I've been an independent software developer for a year now. A familiar story when you're independent, is the feeling of desperation when work is slow and the feeling of being overwhelmed when work is plentiful.
Let me share how I've been dealing with those swings and my strategy to smooth them out over time. This may be useful for you because I've been proactively working to solve this problem and implement systems that will help long term.
The first time I felt the desperation of not having work was after finishing up a contract at Microsoft. I frantically started searching for my next gig. I was scared that I'd run out of money, get evicted, and become homeless on the streets. None of this would have happened though. I had over a years of expenses saved, but my mind slipped into a mental hell.
I applied to every job I thought would take me. I spent most of my time studying for interviews. I almost took a bad job out of desperation, and at the last moment a much better offer came in.
I look back at myself during this time, and I see a man running around with his head cut off.
My first project for that new job was over budget and had to be finished ASAP. I felt overwhelmed.
I didn't like the decisions I made out of desperation and overwhelm.
Recognizing and accepting that this is a natural cycle has helped a lot. When I feel desperate, I know it won't be forever and it's possible to feel overwhelmed again in a couple of weeks. I'll relax, decompress and do something I haven't had time to do. It feels like a vacation.
But I'm an entrepreneur. I can only accept to a point.
I've invested in systems to smooth out the low points. I have saved enough money and learned to reduce my expenses so that I can go without any income for a couple of years. The chances of that happening are low, but the benefit of security is high. I've been building a network of people and businesses I can go to for work. I've been systematizing marketing myself, so I can get a steady drip of projects to work on. If you want to be a part of my network, fill out the contact form on this site.
My wife was laid off from her job. I saw her going through the same feelings I had. My advice to her was to enjoy the time off to relax a little more. That advice fell on deaf ears though. I think you have to experience this cycle yourself to internalize the lessons. Full time employees don't experience this like freelancers and consultants like me.
When I'm overwhelmed, I remind myself that it's great to have work and people trust me with their projects. I remember how this is an opportunity to add a case study to my portfolio, meet interesting people and learn new skills. I will hire someone to help me, so I never get too stressed.
I think most people ride these ups and downs like a rollercoaster. They're always surprised when they happen, instead of assuming they will happen and planning for them.