How to cope with overwhelm

how to cope with overwhelm - work your way

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyse you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” – Bernice Reagon, Historian


The summer holidays are an inch away, my annual reminder that I’m hopeless at preparing for them. By the time June approaches, I’m left wondering in bewilderment, “how the HECK did that happen?”

Actually, this year I’m slightly better prepared. The manuscript is safely tucked away with my client, who will read and check it while I’m away. I’m looking forward to diving back in when I return.

This blog has been fed with scheduled posts and so have the social media accounts. The business – at least the online part of it – will be on full auto-pilot throughout the summer.

It’s taken me a while to get to this point though. Here’s what I’ve learned.


Evaluate your goals and priorities

It’s taken me quite a few years to realise that if you truly want to enjoy your freelance career, you must be choosy.

Cherry picking your freelance clients sounds almost counterintuitive – after all, doesn’t that mean you’re leaving money on the table?

But if you think about it, you’re more than capable of being choosy in other areas of your life.

Here’s a simple example: I can’t eat avocado. I used to LOVE it and would eat it all the time, but the birth of my now sixteen-year-old son has altered my taste buds. Nowadays, even the thought of it turns my stomach. So, no surprise then, that it doesn’t feature on my shopping list.

I’m sure you’re choosy about what you eat too.

And are there other choices you make in life, that you don’t need to think twice about? When you’re faced with them, you respond with an emphatic ‘NO’?  A firm, non-negotiable – either because the choice you’ve been presented with happens to be one of your pet hates, it’s too expensive, or it’s simply not worth your time?

Cast your mind back to your corporate career. I’m sure there were elements of choice even back then. Remember the days when you’d carefully scan the newspaper for companies you felt were a good fit, deserving of your qualifications and experience? The ones who offered a great salary, compensation scheme and perks?

Why should it be any different with your freelance career? You know what you NEED to earn each month just to break even. Is that going to be enough for you? What would you LIKE to earn, to afford a great lifestyle?

Shouldn’t that be your starting point? The deciding factor between who you choose to work for and who simply isn’t worth your time?


Learn to say ‘NO’ more often

Nowadays, I’m much better at saying ‘NO’. At times, I positively delight in saying it.

It’s partly a by-product of being quinty-something. You know your own mind, you don’t give a !! But it’s also being determined to follow your bliss, to work on projects that excite and challenge you, for a fee that feels a deserved reward for your time, effort and expertise.

I’m also more realistic as to what I can feasibly manage by myself. I know I’m not doing myself any favours by over-promising and under-delivering.

I do feel that if you’re saying ‘no’ to a client or a colleague, you should at least temper it with an offer of an alternative solution. It pays to be decent.



It’s unlikely you’ll have the skills, knowledge or experience to do everything yourself in your business, so delegate as early on as you can.

I remember battling with wonky WordPress plugins that seemed to break faster than I could fix them. I now have a trusty WordPress guy who I reach out to for regular maintenance. I’m paying him for his area of expertise, so I can carry on with mine. My favourite mantra is “do what you do best and outsource the rest.”

Remember, if you’re providing a service as a creative freelancer, time IS money. So if you’re tackling tasks in your own business that you’re not qualified to do, you’re not saving money, you’re wasting it.

It also pays to be honest with your client. If they ask you to do something you’re not qualified to do, own up to it and offer to bring someone in who can help you. It will earn you kudos all-round – from both your client and the freelancer you’ve collaborated with.


Get Organised

No set priorities or goals will have you reacting to whatever little tasks you remember to tackle, or to whatever problems come your way. Instead of proactively planning your next move, you’re in perpetual fire-fighting mode.

Create a system where high priority items come first – such as promptly sending off your invoices, chasing up payments, or following up leads.

Less important items, such as catching up with your social media updates should be lower on your list – unless of course, social media IS your business.

I schedule the majority of my social media updates, ‘checking-in’ only two or three times a week to respond to follows or personal messages, but of course you should do what makes sense for your biz.


Work with your natural rhythm

I can’t work any later than 8pm.  As much as I’ve tried to, I’m far too tired and end up producing rubbish.

I will, however, quite happily wake as early as 5am. I’m one of those annoying morning people who bounce out of bed – alert, energetic and full of the joys of spring, so I aim to start work by 5 or 6am.

Try to find your natural energy levels throughout the day, and structure work accordingly..


Take time to recharge

I now take a lunch break every day – even if it’s just for 30 minutes – and I like to step away from the computer altogether.

The break helps me to take a fresh new look on whatever it is I’m working. In general, even if you’re not working, as a parent and carer, you’re still constantly juggling the demands of a family.

Cultivate your own interests outside of the business and take time out to do something you thoroughly enjoy.

And when you’re away from work, unplug completely. Do you remember how people got hold of you if you were out and about, before mobile phones were invented? That’s right. They didn’t. Until you got back home!


Systemise your processes

As far as my own work is concerned, I’ve learnt to work more efficiently by systemising processes, that is, create simple systems to handle repetitive tasks.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Contracts/Agreements/Letter of Engagements are a must: Do you have a template you can modify each time a new client engages your services?
  • Questionnaires: You can either create a pre-screening questionnaire to filter prospective clients at point of contact, or use a questionnaire as I do, to glean the most important information you need to start your project.
  • Templates: In general, if you have a task that you repeat for each client, then it’s a good idea to create a template for it. I have created 4 separate outline templates for the types of books I ghostwrite for my clients.
  • Submission Guidelines for guest or sponsored posts for this blog:


You get the idea – there are plenty of other examples you could use. Even something as simple as a “Frequently Asked Question” sheet for your clients or a page on your website, will save you time if you find you’re answering the same questions over and again.

Taking the time to put a few of these systems in place will take time initially, but they’ll mean you’ll run your biz more efficiently in the long run.


Accept there doesn’t have to be ‘perfect balance’

There doesn’t have to be a perfect balance and you don’t have to be constantly in control.

There are times when I need to consult with a client during half-terms, summer holidays, or late evenings. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I don’t beat myself up about it.

I’ve learnt to embrace it as true work flexibility.  Less work-life balance as more work-life blend.

There isn’t an ‘off’ switch when it comes to coping with overwhelm. It takes patience, honouring, valuing and ultimately, being kind to yourself. Carefully putting these measures into place will, in time, help you  become better at coping with it, if not avoiding it altogether.


Want to learn how to systemise your freelance biz? Check out my new course “Freelance Success” where we hit the ground running with this and other profitable skills.




I’m Mary Cummings, a ghostwriter, collaborator and all round word doctor. I help business owners write and publish business books; I'm also passionate about helping creative freelancers find work that they love - their work sweet spot with work on their terms, projects they love and clients who are a dream to work for.

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