7 Tips For Healthy Creativity: How To Keep At It Without Burning Out
Creativity is often used as a capitalist buzzword. Creativity sounds important (and cool).
Healthy creativity, however, is still a foreign word. True creativity runs on passion — and that’s the problem.
If you’re passionate and creative at work, you must protect your energy, set boundaries with yourself, and know when to call it a day. Otherwise, you may burn out quickly, and a quick recovery may not be an option.
This is what I’ve learned over the 10+ years of my creative journey as a writer and a digital content creator.
In this article, I’ll give you 7 practical tips on how to:
- Stay creative (and healthy)
- Set boundaries (and avoid creative burnout)
- Enjoy your creative process (and want to do more)
It may be challenging to say “I will finish this tomorrow” when you feel excited about your creative task. But this may be the only way to avoid hating your job for months (before you, hopefully, love it again). Let’s dig in.
The dark side of being passionately creative
For many of us, passionate creatives, it’s difficult to stop what we’re doing. We love being in the flow and don’t want to lose it. As a result, we may have difficulties setting boundaries with ourselves.
Let’s say it’s another day when you were supposed to finish work at five but enjoyed what you were doing so much that you didn’t even notice the clock struck seven.
“Sounds like a dream. I wish I loved my job so much.”, some may think.
Who wouldn’t like to love their work so much that time disappears?
Being in the flow (or in the zone) feels indeed wonderful. It’s like being on cloud nine or having butterflies in your stomach. But if you work for too many hours on too many days, one day, you may find yourself in the middle of a creativity hiatus.
The truth is that your creativity needs breathing room. In other words, well-rested individuals are more creative and productive.
Burnout is a real thing
Burnout can happen to everyone, even the world’s happiest professionals.
A few months ago, I finished writing several books. I wrote them within four months. I was in the flow, and writing kept me awake. I felt like I was on drugs: happy, ecstatic, and super energized.
Unfortunately, at some point, I began to feel physical exhaustion. I couldn’t even think of opening the documents I had been working on with such passion.
I didn’t regret a single creative moment while writing my books. However, it dawned on me that everything had its limits.
Putting work aside for tomorrow may be the most difficult thing to do when you’re excited about the project. The risk of burnout is real.
To make it clear: I’m not trying to discourage you from making the most of your productivity and creativity peak. However, always stay conscious of your physical and mental well-being (and limitations). It’s easy to miss your body signals that it’s time to slow down or call it a day.
So here’s how to live a healthier creative life.
#1. Learn when to say no (and do it)
First, learn when to say no. Second, have the courage to say no. This may be the hardest one but probably the most important one, too.
It’s not only about saying no to your clients or managers. In fact, they may be ok with you needing more time to finish the assignment and get it right. Sometimes it is you who chooses to be hard on yourself.
Sometimes it’s hardest to say no to yourself because you love what you’re doing or want to finish your assignment today, at midnight sharp.
However, if you feel excited but (almost) exhausted, it’s time to stop and be easy on yourself. Nobody will benefit from your exhaustion (and potentially resentment) in the long run. The quality of your work and enthusiasm will probably drop.
Saying no to another extra (exciting) hour of work may be the hardest thing to do. But it can also be an essential step to avoid future burnout.
That said, don’t be afraid to break the pattern of carrying on with your work when it’s time to stop. If you do this, you’ll likely be more resilient and persistent in finishing your projects.
The ability to say no will also give you confidence that no matter how big or demanding a project is, you will know how to take care of yourself and stop if you need rest. This, in turn, will give you more courage to try more challenging things.
#2. Be careful about multitasking and the plague of new ideas
Unrealistic deadlines, overplanning, distractions, and too many priorities: they all have the potential to stress you out and get you off track. You’ll likely be in survival mode, which is a terrible state to be in when you’re about to get down to a bigger creative project.
I used to feel proud that I learned how to multitask. Now it’s been about five years since I started “unlearning it” so I can stay focused on tasks that require my undivided attention.
Don’t get me wrong. The ability to work fast and multitask is helpful in numerous situations, especially when the unexpected happens and/or you need to pivot quickly. It can also be motivating if a project consists of multiple, relatively straightforward tasks you must check off on your to-do list.
However, switching between projects or tasks when you’re working on something that requires undivided attention and focus can be frustrating. It’s not efficient either if you have to constantly pick up where you left off. Thus, don’t be afraid to say no to distractions and too many priorities.
