Freelancers: How Much Work Is Too Much?


Success as a freelance web designer is a double-edged sword. While it’s great to be busy and make money, it can also lead to being overwhelmed with work.

It’s a good problem to have, but still a problem nonetheless. One of the most difficult decisions you’ll need to make is determining just how much is too much. At what point do you say “That’s enough”?

While the answer will vary from person to person, the considerations regarding such a move are universal. Before you come to a decision, think carefully about the following questions.

How Will I Know When I’m Trying to Do Too Much?

Sometimes, we can get ourselves into situations without fully realizing the consequences. If you just faced a slow period where revenue was sparse, you might be eager to pick up every new project that comes along. Before you know it, you’re swimming in work.

Still, you may not even think that you’re trying to do too much. In design and development, it’s easy to get so engrossed in our work that we are oblivious to our own condition. So, it’s important to look for signs of distress.

In my case, I’ve found that I start to get very hypervigilant. I try to cross things off my to-do list in short order. If something disrupts my flow, I get upset. It feels like my brain is in overdrive.

The signs will be different for everybody. But once you pick up on them, you can then take a step back and breathe. Assess your predicament and think of ways to improve it.

A crowded sidewalk.

How Long Will This Last?

We’ve all had those moments when we feel like we are literally drowning in projects. The situation can get to the point where you aren’t sure that you’ll ever get through it all. Meanwhile, clients are asking for status reports and hoping to launch sooner rather than later.

I’ve faced this situation many times over the years. But the thing is, it’s not (usually) permanent. Quite often, it’s because several projects that were on indefinite hold ended up converging all at once. All of the sudden, everyone’s in a hurry. And it is stressful, to say the least.

Being in this type of position can make you consider simply telling prospective clients that you’re too busy and can’t accept any new projects. However, this could be very short-sighted. Instead, it may be more appropriate to explain that you’ll be otherwise occupied for the next month or two.

For projects that aren’t necessarily a rush job, that may well work out for you. Your schedule may have some holes open up during that time.

Likewise, if you’ve signed on for a longer-term project, it may be wise to slow things down until you have a better idea of what’s in store. Once you get your feet wet, you can decide on the best path forward.

People viewing a calendar.

What’s the Root Cause?

Before you slam the brakes on acquiring new clients, it’s worthwhile to take a look at your business as a whole. It could lead you to discover that your current overload may have been avoidable. Or, perhaps you’ll find that other factors are involved.

Aside from the aforementioned “everything hits at once” situation, the cause might be something deeper. For instance, you might be so busy because you haven’t managed your schedule very well. There is also the possibility you’re (seriously) not charging enough.

On that last point, think about the value of your time. If you’re constantly scrambling to get things done, maybe it’s not a matter of forgoing new projects for a while. Maybe it’s more about raising the low end of your pricing threshold.

When clients pay you more for your time, you’ll sift out those who won’t. So, while you may remain steadily busy, you can better avoid becoming overwhelmed with too many projects (for not enough money, I might add).

The idea is that the issues you face in business are often more than meets the eye. Only by giving your situation a proper analysis can you find the true source of a problem.

Woman sitting on a rock.

How Can I Achieve the Perfect Workload?

There really is a sweet spot when it comes to workload. For me, it’s when I have a few projects to work on without tight deadlines. It’s there that I can take the time to experiment with different techniques or explore new ideas without feeling rushed.

But the reality of freelance life can take us far away from that type of comfort level. When you have bills to pay, setting up your ideal workload usually takes a backseat to other priorities.

That doesn’t mean we can’t try, though. If we can gain a better understanding about what it is that we like, we can find a way to get there more often.

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