How To Balance Freelancing With A Full-Time Job Without Burning Out

It is possible to effectively balance your full-time job with freelancing – without going insane or burning out. I do it, and in this post, I’ll tell you how you can, too. Many of us begin freelancing while we are still employed in full-time jobs.

Here are some requirements and tips for staying sane while working the 9-5 and freelancing on the side.

Get Help From Others

three person pointing the silver laptop computer
Photo by John Schnobrich

If you’re single, this might be tough, but there’s no way I could do what I do if it weren’t for my wife. I take freelancing very seriously as a business, and she helps me run that business, so I have time to work. She handles the bills, the accounts, and the paperwork.

She will help me manage regular recurring services for clients, and she’s learning new skills so that we can branch out into more various Internet-based income streams. I make plenty of money to feed and support my family, but I can take the time required to do that because of all the work she does. If the people in your life are understanding and capable, they can help you out.

If your earnings justify it, you could hire a virtual assistant to perform routine chores and tasks for you. Even if this puts a squeeze on your profits, freeing up the time and preventing the hassle of doing everything yourself can put you in a position to earn more than you could alone.

This will eventually increase your profitability and give you more financial room.

Calculate Your Total Work And Billable Hours

You need to know exactly how many billable hours you have to spend freelancing every month. Otherwise, you are in danger of accepting more work than you can handle, which can lead to nasty problems such as missed deadlines and dissatisfied clients who want their money back.

Number of available freelancing hours each month – number of hours per month running the business = total billable hours.

If your services are sold as packages or bundles, rather than hourly, you should still know how many hours it would take to complete the tasks in your packages.

For example, let’s say a logo design package usually takes 8 hours, and you have a total of 60 available billable hours in a month. That means you could design about 7 logos a month. If you have several services that take different amounts of time, keep a running total of how many of your available hours you’ve already booked, so that when faced with a new project, you will know if you can accept it or not. If you don’t have enough time left in your monthly hours, you will need to turn down the work or schedule it for next month if the client isn’t in a hurry (but take their money now, to reserve a slot!).

Make sure you leave time to spend with your friends and family and run household errands. Be sure to subtract the number of hours you spend building and maintaining your freelance business. In other words, this needs to include only billable hours. Why? the time required for other activities is fairly constant.

You can’t just accept everything that comes your way without knowing whether or not you have the time to do it.

You can’t just accept everything that comes your way without knowing whether or not you have the time to do it.

Many freelancers have a starvation complex when it comes to accepting new work: they take everything, no matter what, because they never know when the clients and the money will dry up. But you see, understanding your client/workload can help you choose which clients to accept. You can be choosier. You can choose to work with clients that are going to make your portfolio look great to future clients (always be thinking ahead, right?). You can choose clients that you know you’re going to get along with smoothly.

Become An Efficiency Ninja

When you are working full-time and freelancing, you have very little extra time for anything but that which is essential. That’s why when calculating client/workloads above, I said to leave time for family and friends. When I get home from the 9-5 job, I spend time with my family before settling into my home office to work on my business. Because of this, you need some tools:

  • Feedreader that lets you star or favorite items for later reading
  • Email that allows for rules-based automation
  • Client information database
  • Task management that can be integrated with email and calendar
  • Idea capture/management tools (make good use of your commute if you have one)
  • Invoicing with templating/recurring capabilities
  • Accounting/budgeting
  • Software to do your work (know it well and use keyboard shortcuts)

Take Care Of Yourself

If you’re working the number of hours it takes to work full-time and freelance, you’ve simply got to take care of your health. You need stamina and clarity. Getting sick means now you can’t work two jobs, not just one. This is especially true for those of us no longer in our 20s. I will admit this is the area in which I need the most improvement. In spite of my own shortcomings, here are some tips that aren’t too hard to implement:

  • Keep off the junk food
  • Don’t overdo the caffeine
  • Go easy on the alcohol
  • Get your energy from healthier food and vitamins (especially B vitamins)
  • Consume less sugar
  • Drink plenty of water (or better yet, green tea)
  • Take breaks and stretch and go for a short, brisk walk (especially pay attention to your “mouse arm” to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome) or check in with your kids
  • It’s worth spending the money to have an excellent monitor (or two) and an ergonomic chair
  • Get adequate rest and even take short naps to recharge so you can do your best in the latter part of the day
  • None of this should be construed as medical advice–if you’re not sure about something, consult your doctor

Write Blog Posts In Advance

Many freelancers use the WordPress blogging system for their sites, because blogs are a great way to market your business and because of all the additional functionality available to the WordPress platform. In WordPress, you can set the publish date of posts into the future.

Take advantage of this by writing posts in advance. I write all my posts over the weekend and set them to publish throughout the next week. This has the added benefit of batching my writing tasks so I can get into a groove and be productive. If something with a client suddenly blows up and you need to spend all your time dealing with it, it’s nice to know your main marketing efforts won’t suffer in the meantime.

Keep Your Two Jobs Separated

You will be tempted to work on freelancing tasks during your 9-5 job. This is not a good idea and could lead to trouble on the job. You’re not being paid by the company to work on your freelance projects during work hours!

Your boss would have every right to be upset with you if you were caught. Don’t use your company email address for your freelancing work. If you’re lucky enough to work someplace where the word “break” actually means something, checking emails or feeds related to your freelance work shouldn’t present too much of a problem.

Take Mini Vacations

You have to pace yourself, or you’ll burn out. Think marathon, not a sprint. If you work a full-time job and you get vacation days, consider only taking a few at any one time, spaced throughout the year, instead of two weeks at once. I like to add extra vacation days onto holidays or weekends.

The point here, though, is to make sure that you do not use your vacation time to do freelance work. If you don’t give yourself a real break once in a while, you will burn out, my friend, and it won’t be pretty. If vacation days aren’t a luxury you have on your job, you still need to take breaks in your freelancing for the same reason. I do get vacation days, but even so, I can only stand to come home and then work another 4 or 5 hours for so many days in a row! Sometimes I want to dine out with my wife or spend more time with my family–maybe even watch a little television.

You Can Achieve A Balance Between Job And Freelancing

You can achieve a balance between a full-time job and freelancing. You don’t have to burn yourself out. Just remember these essential points:

  • Nobody can do everything alone–get help from somebody, somehow
  • Know how much work you can realistically do in a month, and don’t exceed that
  • Get and use the tools you need to work efficiently because time is precious
  • Take care of your health so that you have more energy and clarity for tackling freelance projects
  • Write blog posts in advance to give yourself breathing room throughout the week and in case of client emergencies
  • Don’t get caught working on freelance stuff at your full-time job, or you’ll be completely solo a little faster than you wanted
  • Take mini-vacations to recharge and stay sane–think marathon, not sprint

Got any tips of your own for maintaining the balance between a full-time job and freelancing? Let’s hear them in the comments!






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