Burnout, ADHD + Freelancing - How it happens and what you can do to stop itJul 29, 2022
Burnout is a very real problem for freelancers in general.
It's also a huge issue for people with ADHD.
So what happens when someone with ADHD starts freelancing?
Usually, endless cycles of "YAY THIS IS GREAT!" followed by massive burnout.
There are many reasons for burnout, but for a lot of the neurodivergent freelancers in the Solo School and Unworking Revolution it comes down to a few key factors:
1. All that exists is right now, this very moment, due to time blindness, so things are either really amazing or really stressful all the time. That emotional rollercoaster results in a lot of adrenal stress. This type of burnout tends to happen when things get really good for awhile - you finally relax a little bit, and get happy about your progress, and then get blindsided by the complete exhaustion catching up with you.
2. Trying to be too consistent. Trying to post every day? Still hoping to launch that podcast with new episodes every week? Took on retainer clients that have you doing the same thing every day? Hustling through the executive dysfunction to pull that off has a cost, and it's usually burnout. This usually happens when you've been trying to consistently do something and then one bad thing happens and you have a meltdown, leading to a crash.
3. Yes-based burnout. Let's face it, neurodivergence tends to make you a people-pleaser. Not only is rejection sensitivity a tough bitch to tackle, but you're also more likely to have a trauma response to rejection (due to getting so damn much of it as a kid) and therefore be extra sensitive to social cues. So when a client asks you to do something, whether it's a bit of scope creep or a 2-hour turnaround emergency project on a Sunday, we're a lot more likely to say YES than our neurotypical counterparts because we're afraid that saying no will cause a traumatic rejection. Add this to the people-pleasing we do in our personal lives as the resident organizers, shoulders to cry on, and people who can't keep our own shit together but somehow have to carry everyone else, and you basically end up doing too much every single day.
How can you avoid most of this?
You can set your business up to work with your brain.
Start by setting up your freelance business to work on 3-6 month projects with defined, clear deliverables, start dates, end dates, and payment plans. This gives you CONSISTENCY in your income without having to be consistent with your input. You can work extra some weeks and less the next, so long as you hit your goals. This consistency helps you relax more frequently, panic less often, and ground you in what's happening over a longer period of time than the present moment.
Revenue forecasts are super duper helpful when you have difficulty "zooming out" and seeing your progress.
Then use outreach to grow your business instead of marketing. Marketing basically requires some form of consistency, whereas outreach can be as chaotic as your energy levels throughout the week. Reach out in bursts and spurts, and rest purposefully between. Minor rest periods reduce the frequency of major burnout episodes.
Finally, set some structures around your work that help you say "no" more often without it being scary. Take an honest assessment of how many clients you can take on right now, and stick to that number. Create set internal and external work days. On internal days do client work and admin, on external days do outreach, sales, and meetings. Have a set start and end time to your day, and specific days off. Probably 3 or more per week, if we're being honest. ADHD brains work better part-time than full-time, especially because we can usually get a full-time week done in part-time hours. Then saying "no" to a request isn't about your personal desire to do the thing, but about the structures you have set up in your business and whether your business has the capacity.
What does all of this have in common?
Seeing your business as an entity separate from yourself. You are not your services, your office hours, your offers or your pricing. You're a person, and you run a business with services, hours, offers, and pricing. And just like everyone else, you have to follow the rules of your business.
Start implementing these things now to avoid burnout later.