Firestarter Friday: Planning against burnout


It doesn’t matter what your job is. It doesn’t matter how large your family is or what you do for fun. And it definitely doesn’t matter how much money you make. Burnout happens. It can be a full-core meltdown, or it can just be that nauseous feeling of stress and overwhelm.

When it comes to creativity, there are two different kinds of overwhelm: daily life burnout and creativity burnout. Burnout can be a hard thing to fight, but if you get to know yourself really well and put a plan in place, you can cut it off before it happens. Or, at the very least, lessen the blow.

Daily Life Burnout

If I said “burnout” to you right now, a million activities and obligations pop into your head…you know exactly what I mean. The sad part about daily life burnout is that often, it’s not seen as a problem. Yeah, you’re tired as hell and unhappy, but you got a lot done! So it’s okay! Right?

Not so much.

At what cost are you “getting things done”? Besides the mental and physical toll, where does all this leave you as a creative person? Pick your favorite activity. It energizes and inspires you. But you haven’t had time to spend on it in months. If you’re burning out and something has to give, why cut something you love? Fostering your creative passions nurtures ever part of your being. The benefits from that will spill over into every part of your life, even the parts that feel unrelated. Odds are really good something on you to-do list can go. And don’t snap and say “Nope, it’s all essential”. That’s a justification. If you’re burning out, you need to cut something or stop whining. Oh! I’m so blunt…but I mean that with love.

Creative Burnout

This is when you actually do have the time to do something creative. Even though you know you love it, it still feels too much like work and you’re forcing yourself to do it. Creative Burnout is hard for its own reasons. The same people who will congratulate you on daily life burnout may chastise you for creative burnout. “Oh, I’m sooooo sad you’re sick of making crafts, boo-hoo!” Okay, maybe they’re not that blatant, but you get the idea. Some people don’t get it, and you need to ignore them.

You run the highest risk of creative burnout in one of two scenarios. First, if you only have one or two hobbies. Second, if your creative hobby is overlapping with your full-time job (i.e., you love photography and you are a full-time staff photographer for a newspaper). Either way, being proactive is the best way to keep yourself fresh and inspired.

But what to do?

No matter what part of your life worries you, there are steps you can take to remedy the problem before it rears its ugly head.

  • Get it in writing. I may have said this once or twice before, but getting things out onto paper or your desktop is really, really helpful. You could go about this one of a few different ways. You could list out everything you usually expect to get done every week. Then you could take a serious look at it and figure out what could be condensed and done less often, what you can delegate, or what you could just cut out entirely. Alternatively, you could just make a wish list of things you would like to do.
  • Decide what your priorities are…and stick with  them. After you’ve made your list above, think of what is most important to you…overall, not just in art. What are the top three to five priorities in your life? Being a good parent, working in more exercise, more reading — whatever it is, just be realistic about it. And limit yourself. Take care of your real priorities first and the tiny bits will follow. If you can keep your eyes on what you really value it’s easier to fight stress when it creeps up on you.
  • Make some solid goals…within reason. When you want to get somewhere, there is one thing you should always remember, even if you forget everything else. Don’t overdo it! Imagine this scenario: you have a full time job and two kids and are currently not crafting at all. Your new goal is to craft for an hour every single night. Not very realistic. It sounds fine as two sentences on a screen, but think of the real-world execution. Day one and two go great, and you feel wonderful. Day three is a bit of a long day at work, you rush to get dinner on the table and you’re wiped. But you still get your hour in and feel great. Day four you have another obligation and skip…it’s only one night. Day five, you get called to school to pick up a sick kid and you spend the night wiping boogers (or worse) off a chubby little face. So crafting doesn’t happen. You see where this is going. And this could be an easy week for you. But setting such a high goal, you’ve made it really hard to reach, so it’s frustrating when you don’t get there. Instead, work up to it. Maybe you start with one hour two nights a week. Once that is habit, step it up. Keep in mind, you are trying to stave off burnout, not build it into your free time.
  • Now REALLY get those goals met. Whatever you need to do to keep yourself on track, do it. Sit with your eyes closed and think about your personality and what really, truly keeps you motivated. Maybe you write affirmations every day, or you post something on Facebook for all your friends to see, or you call your mom every weekend because you know she will ask. Do what works for you — even better if you do a few different things. Also, you’ve heard it time and time again, you need some sort of a reward system. Once again, you know yourself. Just pick something reasonable that won’t blow any of your other goals (i.e., budget or dietary type goals).
  • Don’t forget about stress relief! Always have a few tricks up your sleeve for when all the planning in the world isn’t helping and you feel major stress attacking. The best remedy is something that isn’t tied to your hobbies or chores. This will give your brain a chance to really relax and let go of what’s been bothering you.

Daily Burnout specific tips. Keep chanting to yourself over and over “Stressing to death is NOT  a badge of honor”. Yes, there are things you have to get done. And getting those things done is admirable. But if you can cut a few things that are stressing you out with things you love, you will do better across the board. If you do something as drastic as let the dishes go undone for one night (the horror!) the world will not end. And if that does happen, don’t go through some guilt trip. You still rock at life.

Creative burnout specific tips. If you only have one or two hobbies, or have job/hobby overlap like I mentioned above, make sure you take breaks. If your passion starts to feel like a chore, take a break before you start to hate it. As an added bonus, branching out to something outside your usual hobbies can give you new perspective on the things you love. If you’re an avid sewer, take a break for some photography. Maybe one shot will inspire a new fabric design you create you self — it could happen! If you have a large variety of hobbies, sometimes you will face the feeling that you’re not really getting anywhere. I know I feel like that from time to time. In this case, see what you can do to overlap techniques and materials.  Mixing things up like that is a great way to break new proud and feel accomplished. 

If you only take one thing away from today’s Firestarter Friday, remember this — when you’re excited and inspired, it’s hard to feel burned out.

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