Burnout Syndrome, Freelance and Nomadic Life

Contents

My Burnout Story

Some time ago, I had burnout syndrome. My mood went down, productivity decreased. It was super hard to focus on anything. Negative thoughts starting every morning. I had to change something.

Having burnout is tough. It’s emotional exhaustion, not just job stress. It can lead to serious mental, social, and even physical consequences. It’s something that quietly builds overtime before you fall into this dark place you don’t want to be in.

You can find many tips online on how to deal with it. For example, you can find a hobby, change location, change habits, try a different lifestyle. I’ll share more actionable tips later in this post.


Ok, back to my story...

I've pretty much read everything I could find on this topic. I really wanted to fix my state of mind.

I stumbled upon a blog post about a guy who was a really productive marketer, and I believe quite successful. He burned out and couldn’t do anything related to his work for quite some time. So he took his savings and moved to the tropics. He drastically changed his life, became healthier than he ever was. 

His symptoms seemed similar to mine at that time, and I was inspired by the idea of drastically changing location and experience a different lifestyle.

I thought that this might be a solution in my case.

Traveling or Vacationing

Traveling somewhat is my favorite thing. Usually, it fixes me in many ways, and I start to think and operate differently. 

But at that time, before everything has changed, we usually traveled for around two weeks to holiday destinations. It felt good, but that wasn’t enough. Something was off. I didn’t know what exactly, but the first week in a new country or destination felt like an adaptation to something new, and I could relax only at the end of our vacay.

The whole travel experience felt limited and sometimes even fake. 

It was hard to experience local culture, and, in general, it’s just too comfy to hang around in your hotel most of the time and go out on well advertised and micromanaging excursions. 

I always wanted to travel somewhere off the beaten path or at least not to use tour packages.

Nomadic life

Nomads movement wasn’t a thing at that time. At least I had never heard about it in 2014. 

It was more about freelancing and working online, no fancy laptop insta shots on a beach, no nomad meetups, nomad cruises, and websites with all the resources you need to start your nomad journey. 

It was the time when you could randomly find some blog posts online and read about other freelancers' experiences  That was the only place where you could find any useful travel tips. YouTube and travel vlogs weren’t really popular either.

At that time, I’ve got that idea in my mind that you don’t have to sit at home to work online. Moreover, it doesn’t make much sense to have freedom from office hours and not spending it wisely.

I was confident enough that I could find projects in a relatively short amount of time. So my business model looked pretty much sustainable for me.

So, we’ve read as many blog posts as we could find, booked flight tickets, and quickly organized our trip. The decision was made just in a few days.

I’ve had some projects work in progress, and I had to do something with it.

Nothing urgent or something I couldn’t do with my laptop. I promised myself that I'd spend 3-4 hours a day turning around work things no matter what. It was enough time to do the most critical part of the work.

As I mentioned before, I had burnout syndrome, and it was totally fine to have time off work and get a good rest time. But I've followed my subconscious and decided to work if it feels like I wanted to do it.

That’s when I discovered the work and travel mode combination.

Work and Travel

Work and Travel is a powerful combination, in my opinion. The first time I’ve tried it, I was as productive as never before. 

Usually, in this mode, wasting time on social media or any other procrastination stuff doesn’t make much sense simply because you have plenty of interesting stuff around you. 

You want to spend time learning about the new country, seeing as many places as possible, trying national food, and interacting with locals. 

You have fewer thoughts about spending your time on something that doesn’t bring you value or change your life in any way. Basically, you don’t need such entertainment channels as social media or even a TV.

I’ve noticed one interesting pattern in me. When changing the location or even accommodation, it feels like I receive new energy. I can be tired and want to sleep, but at the same time, I’m in the mood of trying new things, being creative. 

I like to spend evenings working. Even 1-2 hours can be super productive, and I don’t feel about it as a burden. 

By combining work and travel  you don’t feel like you’re wasting time traveling around because you actually do stuff on the go. At the same time, the time you spent on work feels less official, less serious, less like work. And you know what? Our life is not only about the work that we do.

