Singapore freelancers share 4 tips on overcoming burnout

Understanding your motivations and mindfully scheduling breaks are some of the ways to prevent exhaustion

How freelancers in Singapore handle burnout
Four tips on how to overcome burnout for freelancers in Singapore (Photos: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The reality of burning out is a constant struggle for many freelancers. With the number of gigs directly correlated to income, choosing to rest can become an opportunity cost for self-employed workers.

"I cried because my body and voice was very tired. But, I picked myself up and went to work," said media freelancer, Laura Kee, who recounted a recent experience where she had to take up a last-minute morning school show, even after battling on-and-off sickness for two weeks.

So how can freelancers prevent themselves from burnout? Four Singaporean freelancers shared with Yahoo Southeast Asia the realities of freelancing, as well as the best practices for better self-care and a healthier work-life balance.

Self-reflect and understand your why

JJ Ong, 28, believes that burnout is inevitable for a lot of freelancers.

"Sometimes when you're on break or on holiday, it is very hard to delay responding to a potential client. It's difficult to let opportunities go when business comes knocking as a self-employed person," he said.

Instead of meditating or going on a vacation, the freelance communications specialist and educator takes the time to sit himself down and reflect on why he started on this work journey. Upon self-reflection, his passion and motivation usually comes back.

Ong added that personal enjoyment helps make work challenges more bearable, as he sees it as "getting paid for what you love to do".

Psychotherapy has also become part of his process to better understand himself and his motivations, which has helped him accept the ups and downs that come with being a freelancer.

"It's not about preventing challenges but learning how to be resilient in the bad times, while appreciating the good times. At the end of the day, mindset is very important," he said.

His decision to undergo therapy and self-reflection came after he was diagnosed four years ago with fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal disorder that causes fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

"I'm actually glad it happened to me because it allowed me to view the world from a different perspective. It really taught me the meaning of living every single day, one day at a time," he said.

"Every second spent complaining, can be a second you choose to do something good about your life."

Although Ong is unable to operate optimally as he used to, he sees it as a positive thing, as dipping energy levels through the day serve as a reminder from his body to rest.

The habit of working 16 hours or more a day, and losing track of time has also since stopped.

Mindfully schedule off days and downtime to prevent burnout, advised Singapore freelancers (Photo: Getty Images)
Mindfully schedule off days and downtime to prevent burnout, advised Singapore freelancers (Photo: Getty Images)

Mindfully schedule off days and downtime

With twenty years of experience working both full-time and freelance jobs, Selwyn Koh, noticed many of his freelance friends packing their schedule at the expense of proper mealtimes or rest days.

This is contrary to the general belief that freelancers have a lot more time to themselves, compared to regular full-time employees.

"The money earned will never be enough. Time management is extremely crucial, and knowing when to stop work for the day is important," he shared.

Koh suggests creating a routine to help manage time properly and provide structure, with the use of a daily timesheet such as a weekly planner or a calendar.

Setting alarms on your phone for compulsory breaks, and finding personal time for yourself throughout the day, can also be beneficial.

"Set aside a specific number of hours for work. The remaining time should be given to family and friends, leisure, play, sports and rest," he advised.

In the case of Kee, engaging in activities such as having a nice meal or watching her favourite television shows, helps her recharge. New hobbies such as attending Korean language lessons and pole dancing classes can help bring joy and act as stress relievers.

Be selective of gigs when necessary

"As a freelancer, the sky is the limit when it comes to your income, but it can come at a cost. You can't have the best of both worlds in money and time," said freelance social media manager X (not her real name).

Earlier this year, the mother-to-be felt she was taking up too many jobs, and was unwilling to let go of one of her portfolios. Upon discussing with her husband, she dropped a client and settled for smaller jobs to fill up the gap.

Greed and the anxiety over having sufficient income can be a crutch, but X warns that spreading yourself too thin might not assure longevity, as it can affect quality of work.

She recommends regulating job uptake by being more selective with jobs, and weighing the pros and cons. Questions one can ask include 'What are my goals?' and 'Do I want to earn more with lower effort?'.

Koh also suggests delegating time-consuming or small tasks to others if possible, in order to save pockets of time and allow for more time to yourself.

Building a support system or community can help with burnout, advised freelancers in Singapore
Building a support system or community can combat isolation and help with resources (Photo: Getty Images)

Build a support system or community

Connecting with fellow freelancers or professionals in your field can provide a sense of community and combat isolation.

All four freelancers shared that having a community or support system is helpful in finding comfort through the exchange of shared experiences.

Ong also said that having an organised community, like a "monthly meet-up", can help with resources and open more doors.

"I have a lot of friends around me who are small business owners and freelancers. Because we are all rolling in the same dirt and going through similar struggles, we help one another and figure things out together," he said.