a favourite office supply shop helps. You know, because you’ll be moving, vertical, and maybe even see another human. That human may even be like-minded.
4. Meet colleagues IRL. Radical, but effective. Sure, you Facebook, Skype, and IM colleagues and clients all day. This actually can help ease feelings of isolation quite well. Just try getting out for a coffee break with a like-minded person. Try just one. I found it habit-forming. Now I do it once a week.
The key is to keep some balance in your life. Take a break! I’d invite you to share your own tips in the comments, but perhaps you should just meet me at the park.
Disclaimer — In all seriousness, keeping balance in your life will help alleviate the all-too-common, and not-at-all-laughable, freelance-itis symptoms such as repetitive strain injury (RSIs such as tendonitis), headache, depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, lethargy, eye strain, neck and shoulder pain, arm and hand numbness, and obesity.