Working in this mode feels like the most focused and productive time for me. If the energy is right, I can be 3-5 times more productive than usual. And if you do the math, you can do the same amount of work in a day vs. working the standard 40 hours week. And it’s not about the hours, really.

Of course, I mostly talk from the perspective of doing creative work.

One guy shared how he approached his work and travel balance. His idea is to lock himself up in a hotel room or airbnb for 1-3 weeks to get everything done: launch products, schedule the marketing, make all the business processes work. 

When everything is done, he explores islands, mountains, or whatever is close by. And he does it for the next 2-4 weeks straight. 

The main rule is to open the laptop only when it’s something critical. Otherwise, it can wait until the next long work session that will last for several weeks again.

Convinced enough of trying the work and travel mode? You can still do it in 2021 and onward.

Traveling in 2021

Disclaimer: This is not a travel advice.

You can travel in 2021 even tho media outlets and people around you say the opposite. 

Is it more difficult? — Yes. Is it more expensive? — Yes. Is it safe? — Yes, if done right.

For example, some countries officially stopped letting in tourists and do visa exemptions. It doesn’t mean that you can’t find other ways to travel. You can travel for work, travel for business, volunteer, or anything else that’s a legal thing to do.

There are still options. Yes, it requires some preparation and figuring things out, but you can go through it step by step if it is worth the trip.

Is it worth the hustle? That’s you who decide that. Not everyone else around you.

Traveling is not a panacea, but it’s a natural way to change things in your life.

Changing your work or business isn’t always a solution to all your problems and mental issues. Sometimes you need to change your routine.

When you travel somewhere to a place unlike your current location — it changes your routine, sometimes for good. It opens your eyes to things you haven’t seen before. At the end of the day, travels somewhat uncomfortable. And you learn something new in your journeys.

Own Your Decisions, Own Your Life

You know your life better than everyone else, and you shouldn’t let other people dictate how to live your life. One norm for one person doesn’t mean it’s normal for you.

There is one life principle called YOLO. It means You Once Live Your Life. It might sound naive or frivolous, but it’s actually wise and smart in some sense. This principle makes you think that your life depends on you. 

You make your choices, and you have your outcomes. And if you do it right — you will have a life worth living.

Being a Nomad Long-term

When you 2 years in, you think differently about this idea of being on the road all the time. It becomes less exciting to move to a different location. You start visiting the same places you’ve been to before. You seek more comfort and tend to stay longer in one place.

Basically, you try to be more stable and not jump over the places. Otherwise, you can easily become burned out if you change locations too frequently. And this time not from work, but travels.

Can Burnout come back even if you’re nomadic?

How weird might that sound? However, that’s true, and many long-term nomads can confirm that. Traveling non-stop becomes exhausting at some point.

The good thing about being independent is that you can change how you live your life. What you can’t change is the place you’re visiting.

This is not always about beaches, hammocks, and pina coladas. Not always 4 hour work weeks.

There are always some factors outside your will that impact your life, mood, and energy.

So yeah, at some point, you can say “stop.” You just want to go somewhere long-term and recharge for quite some time and stop thinking where to go next, not being anxious about overstaying your visas, or finding a new accommodation before the upcoming checkout date, etc. 

At some point, you realize that a completely settled life is too boring for you, and you start to feel burnout syndrome coming back again. 

This is where you search for a balance. 

And the best take from it is that there is no ultimate solution that works for everyone in our universe. The best bet is to try things out and figure out what works personally for you. 

That was my story and thoughts on it. 

Now the bonus section with tips on how to overcome and prevent burnout syndrome in your life.

Common reasons for a burnout syndrome and ways to avoid or fix it

You’re susceptible to burnout if you’re a chronic achiever

This is true because you tend to work more to achieve more. 

Sometimes, you can catch yourself on the fact that you’ve achieved something, and instead of a reward or getting some time off, you decided to use this exciting energy to achieve something else right there and right now. 

It makes us exhausted quite often, and it’s important to understand the balance here.

Whether we went to do something else or stop for a moment, enjoy life and then come back to work a little bit refreshed.

Try not to get into exhausting states. It adds up and leads to burnout syndrome eventually. It’s like a time bomb, and you never know when it blows up.

