Are you warming up for burnout?
Did you know it’s recommended for artists to go through a series of exercises and warm-ups before they begin painting? Just like a rough or first draft for an author, they’re encouraged to stretch their bodies and practice techniques or patterns before they focus on their main project.
As a writer, I’ve found my words come much more smoothly when I take the time to warm up. Writing often pours out of me like grains of sand, fast and free-falling without structure — but when I write for a purpose, for a reason, my words need structure, and it helps if I’m “warm” before I begin.
Put another way, it’s easier to swim laps if you’ve already gotten acclimated to the water. Your body is adjusted to the water temperature, you’ve checked your goggles for any leaks or issues, and your swimsuit is thoroughly soaked. Now’s the time to start swimming laps, when your muscles are warm and your limbs lithe.
I think a big contributing factor to burnout on the granular level is when people forget to warm up. They stop making time and start making assumptions about what they can accomplish without the proper preparation. Burnout can stem from a variety of reasons, but here are some tips I share with clients who are looking for ways to prevent burnout in their day-to-day:
My first tip to prevent burnout is to establish a routine at the start of your week. Find a place, a coffee, a breakfast — and create a pattern here. However, you decide to make it yours, whenever your morning actually is, use this to warm up your brain to make decisions by eliminating too many choices. When you create structure, it gives your creative mind freedom to fuck around outside the lines.
My routine looks like this: I wake up, shower, and have coffee and breakfast — either at home or in a coffee shop. I check my client work, then create my to-do list, then answer my own emails and eventually check socials. This exact pattern varies a bit day today, but the first half of my week always starts like this — that’s my warm-up.
My second tip to prevent burnout is to do the easy stuff first. Warm your brain up with small decisions, like an easy email to reply to — marking a slack message as read or duplicating an email newsletter and prepping it for next week. 0–2 decision stuff generally is a good place to begin your warm-up. If invoicing or reconciling your accounts is a good way to warm up your brain to numbers, then that could be a warm-up before you update your pricing or review your revenue goals.
My third tip to prevent burnout is to stick with the warm-up. Even on days when you’re tired. Even when you think you’ve really got the idea down pat. Assume a warm-up gets you ready for your entire day — whether it involves a podcast, a playlist, or stretching. Warming yourself up creatively is just as important. Keeping the routine exactly the same isn’t necessary, but having that structure to fall back on ensures you will be more likely to get the work done and do it well when you eliminate those extra decisions of whether or not you’re ready to work. Give yourself some credit, and some support, by making your warm-up a part of the process.
Warm up in a different medium than you’re creating in. whether painting, sketching, drawing, or pottery — have a warm-up medium that you work in before you switch to warm up in your primary medium.
If you write by hand or type, have a dumping ground, a no-pressure space where you can write drabbles of unstructured thoughts. Julia Cameron’s recommendation for morning pages is great here, 3 pages of whatever is on your mind. This is an excellent warm-up to thought work, therapy, or deeper writing.
To warm-up, it’s important to know what you want out of a day. For you, routine and structure are not the enemies, but the supports of having creative freedom. Warm up for your work with the easy stuff, then move into business planning, decision making, etc. don’t expect your brain to have a great idea without being properly warmed up first through team meetings, reviewing email threads, or preparing in some other way.
I believe warming up helps us to refocus our minds on what’s important, by not expecting it to be perfect right away. I’m rarely ready to crank out a 4k word essay first thing Monday morning. But after coffee, breakfast, some emails, and a shower — I’m usually ready for most things.