Reset and get back on track

Can’t think creatively? Drawing blanks in client meetings? Lost all your edginess with your concepts? Struggling to do tasks you used to do easily? Then maybe you’re suffering from creative burnout. 

We’ve all been there – and it happens to all of us (and I mean all of us)! 

What is creative burnout and how do we fix it?

Creative burnout is more than just feeling tired – it drains your soul. When you’re working long hours, wasting valuable time, attempting to manage frustration and forgetting your creative ethos of ‘anything is possible’, all you want to do it collapse in a corner, drown in alcohol, or sleep for a week. 

Here’s the good news – it doesn’t last forever.

Don’t panic – we’re here to help get you back to a better place. So, sit back, relax and keep reading for some practical solutions that will help you break that creative block and get you back on track.

Before we start, let’s get a few things out of the way. Creative burnout happens to people who care a lot about the work they produce, and it typically arrives when you’re experiencing genuine stress or concern about a project – so I’ll try not to make this stress any worse here. And I certainly don’t want to add to your workload.

What causes creative burnout?

Creativity doesn’t appear ‘as if by magic’ and you can’t just make a command or flip a switch to be creative. To be creative you need time, clarity, inspiration and a free and open mind. And once you’ve finished one creative project you need to manage, replenish and refresh your creative resources before starting the next. If you don’t do this effectively, that’s when creative burnout creeps into your soul.

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Here are some causes of creative burnout;

Perfectionism – by pushing yourself hard, taking on too many responsibilities at the same time, and making unrealistic or unreasonable demands on yourself, creative burnout will raise it’s ugly head. To overcome this self-inflicted pressure and perfectionism, try to plan a few worthwhile activities in the less hectic parts of your day, week, month or year. By finding time for yourself, and stepping away from the coal face you’ll be in a better position to rejuvenate your strength, reset your mental agility and allow your creative juices to flow again. Read our post on Perfectionism and get a better understanding of why we’re perfectionists and how we can manage our lives around it.

Dreading work – if the thought of going to work leaves you in fear or a sick feeling in your stomach, creative burnout is probably present. I admit, no one likes Monday mornings or returning to the daily grind after an amazing summer holiday, but if these feelings become a regular thing – that’s burnout. And these feelings don’t just affect your work – at home you’re irritable, you put off that bike ride and walking the dog. Creative burnout will effect every part of your life and make the lives of people around you miserable too.

No boundaries – creativity and creative thinking doesn’t recognise the 9-5. We all need to find alternative ways to take our mind off things. If you don’t make time for yourself or additional hobbies and interests, you’ll sap every last drop of creativity you have, and it will take longer to replenish and get back to ‘normal’. 

Learn to say ‘no’ to things that aren’t important to you, and reduce the amount of time wasted on dead-end, mediocre, or unrewarding tasks. And if you can’t say ‘no’, then at least attempt to negotiate expectations on delivery and deadlines. By doing this you can hold onto those last few drops of energy you have and use them towards your burnout recovery.

Self-doubt – we all have setbacks. We all question our abilities. We all believe at times that throwing in the towel is our only option. When we’re experiencing self-doubt it’s time to change perspective, realise that it’s just a blip and appreciate a friendly ear to talk to. Yes, you heard it here first, talking helps! Let the people around you know what your struggling with and ask for help. It’s hard to recognise when you need it most, so try to pre-empt this and communicate with others regularly (before you throw your toys out of the pram). Creating a strong and supportive network will make you feel less alone, and this will be key to getting you back up and running.

Stress – stress is the primary cause of creative burnout and unfortunately it shows itself with physical symptoms. Not only does your creativity take a knock through stress, your health does too. We’ve all experienced headaches, general fatigue, sleep problems and anxiety. Or maybe we overindulge in the cigarettes, booze or some other substance! These are all signs that a burnout is starting, or that you’re already in the middle of one.

As simple as it sounds, any kind of physical activity reduces stress and improves your mood and will help your creativity recover! Healthy eating, getting a good nights sleep, taking multi-vitamins, and doing something active every day will improve your creative output. Stress may also be caused by your surroundings, be that at home or work. An uncomfortable sitting position, badly positioned monitor or chair height, will increase your stress level – so make sure everything is setup just for you. Whatever the actual reason or cause, we all need to take time to understand why personal stress appears and make the necessary changes to help reduce and manage it.

All input no output – I know when I’m going through a time of creative burnout, I have a habit of flying all over the place; reading articles, scrolling Instagram, playing weird music, scribbling notes, spending money on unwanted rubbish, eating and drinking too much – I am a consumption machine! But, no output, nothing, zero, zilch! And it takes me time to snap out of it. I believe I have to go through this process, as it’s the only repair mechanism that my brain recognises as the reset button. 

Decision fatigue – the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day (conscious and unconscious) – and we can safely say that creatives make even more. The more decisions we make, the worse we get at making them. Meaning that our judgment and willpower depletes with every decision made. Research indicates that we can simplify our decisions by making the important ones earlier in the day and also delegating decisions that don’t necessarily need to be made by us. By delegating decision making responsibility you’ll maintain your creative output  and save some quality time to focus on the more important decisions that need to be made – like what to have for lunch!

As a short summary to help keep things on track and creative burnout at bay, here are the five key things to remember;

  • Make time for regular breaks and alternative activities
  • Prioritise your health and keep active
  • Streamline and simplify your decision making
  • Delegate and allow others to share your workload
  • Do whatever it takes to reset

It is difficult to know you’re suffering creative burnout when you’re in the middle of it, and it’s even harder to know what to do about it. But if you take just one thing from this post; the creative mind is extremely good at resetting. So, if you’ve lost your mojo, don’t panic, it’ll return, and with a little help and direction from you (and your friends), it will come back sooner than you imagine.

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