#14 Frameworks for freelancers dealing with burnout

  • x6 frameworks I use to beat burnout.
  • How to spot the warning signs of overwhelm
  • Reduce your mental load
😍 Something I'm grateful for this week

Burnout is an occupational hazard for solopreneurs. Here's x6 frameworks to prevent and cure burnout when it creeps up on you.

You might assume because I teach about growing a lifestyle business that I am blissfully unaffected by burnout.


It sneaks up on you sometimes without you even being aware of it,
until suddenly you’re one of those assholes losing their shit in a restaurant.


Not attractive.
My most recent burnout, I remember having a mini blow out with my wife over where to lay a garden path.
We weren’t even due to start the job until the next year.
But it was the final straw on a job list that stretched until forever.
Cue burnout.
Burnout often affects those around us the worst.
Stress can turn even the nicest people into unbearable, insufferable, negative naysayers.
If you want to hear the story you can read it here:
“work-life balance is not possible, or desirable”

I’d say I get hit with burnout at least twice a year.
My wife is amazing and will often help me notice the warning signs in myself,
and give me a quick kick up the arse when I need a reality check.
But burnout is an occupational hazard if you want to build something great.
Which is exactly why I teach about it.

Firstly, I believe burnout can’t always be avoided.
If you want to achieve exceptional things, you don’t do it by coasting by doing the bare minimum.
You do it by going outside your comfort zone,
by taking on big challenges,
by personal growth.
Growth is stressful.

I teach people how to run a 6 figure business on a 3day workweek.
I don’t do this by cramming more into those x3 days.
I do this by eliminating, systemizing and doing less!
Which means you have to get comfortable with some things sliding.

Running a business is a stressful vocation;
There are x100 things to do, and not enough time to do them.
Most entrepreneurs try to just cram more things in.
Entrepreneurs often don’t have enough downtime to recover.
The stress builds, until burnout is inevitable.

Burnout is a symptom of having too many things to do, and not enough time to do them.
Burnout happens when you responsibilities keep piling up and you cant get them out of your head.
Burnout is not a productivity problem.
Burnout is a balance problem.

The key is managing it.

First we need to diagnose burnout.

Awareness is the first step.
Despite being acutely aware of the dangers of burnout,
and despite coaching my students about the signs and symptoms burnout,
it can still catch me unaware.
We are often unaware of our own warning signs.
Many of the symptoms are scarily similar to depression:
Here’s my warning signs.

Unable to deal with life’s curveballs.
Small setbacks become huge dramas.
Unable to maintain a consistent mental thread.
Unable to start even the most simple of tasks
Frustration bordering on rage rising up during tasks I normally enjoy.

So once you’re aware of it, here are my 6 frameworks I use to prevent, and cope with burnout when it rears it’s ugly head.

Reduce your workload

The best way to avoid burnout in the first place, is by cutting your workload, and claim back free time for recovery.
Systemizing your business will allow you to cut your mental load, and run your business on autopilot.
I used these simple steps to half my workload and automate the fundamentals of my business, to leave more time to worry about growth tasks.

❌ 1 Eliminate
do I really need to do this, will it move my business forwards?

📦 Template
If I’m going to do it more than once, can I create a template to save doing the same thing lots of times.
Emails are the best example of this. I have template email snippets for almost every scenario.

🤖 Automate
Can I replace this manual action with automation?
If it doesn’t require human intuition, the answer is to automate.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Delegate
can I trade money for time?
can I outsource or hand to a VA?

⏳ Procrastinate
If it’s not important and I put it off will anything bad happen?
It might not be a task worth working on.

If you want to learn more about how to systemize your business…
I run a multi 6 figure business on a 22 hour week by designing powerful systems to automate the fundamentals.
I’m open sourcing all of my 6 figure systems for solopreneurs here.

But systems will only get you so far….
There will ALWAYS be more to do.
Here’s the great irony of efficiency:

Tasks lead to more tasks.

So the more efficient you are, the more tasks you’ll have to do 🤣
Rather than a way to do more tasks, you need to get better at living with incomplete tasks.

If it’s too late for prevention, and you aren’t aware of the problem you may default to just working harder, or “pushing through” to finish more of your todos.
This will make it worse.
You’ll need something to pull you out of burnout.
Here are my curative measures for dealing with burnout:


Your brain is meant to have ideas not store them.
Your brain is like a big computer.
If you run too many apps at once you’re going to run out of RAM.

You need to build a second brain to hold your thoughts and ideas.

Incomplete tasks, and unfinished trains of thoughts create a persistent ‘tug’ on your attention.

