F*ck it, it’s burnout — now what?
before we dive in: I have a podcast now!
If you’re reading this post, congrats! You’ve officially, probably, been googling “I think I’m burned out at my job // creative passion — what the fuck do I do?”
That sucks! But I’m glad you’re looking for answers, burnout doesn’t go away with neglect, and it often festers and twists you up inside until you snap. That’s no fun for anybody and makes your recovery that much more difficult.
If you are feeling burnt out creatively, it’s time to do more of what you enjoy, likely something new, and less of what’s currently drying you out. There is no one size fits all remedy to burnout, and it doesn’t have to be a months-long vacation; burnout does need to be attended to, but it doesn’t have to put a halt on your entire life.
If you google burnout, most folks are going to tell you it’s time for a vacation, but I know from personal experience that’s not feasible for a lot of folks. Disappearing for two years to recover from whatever makes you burn the wick at both ends it's significantly more complicated if you’re an entrepreneur, have a family, or find the idea of solo traveling terrifying.
If this is the first time you’re finding yourself burn out creatively, whether you’re an entrepreneur, managing a side hustle, or an artist (or all of the above, if you’re an overachiever) — just know it might not be the last time you feel this way, but it’s going to be okay.
In my work as a business consultant, I share strategies with clients on how to manage their specific version of burnout by looking at what’s currently draining them, what’s got them excited for work and we look at balancing their schedule again like you’d balance a checkbook.
I treat burnout like it’s part of my annual planning in my business and personal life. I check-in for signs of burnout every 3 months or so (about as often as you may meet with an accountant or balance your accounts) and plan for a seasonal dip in productivity. I avoid burnout by planning for it, instead of running from it.
Like right now, I’m planning on a very busy next 90 days. So I’m simplifying everything on my business side, planning to raise my prices, say no to projects, travel, and get lots of sleep. I’ll also probably work on some other top-secret projects that got shelved while I ramped up into the new year.
I know these next 3 months are a slow season for me because last year I was super burnt out and had too many commitments to keep me from truly resting. I know I’ll be ready to hit the ground running again in September, then November-January I’ll likely need another break. I know this shit because I studied my patterns of productivity from last year while I was thinking about what I wanted to do in 2022. I didn't want to be overbooked, I wanted to have the energy to travel, go on dates and spend time with my partner. I wanted to challenge myself to get out of the house and work less when possible.
I teach my business coaching clients how to do this since burnout is often treated like a creative plague that will leave you bed-ridden for anywhere from 2 weeks to 5 years (and in a lot of extreme cases, it totally can). But looking at burnout as a part of your natural cycle through the year can and should relieve some of the pressure to keep being productive.
In other terms, there are no plants that have the stamina to flower for 12 months in a year, regardless of their atmospheric preferences. All plants go through some form of hibernation, stagnant periods, periods of growth, flowering, and root development.
You are just an overcomplicated fucking plant, so you too are going to need time to hibernate, focus on yourself, rest, and do a bunch of really beautiful work. But going against your natural flow and expecting everything to work out fine and dandy, or just postponing heavy work until you kinda sorta feel like doing it is a sure-fire way to schedule your own burnout.
You heard me, putting off the work that’s draining you is like saying “I really want to be burnt out in two weeks so I’m going to do this exhausting work then instead of right now”.
Eventually, you’ll have to say no, turn in half-assed work, or spend another month resting as you try and recover. Do you get my drift here? If the work is exhausting, it’s going to continue to be exhausting until you do something different.
On a smaller scale, I prevent burnout by making time to rest every day, by not working every day in a business week, taking weekends off, and spending time on my hobbies away from writing or reading for work — and it helps immensely. I make sure I can see some cues for my hobbies around the house like my Nintendo switch, books, or paintbrushes, so I know they’re there to reach for when I need to get out of my head and into something new.
I have hobbies that inspire me, take me out of my business brain, and are purely for pleasure. I’m not trying to be good at watercolors, I do it because it’s relaxing and fun and doesn’t require a lot of planning or forethought.
Whatever your pleasure hobbies are, a good way to combat burnout is making sure you have time to do them when you need them. Burnout can be a wild thing, but you can roll with the tide if you make space for creative ebbs and flows in your personal and business planning for the year.