Don’t Crash and Burnout

Taking a vacation can only improve your inspiration, your passion, your creativity, and your success!

Although this post is not my normal technical article focusing on web development, it is an important topic that it actually applies to anyone, including web designers and developers.

“Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful to counteract and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.” [Richard Louv]

Freelancers are one of the worst professions in taking time off.
Understandably, it is basically a one-man team.
To keep a somewhat steady income, you need to have work coming in on a consistent basis.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you work long hours everyday?
  • Can’t remember the last time you took time off?
  • Only get a few hours of sleep each night?
  • Do you have constant tight deadlines one after another?
  • No excercise.

What concerns do freelance developers have?

  • You have developed successful apps, plugins, or themes:
    which mean tons of support questions coming in daily.
  • Your current clients constantly contacting you about problems, changes, and advice, at all hours.
  • You are responsible for your own financial management.
  • Recruiting future work.
  • Learning and keeping up with new technologies.
  • If you have a family, they have needs too.

Many young entrepreneurs understand that to succeed, hard work is involved and they are usually up to the challenge.

In some of my older posts, I talked about how I learned web development and coding.
See FreeLance posts.

The Bottom Line:
I had always thought that to be an accomplished designer or developer you had to eat, sleep, and think web development all the hours that you are awake.

Is this a healthy lifestyle?

No, if you don’t:

  • Take breaks during your work schedule.
  • Take a vacation or two every year.

No time away from work will only lead to burn out!

There are tons of articles on the internet about the importance of taking a vacation and burn out. You can research and read them yourself.
Man cannot survive without rest, or in other words, do something other than web design or development sometimes!

Key Signs You Need Time Off

If you are one of those that say to yourself, “after the next project I’ll take time off.”
But it never comes, because the next deadline comes up, it’s a cycle that keeps repeating itself.
Here are some key signs telling you, “Please Stop!”

  1. You keep making mistakes.
  2. You are always sick, your body is worn down.
  3. You have no patience, you become Mr. Grumpy: Your own family will notice.
  4. You start cutting corners in your development work: your code is not clean.
  5. You start forgetting things, it seems you don’t have any short-term memory.
  6. You have a difficult time falling asleep, your mind can’t unwind.
  7. You want to learn a new technology, but it has now become a burden, your interest has dwindled.
  8. You have a difficult time in troubleshooting or problem-solving.
  9. Depression creeps in.


Suggestions on taking a break

Broken down into four groups:

1) During workday (or work night)
2) During the week
3) Lunch (or dinner)
4) During the year

Work Day or Work Night (for those who work at night)

  • Take a walk/jog/ride a bike/hit the gym:
    • Mid morning or early evening (night workers).
    • At lunch/dinner.
    • At the end of your work day.
    • Chat with a friend, share with each other. If possible discuss none work-related subjects.
    • If you play a musical instrument, grab that guitar and play some songs.
    • Listen to music.
    • Go run an errand, pickup some SD cards, drop off the mail at the post office, pickup a beverage from the local coffee shop.
    • Take time to watch something you enjoy on Youtube, make sure it’s not about coding or web development, with so many subjects available there must be something that can refresh your mind.
    • Play a video game: caution, be sure you can stop or you could end up wasting a whole morning or afternoon.
    • There must something that you can think off.

    During the Week (longer break)

    • Go to a movie.
    • Go surfing, play basketball at the park, go hiking, etc..
    • If you are into photography or video, go out somewhere and record something.
    • Anything that’s longer than an hour, something that makes you smile.


    Lunch or Dinner Break

    Get away from your computer:

    • Have lunch/dinner at a park, enjoy the scenery not your smartphone.
    • Take a short power nap.
    • Excercise: shoot baskets, walk, swim, etc..
    • If you stay in your office, move away from your workstation.
      • The goal is not to think anything about anything that is work-related.


    There will be times when you may have to work and eat lunch at the same time.
    Reason: client website down, the urgency is to make their website live again.
    This should be the exception and not a routine.

    During the Year

    • Take a “real vacation.”
    • You don’t have to travel to a foreign country or clear across the country.
    • You don’t have to break your savings.
    • Just traveling to somewhere away from your home or office:
      • Camping
      • Visit a national park in your state.
      • Be a local tourist: visit places tourists go.

    As you can see that I really emphasis taking breaks.
    Take advantage of being a freelancer, you can take breaks as often as you want.
    Always stay refreshed with a clear mind, and you will cut down on mistakes.

