**This post has been updated as of January 2019**
For those of us in creative fields, creative burnout is more than inconvenient.
In some cases, it can actually be detrimental to our work.
If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, you’re probably responsible for securing your income. This lifestyle can be especially difficult if you’re feeling creatively stifled or bankrupt.
What is creative burnout?
Creative burnout can mean different things to different people. Ultimately, creative burnout happens when those in creative fields begin to feel overworked and unstimulated by their projects.
Phil McKinney defines it like this: “Creative burnout is often associated with the feeling of doing the same thing over and over again or with the feeling of being in your own way.”
Whatever your personal definition is, you know how stressful and isolating burnout can be. In this article, we’ll discuss how to recover from burnout, and we’ll focus on processes from professionals who are in the same boat.
How to recover from creative burnout
- Change your surroundings
- Take a break
- Focus on your health (physical and mental)
Change your surroundings
Changing your surroundings may not seem especially profound, but studies show your environment strongly informs your creative process, as well as your ability to focus.
In fact, sounds, colors, temperatures, lighting, and the space around you are all factors in your creativity and cognitive abilities.
If you want to get increase creativity, consider some moderate background noise: 70 0 80 dB, to be exact. Enjoy an organized, dim space where you subconsciously allow yourself to relax, and utilize the color blue. Studies suggest taking these steps actually increase the creative flow.
Take a break
Taking a break from the grind may seem counterproductive, but breaks can be healthy, whether you’re taking a brief reprieve from your desk or a vacation.
Breaks from the computer
Never leaving your computer may make you feel more productive. In reality, you may actually be suffering the consequences of overwork. Without breaks, your productivity and mental health suffer.
Because of this, consider the ways you can get away. Coffee dates with coworkers, the occasional long lunch, and eating away from your desk are all healthy ways to get away and recharge.
Vacations from work
Maybe you need more than just a short break. If this is the case, consider taking a vacation.
If breaks seem counterproductive, vacations probably seem downright absurd. But actually, studies show people who don’t take vacations are more likely to be depressed, suffer from heart attacks, and are even less productive at work. So, take a vacation. For your productivity and wellness.
Focus on your health
Creative burnout could also be related to health issues in general. This is why it’s important to take a step back and consider your physical and mental health.
We all know exercise and a good diet are essential. But they can seem more impossible the busier you are. Still, even busy professionals should make time for health, since healthier employees are statistically more productive.
To focus more on your physical health in a packed schedule, try replacing old habits with new ones.
For instance, instead of going out with people from work, you might try a yoga class with them instead. Replacement can also be applied to food. Replace a processed breakfast with a smoothie, or try switching that late-afternoon snack to fruits and veggies.
You most likely apply psychology in your own work, so why not incorporate it into your personal life?
If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, take time for self-care. Meditation may help to an extent, but professional help is also a great longterm plan for treating mental health. A therapist can offer objective, educated opinions on your work environment, as well as your personal life.
Professionals tell us about their creative burnout strategies
Once you’ve taken time to refresh and recover, consider incorporating other people’s methods to your process. We asked various professionals about their tips for treating overwork fatigue. Here’s what they said:
I know that creatives are often advised to do something “out of the ordinary” to cure creative block, but as a UI/UX Designer I often find the opposite approach to be more effective.
“Creativity” for a UI/UX Designer is all about problem solving, which requires thought and focus. When I’m struggling with a design problem, I don’t “knit a scarf”… Instead, I do the opposite and try to increase my focus and understanding of the problem.
I often look to others in the field for ideas, inspiration and feedback – whether that’s by bouncing ideas off the person sitting next to me, or simply by browsing online to see how others have solved similar design problems. The more ideas you’re exposed to, the greater chance you’ll have of breaking through… So next time you come up against a creative wall, resist the urge to “knit a scarf” and instead dig that little bit deeper.
– Adham, UI/UX Designer
I find myself nodding my head to both lines of thinking. Adham raises a good thought – in our over-subscribed, distracted current work environments, it’s way too easy to stop working at the first sign of friction and start queueing up Buzzfeed and Devour. So I admire folks who can keep the brain focused on the problem at hand for a longer duration.
On the other side, I very much appreciate contrast. What Hannah is getting at, I think, is a shift in context and focus can help when you’re stuck to find the right solution. I’m thankful for necessity – I have a family and home to care for and those allow me to get away from the computer and work with my hands. All my best ideas come when I’m shoveling or chopping wood (or in the shower).
The best approach is a balance of the two.
– Chris, Support Specialist
Collaborate! Humans are awesome at taking an idea and building on it. I think it’s way more natural to alternate between phases of working alone and collaborating than to try and do everything perfectly by yourself. I find working through a problem with someone else totally kills that horrible, lonely “all my ideas suck” anxiety.
You can ask for open ended feedback (“How can we make this better?”), work through a problem together or even hand your work over to someone else to iterate on. Being open to ideas and discussion is really important – even feedback you don’t agree with can help crystallise your own ideas.
– Cathy, Developer
As you can see, changing your environment, taking time for yourself, and concentrating on your health aren’t the only steps you can take when faced with a block.
Like the professionals above, you may also choose to visit other creative outlets for inspiration, or you may approach other professionals for feedback and one-on-one time.
And since we’re on the topic of collaboration, let’s turn it over to you. How do you keep creative blocks at bay? Let us know in the comments below.