How To Extinguish The Fiery Flames Of Burnout (plus 7 Guaranteed Burnout Busters)

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Note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series about creating. I’ll use the topic of writing since that’s what I know, but the lessons can be extrapolated to any form of art. Part 1 covered How To Never Run Out Of Ideas, Part 2 is about Burnout (today), and Part 3 is on Validation (Thursday).

Burnout can happen for a lot of reasons.

  • Overwork.
  • Being too difficult on yourself day in and day out.
  • Allowing outside forces get the best of you.
  • Getting bored.

From personal experience and from the experiences of people I know, the most intense burnouts happen with overwork and getting bored.

The others are usually more temporary.

How To Overcome Overwork (Time Off Is Not The Answer To Burnout)

We’re creatures of habit, so taking a vacation or extended time off probably won’t work for you. You’ll tell yourself “I’ll take just 1 day” or “1 week” and it almost always doesn’t work like that. 1 day becomes 2 becomes 3 becomes 4 …

If you have a boss then you don’t have the choice for it to work like that.

But as an artist, you are your own boss when you’re creating your art. Sometimes artists aren’t the best bosses. :)

The first question to ask yourself is: “Is this what I really want to be doing?

Maybe you’re forcing yourself into your art and it’s really not for you. Maybe you went to a fine arts school, maybe you dreamed of being a painter since a young age, or maybe you’ve been hard at work on a novel for years.

It’s OK to quit. It’s OK to change gears. You won’t be alone if you decide on that course of action. Nobody worthy of your time will judge you.

Setting Limits To Set Yourself Free

On the other hand, if your art is your life and you don’t want to quit, the easiest way to overcome overwork is to define limits. I’m not a big fan of limits in the long term, but for short term it’s perfect. The article you’re reading right now is part 2 of a 3 part series. That’s a limit that I’m perfectly happy with.

How To Set Your Limits

If your desired course of action to deal with burn out is to take a vacation or just a day off do this instead: set a limit to only work for 30 minutes. You can still take a day off (except for the 30 minutes) and you can still take the vacation (except for the 30 minutes every day).

I’ll tell you what will happen right now before you even attempt this: your 30 minutes will be a struggle for the first few days. Let yourself struggle. Enjoy the struggle. After some time (maybe 1 day, maybe more) your 30 minute limit will naturally become unlimited.

When Is It A Good Idea To Take Time Off?

Is there ever a good time to take time off? Yes, when you’re not burnt out. When you’re not burnt out you’ll actually want to get back to work so it won’t be a struggle. 1 day probably won’t become 2 become 3 become 4 … although you know yourself better than I do so don’t take this advice if you know it won’t work for you.

Is A Digital Sabbatical The Answer?

Digital sabbaticals are all the rage these days. They only work for people who aren’t burnt out. Tread lightly with a digital sabbatical (meaning, you cut yourself off from all technology for X length of time) if you’re burnt out. It will do more harm than good.

This is what will happen: “Wow, that felt great, I don’t feel like getting back to work now.”

This is what’s supposed to happen: “Wow, that felt great, I’m fired up for work now!”

How To Overcome Boredom

The technique to overcome boredom is the same as overcoming overwork, with a slight difference: if you’re bored with your art you need a change of scenery, a change of pace.

For example, say you’re bored with the novel you’re writing.

During your 30 minute limit, don’t work on the novel directly. Work on writing something you’re not used to writing. Non-fiction, a poem, an essay. All forms of derivative art will help your chosen art.

7 Simple Ways To Stop Burnout When It Starts Creeping Up On You

In addition to the ideas above, here are 7 ways I guarantee will help you overcome burnout and achieve clarity. My favorite is #1, but they’re in no particular order.

1) Exercise

My preference is riding my bike alone for an hour or two. When you’re exercising hard you can’t focus on much else except what’s happening in that moment.

If you hate exercise, get fit in just 1 minute.

2) Take a walk

Almost like exercise, but it lets your mind wander anywhere and everywhere due to the slow pace. It’s a different process than focusing on the moment and it might work better for you.

3) Relax

How To Relax. Sometimes we just need a few minutes to ourselves. Or, if you’re like me, you need a lot of minutes to yourself every day. :)

4) Do something scary

Karaoke is my recommended “scary” course of action for most people simply because most people absolutely refuse to do it. Guess what? Nobody cares that you can’t sing. Have fun, smile, and sing out of key. Karaoke is an exhilarating experience the first time, and it has never failed in getting my endorphins (natural pain and stress fighters!) pumping every single time I’ve done it.

5) Cook

But don’t cook your favorite meal or a recipe you know. Make it something that opens your taste buds to new flavors and forces you to stretch your skills and concentrate on the task at hand.

Alternate: take the mishmash of vegetables and whatever else you have around and create your own recipe. Who knows how it’ll turn out, but that’s half the fun.

6) Skype with someone who’s doing great things

Every single time I talk to someone on Skype who I haven’t spoken with before I get incredibly inspired. I don’t do these chats too often, but I absolutely love it when I do.

My preference is to connect with someone I’m already well-acquainted with, but have never spoken to.

7) Interact with a new social circle

It’s simple. Go to CouchSurfing.org’s Group for your city and see if anything’s going on. For most cities there will be! Go out and meet some new people. Meetup.com and Facebook Events are also good for this, but CouchSurfing is more international and exceptionally welcoming.

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On Thursday we’ll cover Validation.

How do you feel good about your art if nobody sees it?

How do you share your art with the world? *Should you* share your art with the world? Is selling your art “selling out”?

Subscribe to my RSS feed by clicking here to make sure you don’t miss that update.



35 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Karol!

