Two Surefire Remedies for Creative Burnout You Need to Try

Two Surefire Remedies for Creative Burnout You Need to Try

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?


Filed Under: Craft


  • Ashri Mishra says:

    I read your blog. It’s very useful for me.

  • Steve says:

    Some great advice here. Funny thing: I started to practice drawing as a way to disconnect and recharge. As I got more involved in it, I decided to try drawing digitally with a Wacom tablet. It’s a great tool and I loved it but I soon realized that it placed me too close to ‘work’ and all of those digital distractions. In the end, I really just needed to get away from my work desk so back in the box it went. For now anyway 🙂

  • Angela Horn says:

    Hi everyone,

    I work with Heather. Please don’t think her rude for not responding but her little boy arrived three weeks early! Clearly a type-A just like his mom. I’ll let her know you’ve all been enjoying her post. 🙂

  • Siobhan says:

    I’m at six weeks without social media of any kind and it is bliss! After the initial FOMO, I feel lighter, refreshed and like my life has clarity again! My creative juices have been flowing and I’m starting to draft a business plan around an idea that is growing every day. Great article, it’s good to know I’m heading down the write (right) path ☺

  • It’s funny. I just found “The Artist’s Way” in a used bookstore. I’d had it on my radar, but just hadn’t bought it yet, but there it was, facing forward on the shelf and it was only $3! Clearly I had to buy it. I’m now on day 2, and am loving the process so far. But as I work from home and am mostly alone, the idea of an artist’s date is harder to justify. Yet, I know seeing this article at this particular time is just another shove in the right direction for me. Thank you.

  • Erin Sturm says:

    Great article! I’m going to pick a day for my first Artist’s Date next week.

  • J Wolf says:

    I love the artist date idea but the thing is, I love writing more than anything. However, I have a project where I fill up a whole scribbler with a story to get my ideas going and the scribbler has to be finished by January.
    My only rule is that I’m not allowed to plan it, I think of what should happen next then I write it down and role with it. I do put story notes in my journal pages of the book though.
    I tend to bring the scribbler literally everywhere so if I’m on a walk and I get an idea; out comes the pencil and scribbler.

  • I learned that I need to turn the computer off by 8 pm in order to have an uninterrupted night’s sleep. It apparently lets my brain slow down.

    • I can believe that!

      I’ve heard that electronic screens signal our brains to stay awake. I wonder what this means for the custom of bedtime reading as more and more of us turn to ebooks?

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consultling LLC

  • I am a firm believer in the practice traditionally called a “retreat.” Not the busy staff meetings dressed up as “business retreats” by trendy corporations, but real retreats. (I recently mentioned to a colleague that a meeting and a retreat are opposites; one drains participants, and the other fills them up.)

    Neither a meeting nor a vacation, a retreat is a time to get some distance from the distractions of daily life and reflect on what is really important. A boundary is set between the participant and the stimuli that normally crowd out our own thoughts. A retreat then fills the space instead with stimuli that uplift the spirit, and with simple silence. There can be some structured activities, including talks from a skilled presenter, journal prompts for individual reflection, and small group discussions to share insights, but these should always be mixed with plenty of opportunities to be alone with one’s thoughts.

    Few in today’s world manage to set aside an entire week for a retreat (though it’s wonderful if you can!). A weekend can be amazingly refreshing. As this article points out, even a couple of hours can make a real difference.

    We freelancers often have a hard time making ourselves step away from our businesses for any purpose, whether vacation, retreat, or even dire illness! As Heather says, the harder it is for us to make time, the more we probably need it. If you find yourself putting off that “me” time again and again, I suggest talking to some other people in the same boat and pool your resources to put together your own retreat. Fellow writers would be a great example of a potential retreat group. Find a presenter you think you will like, and a place where you can enjoy some quiet time. Having a set “event” in your calendar will make you far more likely to follow through and less likely to find some seemingly urgent deadline that you tell yourself takes precedence over your need to replenish your creative energy.

    If you’ve never planned a retreat before, the idea of getting your own group together can be a little intimidating, but if you know you won’t get around to taking quiet time on your own and you can’t find a suitable retreat already available, believe me, it’s worth doing, and there are definitely plenty of people out there who are coming to realize how much they need some time to refresh their spirit. On my website, I have a list of tips for planning a good retreat, especially if it’s your first attempt.

    Whether it’s for days on end or only two hours, find a way to make time to recharge your batteries. You will be SO glad you did!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Editorial Services and Retreats

  • Oh dear. Now I have artist guilt! Time to schedule some fun. Thanks for the reminder, Heather.

  • Yes, yes, yes to all of this, Heather! I very much embody the person you added that asterisk for 😉

    We’re all very good at depleting, and very good at avoiding the re-filling. This is such an important reminder for creatives, everywhere — and I can’t wait to go on my first “artist date!”

    Thank you!

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