How to Scale Your Freelance Business (Without Burnout)

In 2018, I left my full-time job. The idea was to work less, earn more, and focus on things that mattered to me, like spending more time with family, improving my health, and nurturing my passion for dance. 

So, I started my journey as a full-time freelance writer. But, to my surprise, the path turned out differently. No one told me that I would need to hustle constantly to acquire new clients, manage the admin part of running a business, and of course, write for my clients. 

For more than three years, I hustled and worked hard. 

That is until I decided not to do it anymore.

8 Strategies to Achieve a 4-Day Freelancer Workweek

In May 2022,  I made an important business decision – to reduce my work week to 4 days. I now work Monday through Thursday. 

On Friday, I spend time networking with people, preparing a task list for next week, and writing my newsletter. Weekends are rest days to binge-watch Netflix, practice dance, and generally laze around.  Here are my seven strategies:

1. Follow Your Internal Clock

My circadian rhythm aligns well with nature’s clock. So, my energy peaks as the sun goes up and drops as the sun goes down. That’s why I schedule my work day using cues from my body. 

However, it may work differently for you. You must follow your body, take notes, and find your most productive time. That time could be at the wee hours of dawn or midnight. Once you find your most productive hours, schedule your work routine around them.

2. Exercise 

I start my day with yoga and a morning walk. It’s always a good practice to start your day with some form of exercise to get the dopamine kick that helps to boost your productivity. 

Yoga is a low-intensity exercise, so most people can try it. I start with a few warm-up stretches and then a few rounds of Surya Namaskar to get my body pumped up for the day. 

If yoga is not your thing, you can also consider brisk walking outside. It allows you to soak up the morning sun for Vitamin D absorption. 

My morning walk is also my time to listen to a few business podcasts. If you find it challenging to start a walking routine, I would suggest tagging along with a walking partner or listening to music, podcasts, audio stories, or just enjoying nature. 

Find walking a boring activity? Go for a swim or jog. Zumba can be a great way to sweat if you love to groove to some beats.

3. Set a Realistic To-do List

When I started creating a to-do list, I was jotting down everything I aimed to accomplish that day. But at the end of the day, I could only strike off one or two tasks from the list. This technique resulted in spill over to the next day’s tasks. By the time the weekend arrived, it was overwhelming.

I changed my strategy. I needed to create a to-do list that was realistic and set with an intention. So, I started jotting down the list of tasks I needed to accomplish. 

I then prioritized them—urgent and important tasks were on high priority. In contrast, tasks that were not so urgent but important were set on a less priority level. I also selected only 2-4 tasks every day to complete. This step ensured that I was not always rushing but had time to indulge in a coffee or run a quick errand, if necessary.

So, set your routine and stick to it. But also give yourself some time to breathe. In case there’s an interruption, you will still have time to catch up and finish your tasks.

4. Use Pomodoro for Time Management

I set a timer for everything that I do. This tactic keeps my hyperactive brain focused, even if it’s for a short time. So, whether I am writing a piece, researching, or scrolling through Twitter feeds, there’s always a timer running. This step has immensely benefited me since I find it hard to stay focused. 

If you also have challenges with focusing, I suggest you try this technique. You can use any basic app on your phone (I use the Pomodoro app for Android) or a web-based timer. like the TomatoTimer. Do it for one task, see how it goes, and slowly adapt it for all your essential tasks. 

5. Work at Your Desk

While freelancing means you can work from anywhere, I can’t. To concentrate, I need my desk and chair in an isolated corner of my house. I quickly get distracted while working from the living room or anywhere else. 

My work desk is located in one corner with minimal distraction. While I am not great at keeping my work desk neatly arranged, I can’t do without a few things—my notebooks and pens to scribble my thoughts and meeting notes and a bottle of water to keep me hydrated. I have also invested in an ergonomic chair to sit comfortably while working. 

For you, your desk can be a coffee shop, a coworking space, or your couch. Find that place where you can do deep work without getting distracted. I strongly recommend investing in ergonomic furniture for your workspace. Your back and neck will be thankful.

6. Do a Variety of Work

If you take a peek at my to-do list, it has a lot of variety. Monotony kills my productivity, so I need to ensure there’s a good mix of tasks.

The “eat the frog first” principle helps me tackle the hardest job at the beginning of the day. While I do all the deep work (that’s writing for me!) in the morning, the afternoon is for work that requires less concentration. So, I schedule meetings, respond to emails, and write social media posts. The evening is mainly for light work, like planning my schedule for the next day.

Avoiding task switching is another useful principle that lets you focus on one task before switching to the next. You can lose up to one hour every day by switching tasks frequently. 

Even if it takes a few moments to close a tab, open another, and again come back to that tab, you lose more time to bring back your focus to the work you were doing. 

Grouping of tasks is yet another technique to keep your productivity high. Write down all the tasks that you do throughout your day. Now, group tasks that seem to be logically connected. Complete the tasks in one group before moving to the next group of tasks. 

7. Avoid Multitasking

Multitasking is a myth. It turns my brain into a mush, and I can hardly focus. Multitasking reduces efficiency and productivity because our brain is trained to focus on one task at a time. If you try to do multiple tasks, the brain fails to successfully perform the tasks together.

I prefer to pick one task and stick to it until I finish it. You, too, can avoid multitasking and improve your productivity. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Plan your day. When you don’t plan your day, external factors and distractions will take away all the attention from your brain. But when you plan, your brain is trained to offer more resistance to external disturbance. 
  • Take rest if your mind is wandering away. It’s a sign that your brain needs rest and can’t focus now. 
  • Turn off all the notifications while at work. This technique will allow you to focus on the task at hand. Even better —- turn off the Wifi, so you don’t receive any unimportant ‘pings’ while you work.

8. Collaborate With Subcontractors 

I have added eight new clients to my roster in the last month. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible to scale up if I weren’t collaborating with subcontractors. This strategy has helped me work for fewer days and still hit my income goal. 

If you want to work for fewer hours/days without affecting your earnings, collaborating with subcontractors is a great way. I work with many subcontractors who help me do the heavy lifting like creating the outline, research, and the first draft. 

However, hiring subcontractors can get a bit tricky. You need to find someone who understands your business, the values that you hold for your clients, and how you approach your tasks. I usually tap into my network and look for recommendations from fellow freelancers to pick up subcontractors.

Avoiding Burnout as a Freelancer

When you have fewer days to finish tasks and want to hit the same financial goals, you’ll tend to fill up your work days with more tasks. As a result, you’ll experience burnout a few months down the line. Try these tactics to avoid burnout:

  1. Increase your fees, so that you can work less and earn more.
  2. Collaborate with subcontractors.
  3. Be easy on yourself and deviate from the routine sometimes.
  4. Schedule breaks during the workday.

Scaling your Business Without Burnout

If you are considering working fewer days a week, I suggest the slow approach. See what works for you and how you can improve it.  Then, double down on the tactics that work for you.

About the Author

Chayanika Sen is a freelance B2B tech and SaaS writer specializing in data-driven long-form content. When not writing, she is helping new freelancers to scale up their businesses. Find her on Twitter (@chayanikas), where she regularly tweets about her freelance journey.