    I really like these creation series.
    I have experienced several burnouts and often thought that my life was one big burnout,but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
    Couchsurfing really shows the value of people, i really recommend it!.

    skyping with someone who is an expert in what your interested in is also a great motivation boost!

    I think art is about expressing yourself. i just hope others can see that aswell.

  2. It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

    That is, if you look at the reasons for burnout that you list: Working too hard for a week or two may result in burnout, and being bored for a month may also lead to feeling stressed and depressed. However, it’s the slow, long wearing out that really makes the burnout difficult and hard to overcome.

    I really like the post by the way!

  3. Yes! This is what I did when I went into language-learning-obsession-mode for 3 months. I pulled back on how much I posted on my blog, but I still posted once a week and did a few other things to keep everything going.

    During that time, my readership grew, and when I came back, I was glad I put in the extra effort. Now I’m more motivated than ever, plus I also know some Spanish ;)

  4. “Is this what I really want to be doing?”

    If everyone would ask themselves this question – and seriously answer it – there would be some seriously happy people in this world!

  5. Hello Karol, Great post I think for me its “Overwork” trying everything and see whats working and whats not, writing posts, building links, networking, keyword search, etc can get overwhelming and you get overwork too fast, The best advice is to take time off ,

    Marios

    • There’s nothing wrong with trying lots of things and seeing what works. That’s a perfectly valid approach for some people. But if it results in overwork and hatred for what you’re doing that’s no good.

  6. I still work for someone else right now. I think you are right…a weeks vacation just would make me want more. I think burnout sometimes is putting off what we fear to do. I like to take projects that I “fear” and take those 30 minute “swipes” at them. you would be amazed at how much you can get done. If I try to commit to more time, I am less likely to even start!

    Your thoughts on exercise are great..when I do that the workday doesn’t seem to get me down as easy.. Thanks

    • Thanks Randall. I’m not sure that burnout is putting off what we fear, but I see where you’re going with it. Instead of doing something we might love due to fear, we do something else and that something else burns us out. Yes? :)

    • Excellent point, Randall.
      I think for me this has been a factor too, together with ‘overwork’ or ‘overload of possibilities’ & basically ‘too many choices’ and indecision and/or not having enough info or what is needed to do things etc.
      Basically not getting burnt out from other things I did inbetween, but from not-doing what mattered. If that makes sense?

      What has helped me in the past was brainstorming on how to make something more interesting and more fun or more easy. Decision trees. Or finding people to do it with, or role models etc.
      Exercise & walking is great yeah, any tips to do it on rainy days too? ;)

      It’s all true with the 7 tips, Karol! – but karaoke is not scary, it’s FUN! He he

      • Hey Layla,

        Indecision, too many choices, that’s not burnout. That’s lack of focus. Two completely different things. You can’t get burnt out by inaction. Indecision = inaction.

        Rainy days: everything but the first 2. :)

        Cheers,
        Karol

        • hm, indecision or inaction can cause huge burnout, at least with me!
          There’s all the guilt and misery etc that accompany it! (and you can get burnt out by negative emotions in my opinion, or at least very tired!)
          Especially when you know so much needs to be done or *could* be done, ideally! (And instead you wind up watching Japanese drama – don’t tell me I can get burnt out by that!:))
          Lack of focus just sounds more, uhm, relaxing?

          Another volunteer told me that not getting financial reward even for things you are passionate about can lead to burnout. (Seeing other people getting financial reward for other things that do not seem so important or taking credit for what you’ve done can be bad too :) But we digress maybe.) She said sometimes limiting the activities can help, etc. But then the above can still be true.. so, hm?

          lol I meant inspiration for going for a walk or exercise on a rainy day! You’re not helping! :)
          You mean do something scary like cook? ;)

          • Again, that’s not burnout. It’s known as analysis paralysis and the cure is action. You cannot get burnt out by doing nothing. That’s like starting a fire with water.

  7. When I worked in a preschool, I used to burnout quite often. Children do that to you. But since I started working for myself (and especially in more recent months) its never been an issue – its much harder to burnout when what you’re doing doesn’t feel like work.

    • hehe, children are definitely tiring! And you’re dead on: when you’re doing something that doesn’t feel like work there’s nothing to burnout from.

  8. Lovin’ this series, Karol!

    Numbers 6 and 7 have been huge for me recently. Connecting with some super motivated, super supportive people has given me a gigantic kick in the butt. Each conversation with someone like that pumps me up and makes me want to go out and rock it!

    Thanks for the killer posts!

  9. Hey Karol!

    Great stuff here. I also think that taking on a new challenge is a handy burnout-beater, at least in the short-term, and maybe in the long term too. Your point about derivative art is related (tangential? :) ) to the new challenge approach, but for me the actual challenge can be the inspiring factor, not just doing something related-but-different.

    Looking forward to part 3!

    • Thanks Dena. I can see how a new challenge that has nothing to do with your art approach would work. But in my experience that’s avoidance and doesn’t work. :)

  10. Anyway, I do take a walk with my lovely and beautiful wife.
    Hi Karol. It is my first time to come here in your blog and I love it. I found your blog through Chris Ducker’s post “The Virtual Business Lifestyle Top 12 “Lifestyle Design” Blogs” and in fact i am also inspired to do so.

  11. I agree that taking time off when you’re burnt out doesn’t really make the burnout go away.

    I actually quit my job as a designer once and spent 5 months working as a nanny. When I ended up back in design, I turned out some pretty good work… for about a month or two before the burnout was back.

  12. Very timely post Karol. I felt a lot of what you described over the past few days. It makes sense not break away when your burnt out. The best time to break away is when your feeling good and productive so you aren’t in a position to loathe what you were doing before you left. I already do a lot of the things you mention to avoid burnout, and I’m going try others to add variety. I think variety is the key to my sanity.

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