5 simple ways to avoid creative burnout

As an independent creative professional, and because of the number of hours per day I work, I face the very real potential for burning out. The secret of avoiding burnout isn't luck, it's a deliberate decision to keep the fire burning.

Burnout is a state of total exhaustion that not only effects you emotionally, but also physically and mentally. It happens when you work yourself too hard. It also happens as a result of being stressed for long periods of time.

It doesn't matter whether you're working from home or as the creative director of a big agency, burnout evaporates your motivation. To put it simply, burnout sucks the life out of you.

Watch your stress levels

Stress might very well be unavoidable. There are times when our careers and our personals lives crash in such a way that we feel stressed. For example, imagine your boss or client is expecting the project you've been working on to be done this weekend. That same weekend, your relative is having a big birthday party they've been planning for months, and the family is expecting you to not only be there, but to host the party. What do you do?

Maybe you're lucky. Maybe this is a rare thing. But imagine you're faced with demanding work deadlines and demanding family responsibility or other stressors all of the time. If left unchecked, this stress can lead to burnout.

But it doesn't have to be family vs. work. Work vs. work is a thing too. Dealing with tight deadlines and heavy workloads time and time again can lead to burnout. Taking on new responsibilities at work can be a good thing, but taking on too much can lead to burnout.

How to avoid burnout

Stress, heavy workloads and daily responsibilities cannot always be avoided, but protecting yourself from burnout isn't impossible. Small changes might be all it takes to keep that fire burning.

Over the years, and after a few burnouts of my own, I've come up with some techniques to keep myself in check. So far, so good. 

01. Take breaks

Weather permitting, I try to walk for at least two hours a day. That may seem excessive, but I work long hours and this is a relatively small amount of time in the scheme of things. For me, those two hours (which sometimes are not always consecutive) allow me to recharge my batteries. For you, it could be as simple as making sure you take a 15- or 30-minute walk at lunchtime or before work.

02. Be kind to yourself

Be nice to yourself. Sometimes you can't always do as much as you need/want/think you can do in one day. It's okay. It doesn't mean you're a failure. It may, however, mean you've agreed to do to much. It can also mean that you didn't manage your time properly. If that's the case, find out how to fix that problem; don't waste your energy beating yourself up.

03. Learn to say no

A friend recently told me that 'No' is complete sentence, and 'Hell no' is a full paragraph. This advice couldn't be more spot on. Limiting your responsibilities is an important part of avoiding burnout. The bottom line is: don't take on more than you can handle, and if you do, see if you rearrange things so that you're not doing too much.

04. Be sociable

This one seems kind of obvious, right? Humans are meant to have connections; without them, bad things have a tendency to happen. If you don't have time to be sociable – and by that we mean seeing people in real life, not just online – adjust your schedule. Build in enough free time that you can spend it with your friends and family.

05. Be mindful of your health

Okay. I won't lie. This next one feels a bit hypocritical for me since I don't necessarily practice what I preach here. That being said, it's important to eat right, sleep right and exercise. Like a well-oiled machine, the human body runs a lot better when its owner takes care of it. At least that's what my mum keeps telling me.

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Tammy Coron

Tammy is an independent creative professional, author of Apple Game Frameworks and Technologies, and the maker behind the AdventureGameKit – a custom SpriteKit framework for building point and click adventure games. As an innovative problem solver and industry leader, Tammy enjoys working on projects from content creation – including books, tutorials, videos, and podcasts – to the design and development of cross-platform applications and games. For Creative Bloq, she has written about an array of subjects, including animation, web design and character design.