How to Fix It!

Don’t accept every job or project

Hand pick your work, don’t take on huge projects back to back.
Yes, you may lose the huge income, but in the long run you can do more work.
Let me explain. a college wanted to revamp their website, and also migrate it to another platform.
This in itself is a huge undertaking, but doable.
But after reading their proposal, they required that the hired agency provide the following:

  1. Training for the those who would be adding content to the website for the duration of the contract. Dates would be determined by the school.
  2. Agency would be responsible for all maintenance and security issues.
  3. Agency would be on call status for any problems, to respond within 12 hours when contacted.

I took myself out of consideration because I could see several red flags that would not fit into my workflow and family situation.
Their training schedule might conflict with my workload and family needs (care for special needs son).
Since the school is forking out a huge financial contract, they expect that the website be live 99% of the time.
Problems and issues need to to be resolved within a certain time period.
In addition, a full detailed report is required for any lengthy downtime.
I hate writing reports!

Essentially, when the training would be announced, you were obligated to drop everything and teach the classes at the time and date that the school scheduled.
In addition, their contract would require you to resolve any issues or problems immediately, instead of you determining the priority from your perspective.
In other words, this client would have control over you.
I really like to have the flexibility to chose huge, medium, or small jobs to fit my schedule.

Unfamiliar with a technology

Another area where you could really put undue stress on yourself is accepting a job that requires a technology that you are not familiar with.
Example: you may be experienced with PHP, but the new task uses NodeJS.
Yes, you can learn on the job, but most likely there is a deadline that must be met.
Do you think you can stop and learn, restart, stop and learn, repeatedly and still meet your deadline?

Or how about accepting a job where the website is hosted on a Dedicated Unmanaged hosting platform.
In other words, you are responsible not only for the website but server maintenance and security as well. If you are not sure of what you are doing, you can easily take down a website and you will not know where to start.
This is a huge Red Flag if you have no experience in maintaining an unmanaged dedicated server.

These are just two examples of getting into something that may give you a type A+ stress condition.
Use your judgment or common sense in accepting work.
Then again, we take common sense for granted, some people just don’t have it.

Your plate is full

Are you involved with too many activities, projects, and other work?

Besides your full-time job, do you also coach youth soccer, shoot and edit videos for your weekly Youtube vlog, attend night school to finish your degree, have a project to restore your Ford Model T in the garage?

Yes, this is an exaggerating, but there are freelancers who are involved with so many other activities that it leaves little time for any relaxation.
Don’t stretch yourself too thin, evaluate your activities and select maybe one, two at the most. You can only do so much quality work, but your health is the primary objective here.


The following assessments are only my personal opinion and are not advice etched in stone.

1) Many senior developers say to be proficient in a coding language, you need to code that language daily.
That is true if you are a student, and the only code you see is your daily lessons.
If you are a Free Lance Developer, you code or work with code for hours each day. To look at additional coding on top of your real projects and tasks can only lead to burn out. Free Lancers need a break from coding or web development functions.

2) How about the 10,000 hour principle to be successful?
If you believe in this precept authored by Malcolm Gladwell, then by all means practice, practice, and practice.
But I don’t think it says anything about practicing your craft all 365 days a year. Practice all week then take a day off on Sunday, as an example.


When you decide to start out as a freelancer, it is with excitement, enthusiasm, and focus.
Most of us started out on a part-time basis to test the waters.
As it is extremely rare for someone to go full time from the get-go.
Then later down the road, you can make that big decision to become a full-time freelancer.
Bottom line:
It doesn’t matter if your business is full-time or part-time, everyone is given 24 hours a day.
The question is, how do you use those 24 hours?

We are not machines that can operate continuously with no rest.
Humans need times of refreshing:

  • Recreation
  • Companionship
  • Food and water
  • Sleep

But machines eventually break down and stop functioning themselves.

Yes, you may lose that huge project ($$$) and it would have looked great on your portfolio.
But think about it, who really cares about that (only your ego).
We are talking about survival and if you can successfully function as a freelance developer or designer for years to come.

In the end, you can be an example to future freelancer’s.
On the other side of the fence, there are those who have worked, worked and worked who will just fade away.
Later, people will wonder “whatever happened to so-and-so”

Hopefully, that person is not you!


Gerald Watanabe

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