Twenty Six.

Burnout alert! How to stay sane at Christmas.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland discuss CHRISTMAS BURNOUT in response to a question from copywriter Franky Shanahan.

She says:

“To be brutally honest, the tail end of this year is kicking my butt.

Life is throwing a whole heap of challenges my way way and my brain is FULL.

On top of busy workload and some personal stuff, one of my children is ill (again) and my other half is working overseas for a week. I’m trying to figure out the best way to avoid buying out completely before Christmas Day!

How do you stay sane at this busy time of year – especially when it feels like the universe is out to get you?”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:45] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:00:55] – Steve
Hello! Yes, each week we take a question from a member of the Doing It For The Kids community, and do our best to answer it, but of course — whether it’s about life or work — we know that you are going to have great answers as well, which is why we also take your answers from the previous week.

The last episode was…

[00:01:11] – Frankie
…I forget every time! I was just looking at it…

[00:01:14] – Steve
Yeah, I know. It doesn’t sound like that in the edit, does it? It sounds slick, I know.

[00:01:19] – Frankie
Saying no to Red Flag clients!

[00:01:21] – Steve

[00:01:22] – Frankie
While trying to protect your reputation.

[00:01:26] – Steve
Yeah. Got you. First one comes in, first comment from anonymous.

They say:

“No word of a lie. A few weeks ago, I was going to anonymously submit this question. Thank you, fellow detective, for beating me to it!

My usual go to response is to say that I’m full up capacity wise, even if I’m not. And 99% of the time it’s worked out fine. The 1% of the time where it hasn’t worked is when they found out, usually from someone else, that I am looking for new clients or if they’re based at my co-working space.

It’s hard to keep that line up month after month, especially if they are persistent and you keep bumping into them in person. I usually use the ‘not a good fit’ line after that. I’m not a big fan of the charge-ridiculously-high-fee-solution, but for different reasons. The big one for me is: what if you do that and they say yes? It will be even harder to say no at that point. And by doing the work at a hiked up fee, their expectation for you to deliver good work has just shot up significantly.

That Red Flag client has likely gotten reddier and flaggier. The important thing to remember is that if a prospective client takes it very badly, then two words should spring to mind: bullet dodged.

And the point Frankie made about how it works both ways and that the prospective client equally has the right to suddenly change their mind and hire a different freelancer instead made me shout “EXACTLY!” in response. It’s so true!

Unfortunately, there’s this expectation from clients that because they’re the ones with the money and making a request for help, they’re the ones in control and that we just have to nod and smile and go along with it. And that really bugs me.”

[00:03:00] – Frankie
Dave Smyth says:

“Great episode and question. On balance, I think I turn down more work than I take on”.

Good for you, Dave. High five to that!

Dave continues:

“Turning down work that isn’t the right fit is a positive thing as it gives you the time and space for projects that you want to do. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a preferred type of project. As I get longer in the tooth, the list of red flags increases. But the hungry freelance gremlin is never far away encouraging me to take on all the offers.

But there are so many legitimate and positive reasons why you might not want to do something. Budget, requirements, type of job, sector, schedule, client behaviour (probably the rarest), NDAs… Even if a project meets all of the requirements, even then you still shouldn’t feel that you have to do it.

Unless the client has been outright rude I’ll usually spend a little bit of time discussing and scoping the project. From there, I can either recommend someone for them to speak to or offer them advice about the next best step. Option number two happens surprisingly frequently and I’ve used my website’s blog to wrap up common question scenarios I’ve come across.”


[00:04:01] – Frankie
Dave also says:

“On the budget thing. I try to remember that clients without much budget today might have a bigger budget at some point in the future. Taking 10 to 15 minutes to help them now may pay off further down the line. All of this should give the client a good feeling about the service they’ve received. It also positions you as someone who’s helpful, experienced and isn’t just in it for the money. People remember this sort of thing.”

[00:04:20] – Steve
Yeah, we were saying right? He’s used the phrase: “should give the client a good feeling.” I think people remember the way you make them FEEL and that’s what we were trying to get out. He’s probably put it better.

[00:04:33.] – Steve
Laura Perrett. Hey Laura!

Laura says:

“I am at the point now where I am happy to say I don’t feel that this project is the right fit for me and then perhaps recommend they approach someone else or provide a next step option. By putting your own and your business’ needs first, you are protecting your reputation. It’s very hard to excel on a job you are deeply unhappy doing.

Also, never feel like you have to explain why you are saying no. I have tried to go down the excuses route before and then I end up with a client trying to problem solve my excuses to get me to agree to the job.”

