STOP DROP ROLL

Burnout comes in many forms—but you can beat them all

This question originally appeared on Quora: How do you fight creative burnout? Answer by Jessica Hische, lettering artist, author, and procrastiworker.

It kind of depends on what kind of burnout we’re talking about. These are the main kinds I experience:

  • “My career is meaningless” burnout,
  • “I can’t get motivated to actually finish anything” burnout,
  • “I feel crushed under the weight of these deadlines” burnout,
  • “I have been *cough* sick forever” burnout.

The main symptom of “my career is meaningless” burnout is feeling like I’m not contributing anything positive to the world. I start saying things like “Graphic design is such a selfish profession. All I do is make people want to buy stuff they don’t need. This is all just ending up in a landfill anyway.”

What usually cures it is finding a way to have a real, tangible, positive impact on a few people. I ramp up my public speaking, do more workshops, meet with students, etc. I’d say that if you’re not in the very particular position I’m in (being a public figure), get involved in the creative community around you or mentor someone with less experience than you (there’s always someone, even if you feel like a noob!). If you feel completely detached from any sort of creative community (or any supportive community), you are most at risk of this type of burnout.

The second type of burnout is usually caused by not having enough work on my plate. If I don’t have a way to procrastiwork (creatively bounce around—work on something I’m not supposed to be working on while putting off the thing I should be working on), I do unproductive things like endlessly refresh Twitter/email or spend HOURS searching for brushed brass wall mounted toilet paper holders. Deadlines help a lot, which is why I love client work. If I know I have a little too much time to work on something, sometimes I’ll put it off until the deadline pressure is higher and my body kicks into survival mode.

So, the solution for number two sometimes turns into the cause of number three if I let the deadline pressure build too much. Usually though, this is caused by creating a house of cards on my calendar with deadlines butting up against one another. If one project’s deadlines suddenly get bumped around, everything falls apart, and I’m scrambling to catch up. There are three things to do when you feel crushed by the weight of deadlines:

  1. Actually start working. I start with a few smaller, more accomplishable tasks to get the motivation ball rolling, and then try to ride that through to the larger to-dos.
  2. Ask your kindest clients if there’s any “wiggle room” in the schedule. Assure them that you can of course make the deadlines as they stand, but it would be amazing if you could get just a few extra hours/days “to make sure you’re exploring all possible options.”
  3. Ask yourself if there is anything that you can delegate to someone else. I don’t often bring on help for a project, but if I really needed to, I could probably scrounge up a few folks to help with production to alleviate some of the pressure.

The last form of burnout is solved by actually taking care of yourself. This can be hard, especially if you’ve buried yourself under too much work. If you really do need a break because you have been sick forever and feel like a shell of a person, sometimes you just have to call it like it is and tell the client that in your current state you’re incapable of delivering something awesome to them. Sometimes the client has more time, but sometimes they don’t, so you should be ready with a few recommendations of people they can hire in a pinch. I only do this in dire dire circumstances (like when I got norovirus and threw up every 15 minutes for nine hours). Disaster does strike. We are human. It’s OK to admit it.

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