5 Ways to Handle Creative Burnout

by Margaret Penney | March 24, 2016

Freelancing seems like a charmed life to most, but in reality it usually means working longer hours both day and night to make deadlines and also keep up with the maintenance associated with running your own small business.

Working on multiple projects at the same time can also contribute to creative burnout, since you have to produce creative work for projects that can be vastly different from one another in visual style. It’s important that you are able to switch gears and start each project fresh and come up with new design approaches and solutions.

Included here are some burnout strategies to help you cope when you think you’ve reached that point of no solution. The common element with many of these is to find ways change your perspective, to get you out of that mental rut so that you can be productive again.

1. Go Outside

If your burnout seems totally formidable and you can’t push through then your best bet is to shift your perspective by taking a break. The easiest way to do this is simple, go outside. Go outside and if you can, take a walk. Make your walk at least fifteen minutes. If you can’t go on a walk go on your balcony or go in your backyard and lay down and stare at the sky or the squirrels, whatever you prefer. If you fall asleep for a little while that’s okay too.

In fact, being outside is one of the best ways to get good ideas, so say many creatives, although don’t go out there with that intention, since that would not be taking a break.

2. Exercise

Another technique is exercise, it can elevate your mood, get your heart pumping and also help you switch your perspective. It is considered pretty unhealthy to sit in a chair in front of a computer all day so exercise is also a great way to ensure you are staying healthy as you work as well.

3. Take on Small Tasks First

Sometimes your creative burnout is more like stage fright, where you feel in fear of a project that appears daunting and almost insurmountable. The project could even be one that will be the perfect shining example in your portfolio. In this case, your creative burnout is more of a blockage. To cope with this type of issue you can take on the small tasks first. So you can start by organizing the assets for your project, or doing design research into one specific aspect like color palette research. Looking at color palettes can indeed be a pleasing activity in its own right even as it is work for us design freelancers.

4.  Delegate

If you need to, you can always outsource some of your work, especially production design work. Many successful designers use this technique quite effectively, that way you make your deadline but don’t lose your mind in the process.

5. Tell a Friend

Call a friend or meet up with them. If you can make it an IRL meeting with someone you can really talk to even better. Now that there are more freelance workers they have recently started to do studies on the downsides of this kind of work and found that one of the major issues is the isolation, since so many freelancers work from home. The isolation then can contribute a lot to creative burnout, so go meet a friend! Another way to resolve this kind of issue is to sign up with a co-working space, these shared workspaces are cropping up in many metropolitan areas right now.

Taking the time to really deal with the issue head on is key. I hope some of these ideas are helpful for you.

In reality there are many ways to deal with being in creative burnout and some of them might be very specific for you as a person. You may want to think more about what might work for you specifically. 

Do you knit? Do you think knitting for a little while would help? How about painting or drawing? What are your interests other than design?

Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.

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