Long-term projects

Big projects lead to big success, but if it takes too long to do something you think or doesn’t change anything on a big scale, it might be another problem that leads to burnout syndrome.

It’s totally fine to build an empire and try to do it on your own, but please don’t do it all at once. Use task management techniques. Split big projects into smaller ones, then create checklists with smaller doable chunks. Have a big picture in mind, but move in small steps.

Oftentimes, you’re not the one who works on the project. You can have clients, investors, managers, or even friends involved in a project.

Back and forth communication with stakeholders about a tiny change in the project might be the biggest issue here. 

Try to limit the amount of time you dedicate to specific parts of the projects not to have this issue. Aim for 2-3 iterations or 1 week of time to avoid being stuck in one stage. This was an example. Of course, the amount of iterations and time depends on the type of project, but these numbers I found work in my case.

Talking and thinking about your work more than actually doing it

Sometimes, you’re super excited about a fresh idea or, even worse, multiple ideas at a time.

You discuss it with friends, relatives, and everyone else on social media. You think about it day and night. The problem is you never actually start working on it because the longer you think and talk about the less exciting it becomes. You switch to another more exciting idea, and then another one. And again, you never start working.

Scientists found a correlation between the things we imagine and the things we experience. They found out that for our brains, it’s simply the same thing.

You can be exhausted in your imagination, or you can use this energy and actually do something.

Draw this sketch, build this MVP, write this draft, and see what you can do next.

Hustle culture

Technologies, freelance, and remote work make it more accessible for us to work overtime. And if we don’t set it up in the right way, it goes out of control.

Check that message in Slack when you have lunch, check that email before you go to sleep, or work through the weekends to catch up on even more work than you did during the week.

We’re not machines, and work is not all our life. Moreover, you don’t need to work all hours of the week to achieve great results. I’ve already mentioned this in my story earlier in this post. 

You can be triple and quadruple productive and do things quickly instead of working late hours to prove to yourself or someone else that you are a real deal. And by quickly, I don’t mean less qualified work. 

Focus on results. That’s all that matters.

Sometimes, time limitation works on your behalf if you have some experience, which is not new. But sometimes it works even when you learn something.

Too many distractions, concentration (focus), and flow state is the happy place you want to be in

Distractions can cause all the troubles. The more you are distracted, the more time you spend in the work mode: meaning, less time for the rest.

Believe it or not, but every workaholic needs that switch between work and rest states.

That leads us to another topic. It’s about the Flow state. This highly productive state helps us to focus on the thing that we do, and not only that.

Scientists came to the conclusion that a flow state makes people happier. Yes, you got that right. The more you focus on what you do, the happier you are.

The magic of the flow state is that you fall into this hyperactive and highly immersive state of mind where you see all the details really sharp, and it’s hard to be distracted by outside factors. This is truly amazing and helps to achieve some pretty significant results.

The flow state might be the cure to your burnout syndrome and definitely prevent it. The thing is that you can’t be in the flow 24/7, and you don’t need to be. We can train ourselves to work on something and focus on it as much as possible, remove all the distractions, and create an environment that helps us be focused. Then go and have some fun not thinking about the work stuff. 

Sometimes the work you do or a part of it is not really exciting. What can we do about it? Basically, two things: delegate or eliminate.

One study shows that it’s easier to fall into the flow state if the work you do excites you. It should be challenging enough, have some risks, and definitely have some rewards.

It’s hard to be in the flow when the work you do is micromanaged, and the reward is not that exciting for you anymore. Please get rid of it as soon as possible. Find projects that are interesting for you to work on.

Conclusion

Burnouts suck, but there is always a way out of it.

When everything goes south, you get to work, solve problems and eventually succeed. It’s just a question of time.

Don’t burn out, change, focus and try to be happy.

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Author

Max Snitser

Max is a digital product designer and indie maker. He helps some of the best companies in the world to build products used by Millions. He is a creator of the SPRY Blogging Platform, Nightfall Design System, and the Design Patterns Library. Besides his technical background, he is a writer of the book about Independent design business. Also, created this blog as a domain for the most thorough and data-driven content on topics: Design, Remote Work, Blogging, and Technologies.