It was like when you said, it’s a bit like dating. Isn’t it probably best to say that “I don’t think it’s going to work” and leave it at that? Rather than saying, “Oh, you just live too far away”… “That’s okay, I’ll come and live next door to you.”

[00:05:23] – Frankie

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:08:38] – Frankie
This week’s question comes from a fellow Franky. Franky Shanahan, who is a copywriter. Her website is

Franky says:

“To be brutally honest, the tail end of this year is kicking my butt. Life is throwing a whole heap of challenges my way and my brain is full. On top of a busy workload and some personal stuff, one of my children is ill (again) and my other half is working overseas for a week. I’m trying to figure out the best way to avoid burning out completely before Christmas Day. How do you stay sane at this busy time of year? Especially when it feels like the universe is out to get you.”

[00:09:16] – Steve
*sings* It’s beginning to look a lot like burnout.

[00:09:22] – Steve
It’s so true, isn’t it? December is mental. November, December… it all just kicks off.

[00:09:29] – Frankie
Well, we didn’t do an episode last week because I burnt out hard. Wasn’t even December, was it? Maybe it was just…

[00:09:38] – Steve
I started to worry when I saw on your Instagram stories that you were pouring a cup of coffee at half past ten at night.

[00:09:46] – Frankie
Yeah. Starting work at half ten. Yeah… That’s not good, is it?

[00:09:48] – Steve
Not a good sign.

[00:09:50] – Frankie
And yeah, like something in my body was like, “hmmm stop”.

[00:09:54] – Steve
And so what was that? Loads of client work?

[00:09:57] – Frankie
Oh, a combination of so many things. December is weird. Like, I would say on balance, most Decembers for me are really busy. But yet, I seem to forget that every year!

[00:10:09] – Steve
Busy with client work or just in general?

[00:10:11] – Frankie
Yeah with client work.

[00:10:12] – Steve

[00:10:13] – Frankie
I think quite a few, maybe not so much these days… but either they work January to January financial year and they want to wrap up some budget in December or they just want to do that final push before the year is out.

There’s that psychology of like, “let’s quickly get that thing that we haven’t achieved this year done!” I just had loads of stuff come in all at once and I just said yes to all of it because it’s Christmas and I need the money. And as Dave said in the comments, like the gremlin of ‘will I have any work in January?’ You just want to do it all now, right?

[00:10:48] – Steve
And then at the same time, the school is making you do stuff.

[00:10:53] – Frankie
Yeah. So I was doing some school admin last night. I’d had something like nine emails from the school in like three days?? And I hadn’t read any of them. And most of them had like, four page PDF attachments with dates and all this kind of stuff. So I sat down last night and was just reading it all and then I was in the WhatsApp group going, “what the hell does this mean? Do I need white leggings or will blue ones do?”, you know?

[00:11:17] – Steve
And then you have Christmas drink invites and parties.

[00:11:22] – Frankie
Not so much these days…

[00:11:23] – Steve
Not as many as we used to have, but still. And then there’s that permanent nagging thing going on in your head about what you meant to organise for Christmas itself.

I think what we’re saying is, we get it!

[00:11:37] – Frankie

[00:11:38] – Steve
Frankie in particular is doing a lot of research into this question. You can’t fault her commitment!

So our ideal situation is not to reach that point, right?

[00:11:54] – Frankie
Absolutely not. Yeah.

[00:11:56] – Steve

[00:11:56] – Frankie
Never again.

[00:11:58] – Steve
I think one thing you have to do is go back to your super organised way of doing things. So for a start, there’s a lot of sense of overwhelm. We’ve talked before about when you’re overwhelmed before — so get it down on paper, onto the Trello board or whatever, as to what it is you’ve got to do. But not just your work stuff, but your family stuff, because a lot of that tends to sit in your head, doesn’t it?

“I’ve got to get presents for that person. I’ve got to order the meat…”, especially if you’re hosting Christmas. So, yeah, get serious with your to-do-list and then take a step back from it.

Maybe grab a Quality Street and have a look and think: what on that list do I really have to do? Especially with client work — I sometimes get the feeling that we’re working towards a “let’s get this done before Christmas thing”, like you say, because they feel like that feels like a good thing to do, but suddenly your to-do-list has been influenced by somebody else’s to-do-list. Sometimes you speak to clients and you think, “okay, does this actually have to be done before Christmas?”

[00:13:05] – Steve
Some people might need that stuff to launch on Boxing Day sales or for January, there might be a good reason, but for other people, actually, no — there’s not, because you might deliver it on 20th December and then they all bugger for two weeks anyway!

