Two Surefire Remedies for Creative Burnout You Need to Try

by | Sep 8, 2016 | Craft | 15 comments

As artists — and by artists I mean anyone who creates: painters, entrepreneurs, coders, accountants even — we place high demands on our creativity. We expect it to be there on tap and ready to flow at a moment’s notice.

This is both completely unreasonable and totally feasible.

It’s unreasonable because if we deplete our stocks we need to replenish them. When the milk in your fridge runs low or your fuel gauge hovers close to red, you buy more. You fill up, no question.

Yet when our ideas dry up we moan and wail and gnash our teeth, but do nothing except try harder. And when that fails we stick our heads in the sand and hope like hell our muse will show up before our deadline does.

Here’s why I say you can have your creative cake and eat it too.

The only thing standing between you and the Nile River of ideas is that you’re not replenishing your creative stocks. You need to take a leaf out of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, and fill the well.

One of the ways she recommends doing this is by going on a weekly Artist Date. On its own, this is excellent advice, but couple it with regular digital sabbaticals and what you have is a creative combo, bar none.

As CEO of a busy communications agency, I’m all too familiar with the pressure that comes with the need to hit it out the ballpark on every single job. Finding balance in an industry where burnout and the death of creative spark are commonplace isn’t easy, but by utilizing these two simple tools I seem to have found the sweet spot between work and play.

Why you need to go on regular Artist Dates

An Artist Date is an opportunity to reconnect with your creative self. If that sounds too new-agey for you then think back to when you were a kid, always up for adventure and ready to take on the world. That’s who you’re trying to reach.

The older we get, the more we lose touch with our creativity. Suddenly we’re teenagers and looking cool and impressing our friends is more important than playing make-believe or drawing or painting. And then we’re in college, at our first job, and suddenly we’re all grown-up and doing important adult things like buying stuff and meeting deadlines and paying bills.

The biggest problem with being an adult is that it’s time-consuming. We’re always busy. Whether it’s work or family or kids or getting to the gym, it doesn’t matter.

The second biggest problem is that we’re almost never alone. For a lot of people this isn’t a problem, but for many of us, an hour or two of uninterrupted solitude is like a tall glass of water for a parched soul.

What is an Artist Date?

At its most basic, an Artist Date is where you spend two hours a week (more is always nice, but that’s the minimum) by yourself doing something completely fun and frivolous.

Rule #1: You absolutely have to go by yourself. You can’t invite your kid, your partner, your BFF or your dog along. This is non-negotiable.

Pro Tip: We can all benefit from time alone, but if the idea of this freaks you out then you probably need it more than most.*

Rule #2: You absolutely have to have fun. You can’t work, you can’t do chores, you can’t do anything that even remotely resembles a “have to.”

Pro Tip: If you find yourself trying to negotiate or justify an Artist Date that’s actually work disguised as fun then, again, you probably need it more than most.*

*I’m not judging here; I speak from experience.

Pick a time that works for you.

Look for a space in your calendar when you’re least likely to be missed (the kids are taken care of, work is under control, and so on). If getting your two hours proves tricky, bargain for it. Make a deal with a colleague or friend or family member and then return the favor.

What’s important here is that you don’t feel stressed when you take your two hours. You must feel confident that nothing will go awry while you’re “off the radar.”

Enjoy yourself.

This is your opportunity to fill your creative well, to replenish the stocks, and get the juices flowing again.

Make the most of it, but remember to have fun. You can do anything you like: watch a movie, go to an art gallery, browse craft shops, visit a market. Whatever. It’s totally up to you. The one and only rule is that it’s something you want to do.

Digital sabbaticals

As the name implies, this is when you set aside technology and soak up some real life. Shut your laptop, turn off your phone and head outside for a hike or to the couch with a good book (and perhaps a pile of chocolate).

Taking a break from being online is good for our overall wellbeing, but it’s especially beneficial for our creativity. We’re all so quick to talk about how we live in a world of information overload, but at the same time, we’re loath to turn it off.

We think we’ll find ideas there and occasionally we do, but more often than not our “aha” moments come when we’re in the shower or out for a walk. In other words, about as far from the online world as we can get.

We need boundaries.

We humans spend a disproportionate amount of time staring into screens. Be it the television, our computer, our cell phone or our tablet. They’re all devices that take us away from real life.

They have their place, absolutely. I’m a digital marketer, so you won’t hear me arguing to the contrary. But even I have to concede that we’ve taken the business of being “online” a step too far.

We need to change that, but how?

Start small. Like with the Artist Date, designate just two hours a week to being completely offline. Once you start feeling more comfortable, aim to up the ante. Go for an entire afternoon or evening, then a whole weekend.

Initially you might feel anxious, like you would at the start of developing any new habit. Things feel out of the ordinary, you feel out of sorts. Push through. The good stuff is yet to come.

Eventually, you’ll start feeling more relaxed, more in the moment. You’ll notice a free and easy feeling that wasn’t there before. That’s because nobody can get hold of you. Ergo, nobody can bug you.

Do these two things every week and three things will happen. Your ideas will start flowing again, you’ll be happier and you’ll be more relaxed. And all because you made the effort to take some time out for you (and your artist).

What’s next?

  • Schedule your first Artist Date and digital sabbatical. Separately. (I’m looking at you, workaholics.)
  • Explain your plans to the people that matter, so nobody ends up worrying because you’re MIA for a couple of hours. This will also avoid unnecessary interruptions.
  • Have fun.

Are you ready to go on an Artist Date or take a digital sabbatical? How will you make time for these opportunities to recharge?