How to stop this?
Get those ideas out of your head.

  • write them down.
  • take notes.
  • then you can forget about them until it’s time to revisit them.

Five Wise Whys

First we diagnose your burnout.
Keep asking why till you get to the real reason.

WHY am I losing my shit right now over tiny things?
I have a short fuse because I’m fried!
WHY are you fried?
I don’t have time to rebuild my website, answer sales calls, walk the dog and stop for lunch everyday!
WHY don’t I have enough time?
Because I have too many tasks that all need done right away!
WHY do they all need done right now?
Well I guess some of them don’t need done now
WHY are you doing them if they don’t they need done now?
Because I haven’t prioritized my tasks by urgent and important so I’m trying to do them all at once.

Sometimes the cause is obvious and you may only need x2 WHYs to get the root cause of your burnout
Sometimes the cause is oblique and subtle and you may need many more WHYs.

Urgent/important matrix

When your brain gets overloaded that’s burnout
Wiring them down gets them out your brain.
Use the Eisenhower matrix to sort your tasks along x2 axis.
Importance vs urgency.
Importance is how much of an impact it will have on your business.
Important = long term business growth.
Urgency is how quickly it needs done.
Urgency = reactive, rushed and defensive.
Urgent and important
This is the firefighting zone.
If you are here it’s often because of poor planning, or procrastination.

  • Your car has broken down.
  • Your website is down.
  • You’ve left a presentation till last minute.
  • Chasing late invoices

Non-urgent but important
Most people tend to live in Urgent and Important.
Ideally over time you should be trying to move out of this box into Important but not urgent.
This is where you will do your best work.
This is the work that grows your business

  • Optimize your landing page conversion.
  • Set up a system for customer support tickets
  • Write SOPs for your team
  • Schedule your social content
  • Education and training

Urgent but not important
These tasks demand your attention, but don’t help you move towards your goals.
Don’t be fooled, many of these tasks may seem important at the time. But they aren’t

  • Most emails, texts and messages
  • Meetings to review, cover old ground or “chat things through”
  • Social media comments
  • Your client needs you to fix their printer.

Automate as many of these as you can,
If you can’t automate build a system and delegate.
Not urgent and not important
These things are time-wasters.
The test is to ask yourself “what would happen if I ignored this?”
If the answer is “not much” then ignore it.

  • Scrolling social media
  • Checking your emails more than twice a day
  • Responding to every call

The Eisenhower matrix
Sort your tasks thusly.
I have been waiting some time to use the word “Thusly”.
Damn that felt good.

Urgent/important matrix

The imaginary mentor

Imagine a clone you sitting on your shoulder.
Do I have to do this?
Do I have to do this NOW!
What happens if I don’t do this now?
What’s the consequence of that impact?
Would that be the end of the world?

“Good idea. but not now.”

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of good ideas.
These can derail your focus on great ideas.
Every time you have a new idea that you want to take action on, say this out loud.
“Good idea. but not now.”
Write down your idea. x1 line only. forget about it. you can revisit it later.
It’s amazing how much this helps.

Here’s some of my “amazing” ideas from 2023, than in retrospect, don’t look so hot.
“I need to start a community” (good idea, wrong time)
“treadmill desk” (there’s a much cheaper way to walk more: it’s called ‘walk more’)
“velcro climbing wall” (was this ever a good idea?)
“jam delivery service” (still think this could work. But I already have x2 businesses. Maybe in another life😅)

Download x6 frameworks I use to prevent, reduce & cure burnout.

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💡 Key Insights for solopreneurs

Beating burnout is more about self-awareness and mental gymnastics,
than it is about productivity or efficiency.

Avoiding burnout is about prioritization and organisation.
So first, if you want to grow your business without burnout, you need to systemize the fundamentals.
This won’t stop burnout forever. There’s always more to do.

Curing burnout means getting clarity on what’s truly important,
focussing on the important tasks,
and being ok with letting the rest slide.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed,
I take a triage of my todo list,
I sort them using the Eisenhower matrix.
For each I use the burnout framework as appropriate,
I mark any that I can template, systemize, automate or delegate.
I eliminate any that aren’t important after all.
I push them to later if I can.

🛎️ Daily reminder for solopreneurs

Burnout is not a productivity problem.
Burnout is a balance problem.
The key is being aware and managing it.

💥 How to take action in the next 5 mins

Create a todo list (virtual or on a notepad)
Sort them using the Eisenhower Matrix
Triage at least once a week.

Picture of Nicholas Robb

Nicholas Robb

Founder, Design Hero
Author of Life by Design

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