With the rise of remote work and everyone feeling connected via email, Slack, and other online communication outlets, many people feel like they need to be working 24/7. This demand creates a lot of pressure, and about 75% of workers say they’ve experienced burnout.
Creatives are especially likely to feel this stress. Many are freelancers who don’t get paid if they’re not working. And it’s hard to turn off the creative mind, so even when you step away from your desk, you’re still thinking about that major project. These five steps can help you prevent and manage creative burnout.
1. Work Purposely
If you work in an office, knowing you have coworkers nearby or a boss making the rounds can push you to stay focused. But with creative tasks, it might be more difficult to motivate yourself.
Working purposely helps you stay on task. When you’re writing, focus on your subject. Instead of stopping to do research, consider highlighting the section you need to find more about and push past it.
If you can’t keep working without researching, time yourself. This will prevent you from spending too much time scrolling unrelated articles or social media. You’ll find the information you need and get back to work promptly.
When you work purposely, you’ll both prevent and manage burnout. The best way to do this is with time management skills. If you have a deadline for a project, set your own personal deadline to finish it a day earlier. This gives you extra time to look it over and ensure you’ve hit the mark.
Work backward from your personal deadline and create mini-deadlines along the way. Strive to write a certain amount of words per day or to write five chapters a week. Breaking down a large project into manageable tasks will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
Practice Time Management
You can further divide your time by using the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work without interruptions. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break. Then get right back to work. After completing four pomodoros, which is about two hours, take a longer break.
The shorter breaks give you a chance to step away from your task and clear your mind. You’ll feel invigorated when you come back to it. The longer break gives you a chance to appreciate your productivity and change to another task, if necessary.
2. Know When to Say No
It can be hard to say no to work as a creative. If you’re a freelancer, then saying no can diminish your paycheck. If you’re eager to network and get your name out there, saying no can feel like a door closing in your face.
But saying no is vital to preventing burnout. If you take on more than you can handle, you’ll feel stressed. You won’t be able to completely focus on one job and give it your best.
You’ll try to multitask in order to finish everything by their respective deadlines. However, it isn’t actually possible to multitask. Instead of doing two or more things at once, you’re rapidly shifting your attention from task to task.
This means you’re never giving your full attention to one job. You might forget what you were writing about or what voice you were using, which can give your project a disjointed feel overall.
If you’re uncomfortable saying no, consider deferring the project. If you’re working with a client, you might find that they have a flexible deadline. Tell them when you’re available, and be honest with the date. If you’re working on your own project, think about how you can devote more time to it after you finish everything you’re currently working on.
Your client might prefer to know someone can take on their project at a certain date instead of having to continually search for the right person. Even if they say no to your proposed date, you’ll have tried to work with them. They’ll appreciate that and remember it the next time they’re looking for someone.
3. Enjoy Other Hobbies
It can be hard to have hobbies when you're creative. You’re an illustrator because you love to draw. You write and edit because you love to read and write. Therefore, taking time to doodle or relax with a book might not feel as fun as they once did.
Enjoying other hobbies that are drastically different from your creative work can help manage and prevent creative burnout. You’ll have something fun to do that takes your mind off of your paid work.
If you don’t have any hobbies you enjoy, consider trying something new. You don’t have to be good at it the first time you do it! Just have fun. Taking a yoga class, for example, is a great way to physically and mentally unwind and prevent writer’s fatigue.
The key word in this tip is ‘enjoy’. In this culture of side hustles and monetizing everything, it can be hard to do something for pure enjoyment. Just because you love painting doesn’t mean you need to sell your work online. Paint because you like it, and hang your work in your home or give it to loved ones.
Exercise Your Body and Brain
You don’t have to be a fitness buff to benefit from exercise. Getting fresh air on a brisk walk around your neighborhood is enough to benefit your body and brain.
Using your muscles helps relieve the physical stress you feel when you sit at your desk or tense up over your work. This exercise in turn releases serotonin and dopamine, hormones that both relax and energize you.
Getting away from your desk and experiencing a change of scenery can actually benefit your creative mind. So if you don’t have a fun hobby to take your mind off of your work, walk it off!
4. Take Time Off
Being creative means that you never stop thinking about your work. A person you see in a cafe might give you a story idea. The way the sun streaks through the tree branches might inspire you to pick up your pen and draw. It’s easy to get sucked back into creative work when your brain is constantly searching for more material.
Many creatives have trouble taking time off because they don’t have paid leave like people who work for others. When you’re a self-employed freelancer, taking time off means you’re not making money. But you need to value your peace of mind over money.
5. Treat Yo’ Self
Taking time off is one way to treat yo’ self, but it’s far from the only option. You might be eyeing a new book, new shoes, or a new laptop. You might want a pedicure or massage to pamper yourself.
When you earn rewards for meeting deadlines, they’ll work as a natural incentive for you. You’ll be motivated to work because you want to reach your milestones. The treat will reward all of your productivity, so you’ll feel rejuvenated and ready to continue.
Treating yourself doesn’t solely mean you’re pampering yourself or devouring junk food. You can also practice self-care by delegating some of your work and other tasks.
Instead of feeling pressured to write the next book in your series, consider hiring a ghostwriter. If you feel like you can’t get out to do your grocery shopping, have it delivered. You’re prioritizing your time and mental health, so these are great ways to feel pampered.
Using all of these steps to reduce stress and prevent burnout is also a way to treat yourself. By prioritizing your mental well-being, you won’t overwork yourself to a dangerous degree. This level of self-care will make you feel rewarded so you won’t have to go through burnout.
Work can be fulfilling, but you should always prioritize your mental well-being. Working purposefully and creating manageable deadlines will help you manage your time.
Saying no to certain duties will keep you from feeling stressed out. Instead of being alarmed at how much you have on your plate, you’ll be able to devote all of your energy to one project at a time.
If saying no sounds too hard, ask to defer a project. Whether it’s a personal project or for a client, you’ll know you can devote your full attention once you’ve completed your current work.
Preventing burnout means you’re taking time to enjoy other hobbies beyond your creative work. You’re taking time off and allowing yourself to completely unplug from your work.
Taking these steps to manage your workload will help prevent creative burnout and writer’s fatigue.