Similarly, be careful about new ideas that may keep coming to you when you’re in creative mode (however brilliant they may be). Write them down and keep them on file, but don’t let them distract you from finishing your current work: one thing at a time.
Having too many ideas can get you off track pretty easily, and result in plenty of “unfinished business”, pending projects, and ultimately — frustration and disappointment.
Therefore, stay focused and understand your priorities.
#3. Don’t be afraid to say it out loud
Too many creatives worry that being assertive and upfront will make their managers think they’re slow or lack a can-do attitude. If you do quality work and can explain what takes time and why, the right people will respect it.
The right people will create the right environment where your most creative and productive self can shine.
The times when you have to pretend that you’re ready to do everything (“say a word, I’m on it!”), are coming to an end — hopefully. So don’t be afraid to say it out loud if you see good reasons why something doesn’t make sense or makes your work inefficient.
Comfort and efficiency at work are essential. Therefore, have the courage to state your point of view (in a respectful way).
By being upfront, you’ll give yourself a chance to:
- Co-create a comfortable and efficient workplace environment
- Free up this precious time you need for your creative work
- Enjoy the creative process
- Keep creative burnout away
#4. Take a break, do something different and relax
Remember to take a break from work to improve efficiency and prevent future burnout. This way you can resume your work refreshed and full of new ideas and energy. You’ll work much faster, and you’ll probably do much more and of better quality than without a break.
To have a break from the task at hand, do something different. Relax by stimulating the parts of your brain that haven’t been hard at work.
In other words, give the brain muscles you normally use some rest, and wake up the inactive ones.
Here are some ideas:
- If you write, do some drawing or painting for a change.
- If you paint or draw, write a few pages/sentences (about anything that comes to your mind).
- If you’re right-handed, write a few sentences with your left hand. If you’re left-handed, do the opposite.
#5. Write a contract with yourself
If you have a problem finishing work (on time) and/or always want to do more, write a contract with yourself. Put it down on paper and sign it so you treat it seriously.
You can start small with 3-day or 7-day contracts. For example, in the next three days, you can agree to:
- Work fifteen minutes less every day
- Do something fun that you have been putting off for months
- Close your laptop at a specific time (set the alarm on your phone)
- Disconnect from the digital world for a given amount of time
- Set a limit to how many times you check documents/files/presentations (giving yourself permission not to be perfect every time)
#6. Get away from your laptop
It may sound like a cliché, but it’s essential. Do something physical. Dance, run, sing, play with your pet, walk or vacuum your carpet.
I’m a big fan of “forest bathing”: a therapeutic immersion into a natural environment that involves engaging all your senses. Walking in the forest gives me more energy to execute my ideas. It makes me more creative and productive.
Conscious resting can boost your productivity tenfold.
Taking time to consciously rest is not a waste of time. Quite the contrary, it helps you make the most of your peak productivity time. And, of course, it has little to do with binge-watching Netflix or scrolling social media walls on your phone!
#7. Empty and calm your mind
When your mind bursts with ideas, it can be very restless. It can be on fire.
To calm your mind, you can meditate: sit silent, do nothing and relax. But what if you struggle with “just” sitting and doing nothing?
Meditation can work miracles, but it can also be — let’s put it straight — f***ing difficult.
If it’s not easy for you to sit still, consider a few alternative activities that can calm your mind, such as drawing, coloring, or singing. It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re talented or not. Focus on having fun and immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing.
Personally, I love coloring mandalas. I like the simplicity of this experience. At the same time, I like experimenting with colors (probably most of my experiments wouldn’t be approved by most designers :D).
Coloring mandalas can be a revelation if you find sitting still and meditating challenging. You can also try dynamic or active meditation, for example Osho’s dynamic meditation, 5 rhythm dance, or Movement Medicine.
Stay creative, stay healthy
There are more ways to keep you sane in the insanity that may come up when you’re in the flow of creative work.
Creative work is exciting and can give you butterflies in your stomach. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get addicted to this feeling of excitement. You may not want to stop.
For this reason, you must make sure you use your energy wisely. Be careful about working too much and too fast. Sometimes you may have to speed up, but being in survival mode practically every day will do more harm than good in the long run.
After all, it is slow and steady that wins the race.
May healthy creativity be with you!