How to Deal With “Oh Crap” Moments

If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, you’ve had one of these moments. It might come in the form of “I really took on more than I should have,” or “Why did I think I could write a 100-page e-book in two weeks?” or “I am SO flippin’ behind!”. If you’re looking at a list of work that seems to be growing more than it is shrinking, it can be extremely overwhelming. Why? The reason it’s so overwhelming has less to do with the workload and more to do with how most freelancers prioritize (or don’t) their work. We are humans, and as such we think on linear timelines. Everything is about time. So, naturally we prioritize from “due first” to “due last”. Also, we tend to want to be all things to all people, promise miracle results, and invent a pet dog who accidentally choked on a pork chop as a family emergency when you need a good excuse for why something is late. 

If this sounds like you, read on. And if it doesn’t, bookmark this because at at least one point during your freelance career, it will. 

Here are five things you can do to deal with “oh crap” moments. 


First and foremost, you need to calm the heck down. Panic does not solve anything; in fact, it only makes it worse. Panic will cause you to make poor decisions, deliver poor quality work, and have a low quality of life. Not only that, but it’s completely pointless, as it accomplishes absolutely nothing. If you’re staring at a list of to do items longer than the Empire State Building, you might be feeling frantic. But don’t. Just take a deep breath, calm yourself, and move on. Ready? Good. 

Understand That You Don’t Have To Do it All

If you’re telling someone how you’re stressed out and frustrated and it sounds something like the following, you need this tip. 

Oh my gosh! I have this set of articles to deliver to George, Amy’s expecting those product descriptions like yesterday, Berta needs me to get that biography done by the end of the week, and I’m completing that site edit for Juan. I don’t know what to do! 

Sound familiar? Yeah, me, too. But in this moment, what you need to realize is that you don’t have to complete everything. Nothing is the end of the world. See, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that if you have to cancel a project, or you’re late, or you haven’t answered someone back that your whole career is going to come crashing down around you in an epic fiery blaze. But that’s simply not the case. 

What you need to do is take an inventory of what you can actually accomplish. Combine that with the rest of the tips here, and you’ll be able to create a plan of attack for what you can and can’t do. If you have to cancel a project, or you’re late on an order, it isn’t the end of the world. Work will be available. There are always new outlets to try. 

A while back I was kicked off a team at Constant Content. I thought it was the end of my world because I had made such good money the month before on that team. Like $2,700. How in the world was I going to make that next month? How was I going to find work? Oh stupid me, if I had only stopped myself from over committing to the… get the idea. 

You know what happened? Nothing. I found work through other venues, booked even better projects, and will be just short of that same income goal this month. Next month looks even better. I have had to cancel projects. I have been late on projects. I have had to email people 20 “I’m so sorry”s and irritated them to no end. I try  not to make this standard operating procedure, but I’m human, and it has happened. And you know what? I’m still a  full time freelancer. So don’t worry – sometimes something has to give. 

Now that you are calm and you understand that you don’t necessarily need to do it all, let’s move on. 

Be Honest

You might think you’re the best excuse crafter in the known universe, but I promise you that every freelance client will be able to see right through your veil of BS. I hire out some work, and I would much rather have a contractor tell me “I’m so sorry, I simply forgot,” or “I got behind and this will have to be in late,” instead of getting 20 excuses as to why the car broke down, their lover broke up with them, the dog ran away, and they missed their train. Don’t be a country song, okay? Just be honest. If you got behind, you got behind. Be honest about the situation with your clients. If they understand, great; if they get pissed off, oh well. At least you were honest about it, you did the best you could, and your character is intact. I’d rather be seen as a flake than a farce any day, so if your time management skills took a vacation, just say so. Your clients will appreciate your honesty.  

Prioritize By Paycheck

This is one of those things that should be really obvious, but for some reason doesn’t always quite jump out to a person. It took me forever to realize this. See, we as humans subscribe to a linear, time-centered vision of life and the universe. So naturally we set up our work from “due first” to “due latest”. 

Don’t do that. 

Always, always, always no matter what the circumstances, always prioritize by the amount of money you’re receiving. It might make sense to prioritize by due date, but you’re much better off doing your highest paying work first. Why?

Well, think of it this way. Let’s say you have a $500 project, a $200 project, and a $50 project. If the $50 project is due on the first, the $200 project is due on the 3rd, and the $500 project is due on the 10th, you might be tempted to work them by due date. But let’s say you get a little behind and the $50 project takes longer than you expected. That pushes your $200 project back. Well by the time you get to your highest paying project, it’s going to be really late, as well. 

If the $500 client gets mad that you’re late and cancels the job, you’re screwed. Your biggest check of the month just walked out the door. But if you had started with the $500 project, it would likely be completed and finished at least close to the due date. You get paid for that, and you work the $200. If the $50 client gets mad and bails, you’ve only lost $50. Even if you’re working on the $500 project and the $200 client bails, you’ve still got that big paying check. 

It’s going to be a lot easier to find work to make up $50 than it is $500. So always, always, always prioritize by paycheck. Highest paying work gets done first. Period. 

Don’t Feel the Need to Reply 

I know that we’re so often taught we must absolutely reply to every email right away it’s almost ingrained in how we do business. When you get an email – especially if it’s a NastyGram about why a project isn’t in  or a request for an update – your first reaction is to drop everything and write back, even if your response is going to be “I’m not done yet but I will be soon.” 


If you are available to reply to every email you get the second you get it, you’re not making enough money to survive as a freelancer. I figure if I can get back to someone in 24 hours, that’s good. Also, I think that a client would rather receive a response 10 hours after they sent an email saying “Sorry for the delay, here’s the completed project.” than receive a response 10 minutes after they sent it with a bunch of promises and apologies and excuses for why something isn’t in. You also don’t want to set a precedent of being available within 10 seconds of an email being sent. Make them think you’re busy, even if you’re not. Clients who think you’re packed with work treat you better than those who think you’re they’re lapdog with no other clients and the availability that comes with a lack of clientele. It might seem crazy or rude, but it’s true. 

Another pointer – don’t ever promise a deadline you aren’t 100 percent sure you can meet. I used to do this all the time, with the best of intentions. But now I’ve realized the best I can do when I’m behind and in a bind is to say “I will have this back to you as soon as possible; I am working hard to get everything done as quickly as possible.” or something like that. 

Hopefully these tips have helped you deal with an “oh crap” moment, or will help you in the future. 

What was your worst/most stressful/most humorous “oh crap” moment from your freelancing life? Tell us in the comments! 

Until next time; happy writing! 


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