5 Signs You’re a Work Martyr (and How to Break Free)
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People are often quick to sing the praises of freelancing. Many freelancers enjoy having control over their workloads and getting to choose what they work on and when they work on it.
But all this freedom can also feel like a curse if you don’t know how to manage it. You might lose sight of work-life balance because of blurred boundaries.
Ultimately, you could succumb to work martyrdom, working yourself to the bone while rapidly approaching burnout. Have you fallen into this trap?
If you’re nodding your head right now, you might be turning into a freelance work martyr. Here are the signs — and what to do about it so you can get back to enjoying your freelance life.
1. You’re taking on too many projects
As a freelancer, you’re responsible for landing projects and creating your own schedule. And if you’re motivated to make a lot of money, you might overbook yourself and fail to take time off, even on the weekends.
To estimate how much you really need to work, you should start with checking your finances. Keep a spending diary to figure out how much you spend and how much you need to make. Then, check how many days a week you need to work to live comfortably, and use those days to create a weekly schedule.
Although you might want to accept as much work as possible, doing so probably won’t make you successful in the long run. Instead, you might work yourself to exhaustion and reach a point where you can’t take on as much as you used to.
As long as you can afford to do so, make sure to take time off from your job so you don’t become an exhausted work martyr. Know your limits, and don’t take on more work than you can reasonably manage for the sake of making a few extra bucks.
2. Your health is suffering
Sticking to a healthy lifestyle can be challenging, and occasional setbacks are perfectly normal. But if work is making you neglect good eating and exercise habits, it’s time to reimagine the way you approach your job.
Prepping healthy meals at the beginning of the week that can be left in the slow cooker (like vegetable soup or turkey chili) or eaten cold from the fridge (like a turkey wrap or a kale salad), for example, will allow you to eat healthy without much effort.
Incorporating exercise also doesn’t need to be difficult. If you have a dog, take him or her for longer walks. If you need to pick up some coffee, walk or bike to the store. If your situation allows, break up your day with a yoga class or trip to the gym.
By setting goals for a healthier lifestyle and working them into your schedule, you can take back control and avoid becoming an unhappy work martyr.
3. You don’t have set working hours
Creating set working hours can be difficult for a freelancer. If you have clients all over the world, you might need to work odd hours to keep up with people in multiple time zones.
But whatever those time zones are, it’s helpful to create and stick to set working hours. If your hours are “from the first cup of coffee until whenever,” there’s no way to build a life in the interim. You can’t set aside time for self care, leisure, or household tasks if work may interrupt you at any moment.
So set boundaries, and communicate your availability to your clients. While there may be times you’re tempted to respond to an email, don’t fall into the trap if your work hours are over.
Doing so could leave room for clients to push boundaries and take over your personal life. Don’t give an inch since your client could take a mile.
4. You’ve stopped enjoying other things
As a freelancer, your workplace is probably mostly digital. You spend a lot of time staring at a screen. If you spend your non-work hours staring at a screen, too, you could end up damaging your health and happiness.
What’s more, sitting all day can lead to fatigue. To prevent these issues, make sure to plan activities outside of the house. Go to a cooking class or a pottery workshop. Start a vegetable garden. Join a book club. Spend time with friends or family, or join coworking spaces or social groups to meet new people.
It doesn’t matter what the activity is, as long as you enjoy it. So think about what you like doing that doesn’t involve a screen, and set up outings to add variety to your routine.
5. You work from bed a lot
While we all enjoy the guilty pleasure of working from bed from time to time, doing so too often could wreak havoc on your posture and interrupt your sleep, both of which are big problems. Make sure you have an ergonomic home office setup to save your neck and shoulders from constant slumping.
And remember that adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night to function properly. Try not to bring your phone, tablet, or laptop into bed with you, as these could distract from sleep (especially the blue light of screens).
Set a bedtime, stick to it, and keep your electronics out of sight and out of mind. After all, your bed is a place for resting — hopefully not for stress.
Create structures for yourself to avoid freelance burnout
It can be really easy to fall into patterns of work martyrdom when you freelance and work from home. The key to avoiding stress and promoting work-life balance is setting boundaries and valuing your time outside of work.
While you might have stressful projects that take up more of your time than you would like, try not to allow that pattern of over-working to become the norm.
By taking intentional efforts to curb work martyrdom, you can strike a healthy balance between your freelancing work and your leisure time.
For more on the common problems freelancers face (and how to deal with them), head to this guide.