[00:13:19] – Frankie
They’re all at the Christmas party, like, on the floor.

[00:13:22] – Steve
Yeah, “Sorry, I’m looking for feedback?” “Sorry, we can’t give feedback, we’re all at a party.” I’ve literally had that in the past.

Are those deadlines actually concrete? And I would ask that both before you take a project on, but also, even if you’ve already taken it on, be honest with them and say, “look, just looking at all of the workload and getting everything in — can this actually wait until January?” or whatever.

And by the way, I never say I’m actually back on the day I’m back. I always tell them a couple of days after that.

[00:13:50] – Frankie
Nice. Build in some admin time. That’s a great idea.

[00:13:56] – Steve
So we’ve got the client obligations, but also your to-do-list of social obligations. Like what of that do you really want to go to? Do you like those people enough to go? I bet sometimes you say to somebody, “Oh do you know what? I don’t think I can catch up next Friday.” A lot of the time at their end, they’re going, “Oh, thank God that person said they can’t. Because actually, I quite fancy a night in as well.”

[00:14:22] – Frankie
I think there are two schools of people, though. There’s like, either the people that are really, “let’s make sure we see each other before Christmas! Let’s make sure we get that in, get a drink in”, and then there’s me, who’s like, “no, let’s sort something after Christmas, because Christmas is mad. We can do that drink in January. January is depressing. Let’s do it then instead”.

I’m much more like… I just kind of write off most of December social wise, because I just know there’s too much going on. Even though I’ve written off my entire social life, I’m still burnt out… anyway!

But, yeah, I think some people feel the pressure on that more than others.

[00:14:57] – Steve
I do love it. It’s one of my favourite things about Christmas, less so Christmas Day itself. But actually the lead up to Christmas and the feeling and seeing people and connecting. I do like it, but I do think it’s okay to shut some of those obligations down.

[00:15:13] – Frankie
Yeah. I think the subtext to a lot of this is that the Christmas pressure is ten times more when you have children, particularly, like, small kids, where the Christmas is still ‘magic’. It’s like you suddenly want to do all these things that you wouldn’t have done on a previous Christmas.

I remember Holly June Smith actually on Instagram, one of the first Christmases after her first was born, and she was suddenly like, “oh, I want to do all this baking and making stuff with the kids, blah, blah, blah, but I know they’re too small. But I feel this need to do all this Christmas stuff that I should do as a mother”. There’s that real like, “I should be crafting with them! Making the cookies! And every day should be special!”.

And obviously if that makes you happy and you have the tim —, great. But there’s so much, particularly in the age of Instagram… we’re all there sharing how great our family life is and how beautiful our Christmas is going to be. A lot of the time, it’s just about surviving the thing. But it’s true, and I never had that sort of pressure when I didn’t have children.

[00:16:2] – Steve
The pleasure of Christmas is also heightened by having children.

[00:16:25] – Frankie
Yeah, absolutely.

[00:16:26] – Steve
But the pressure is too. It is that coming together, that clash of lots of Christmassy stuff. Like the fact that December really becomes about two weeks long, I think that’s part of the problem!

[00:16:41] – Frankie
End of term is in five minutes, isn’t it? Yeah.

[00:16:44] – Steve
Yeah. So our kids break up on the 20th, I think it is. They’ve got loads of time off. I mean, depending on the age of your children, you’re going to Christmas fairs and you’re going to school plays or carol concerts or whatever.

Yeah, maybe we need to get real with our heads for next year, for 2020, where we think, “actually, December is only two weeks long!”. I don’t think that’s a bad idea. It might not help right in the moment, right now. Think about it though… don’t just rush straight into January, but reflect on how you felt about November, December and what you can do differently next year.

So there’s the normal pressures of work, there’s the normal pressures of family and Christmas. But then sometimes, like we’ve spoken about this before…

[00:17:31] – Frankie
…and that Franky touches on in her letter.

[00:17:35] – Steve
…the other stuff going on. Sometimes life just throws us stuff. And as we’ve talked about it before — sometimes you just need to almost go into survival mode and say, “okay, maybe this bit doesn’t matter this year”. Maybe we don’t need to do that because, ultimately, I just need to keep my own health and sanity going and enjoy being with my family, because there’s no point getting everything done beautifully for everybody else if you’re not taking care of yourself. So by the time it finally comes to Christmas, you just collapse in a heap. Ultimately, I think you’re better off going to bed and getting some sleep. The power of the naps.

Well, Franky, I hope that helped!

What would your advice be?

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