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A friend asked me if she was being too selfish in the free time she had before starting a new role. She had opted for lazy days at the park and catching up on Netflix shows over anything generically ‘productive’.

ABSOLUTELY be selfish with your time, I told her. You’ve only got one you, put your oxygen mask on first etc. More often than not, I stand by what I say and practise what I preach. I’ve spoken about it before.

Well, not this time. This time, my workload exploded before my very eyes and I was suddenly faced with looming deadlines, highly unsociable hours and a feeling of unrelenting dread.

This is what happens when you say yes to everything.

There’s a universal, freelance fear that if you say no, they’ll never ask again. It’s categorically not true. But it’s an ingrained fear and I think we just accept it.

I suffered from burnout earlier this year and when you’ve hit the bottom, and you start to teeter towards it again, everything becomes a bit scary.

Imagine you’ve boarded It’s a Small World at Disney – the animatronic trip through stereotyped cultures, in case you’re wondering – then it gets stuck.

You’ve got a bar over your lap, there’s no visible route through the atmospheric smoke and you’ve got the same chorus playing on a loop. That’s a more animated way of describing how burnout feels.

Until one day you realise it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s the day you push back on demands, you clarify your availability and you carve out some precious blank space in the diary to do with as you wish. And the most surprising thing of it all is other people’s reactions.

When you’re honest, it’s amazing how much leeway people are willing to give you. Because, at the end of the day, they want  to work with you. If you think you can’t do something until a week after they needed it, at least they know with you, you mean it. Otherwise it would’ve been on their desk yesterday, right?

I’ve always been firm that to be a good freelancer you simply need to be competent and kind. And I’ve come to realise that it’s far better to send an email explaining that you may need a few extra days because you’re busy, than it is to send an email explaining you’re off for a few weeks because the doctor has ordered you to do so.

So, here’s to honesty, the kindness of others, and understanding that working for yourself doesn’t mean working into the ground. Bookmark this when you need a reminder, or get in touch and maybe we can help each other.

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