By Princess Jones

When you’re working for yourself, you don’t always know where your next paycheck is coming from. It can be hard to turn down opportunities when they are available. Nobody enjoys being left at the end of a project or contract wondering when the next one will come along. You can, however, have too much of a good thing.

It’s important to know how much work you can handle if you want to stay competitive. You can’t do the kind of quality work that gets repeat business or referrals when you are running yourself ragged trying to fit three days of work into a single day. Knowing your limits can help keep you in business.

Signs You’ve Taken on Too Much Work

You are constantly re-negotiating deadlines. Everyone needs to change a deadline once in a while, but if you are regularly unable to complete your work within the deadline, you’ve got too much on your plate.

You’re having trouble focusing. Do you have a hard time getting started with your work day? Do you find you just don’t have enthusiasm for what you are doing? These can be early signs of burnout — another indication that you’ve got too much going on in your work life.

You are avoiding phone calls or emails. When you finding yourself dreading having to make return phone calls, or avoiding reading emails from employers, your anxiety is a sign that things are out of balance.

How to Handle Too Much Work

Say no to new work. It’s better to say no to a project than to take it on more than you can reasonably handle. Doing a poor quality job, or not finishing a project because you don’t have time, will damage your hard-earned reputation and hurt your business in the long run. Try not to feel too guilty about it. “No” is a complete sentence. Or maybe “No, thank you” if you want to soften the blow.

Sub out the work. Sometimes, you want to keep the work but you really don’t have time to do it. For example, you might have a regular client or someone that you want to be a regular client. You don’t want to say no to them because you’re cultivating a relationship. You don’t want to send them to someone else because they might end up cultivating a relationship with them instead. In this case, you might need to subcontract out the work to a reliable colleague. You’ll pay them the bulk of the fee and set the deadline so that you have some wiggle room to make sure everything is up to your standards.

Recommend someone else. Subcontracting out work still requires you to have a hand in the project. Since your name will be the on it and you’ll be the one delivering it to your client, you will need to finalize everything yourself. If you can’t do that, you should considering recommending someone else altogether. You’ll still be saying no to the new work but you’ll be giving the client a lead on where to get what they need. Just make sure it’s someone whose work you are willing to vouch for.

For more tips on balance, browse this section of work/life balance articles.