It’s OK for Freelancers to Say “No” At Difficult Times

How often do you say “no” to a client or work for reasons other than:

  • The pay is too low
  • You’re too busy
  • The deadline is too short
  • You’re going on holiday
  • They’re a p*ss taker

My guess is the answer to that is “rarely.”

In the winter, I did just that. I have previously explained why. Some of this article will repeat or reiterate some of the points I made in the article during Men’s Health Week about my pandemic mental health. I will try not to go over old ground too much except when it is necessary to make a point. I also wrote previously about the productivity cult and the guilt of relaxation.

You Can Say No At Any Time

It’s true. You don’t need a reason to reject work, either to the client, or to yourself. The guilt of saying “no”, even when not particularly busy, is one that runs through our society. We are always chasing that next big contract, being productive, earning to buy the next big ticket item.

But sometimes we have to say no, and not because of the reasons listed above – sometimes the client pays well and treat you with respect, the work is interesting, the deadline is workable, and you have the capacity to do it.

So why would you turn down such work?

Burn Out

This the most likely reason you will need to say no to work. This is a state of emotional, mental, and sometimes physical exhaustion resulting from (usually) long-term stress. WHO says it is an “occupational” issue, meaning it is intrinsically linked to what we do as a job. It impacts around 22% of Brits according to micro biz mag with a slightly higher impact on men in general although women 20-35 are the most impacted demographic group.

You don’t have to wait until you have burnt out before putting the brakes on. Learn to identify your mental state as your approach burn out and do something about it before you get there.

When Your Gut Says “No”

Again, here I am not talking about getting bad vibes from a client or a job. I’m talking about those moments when everything seems to fall into place – when everything about it seems ideal but you’re still not sure. Convention dictates that we should see these things as opportunities for growth but things don’t always work out that way. This is toxic positivity as far as I’m concerned. I tried to push myself with a regular client in the winter and ended up getting literally everything wrong about their requirements.

I didn’t feel “growth” at making those mistakes. I also knew that trying to correct the errors I made would only make me more anxious and stressed and impact all the other work I had then.

You Need The Free Time More Than You Need the Money

This can be anything and it doesn’t need to be only when you’re just too tired. I tend to reject work on the run up to a holiday. I’m aware that I will need more time to myself – especially to pack, but also to go shopping and get those vital bits. If I’m going abroad, I need to make sure I have the paperwork sorted (flight details printed off, tickets and passport in the travel wallet, insurance policy printed off etc). Because inevitably, you will run out of time and rush.

Other reasons here include: having visitors and needing to get your home cleaned and tidied, needing to do the Christmas grocery shop, or just because you want time for yourself. Bake a cake just because. The beauty of being a freelancer is you can turn work down just for “Me Time” too.

The Mental Barrier

There are, of course, many other reasons you might reject work beyond those discussed. What you might lack though is the personal permission. As I said in a previous article, we have a cult of productivity in this hyper-capitalist state in which we live. We feel guilty for not filling the 9-5.

The truth is, as freelancers, we are free to work whatever hours we like, whenever we like. Unless you are drastically short of money, sometimes simply choose to have a day off.

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