It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint — Ten Tips for Avoiding Creative Burnout

How do you pace yourself when your creative life is on a very fast train, destination unknown?

I don’t know about you, but when there are too many things going on I get all buzzy and frantic inside, and my brain turns to mush.  I don’t think straight, forget to eat and sleep, forget to take breaks, and get clumsy (I broke a glass accidentally yesterday).

All of that just makes it harder to put one foot (or letter or paint stroke or film frame) in front of the other and get the work done.

Maybe, for me, it comes from being a type-A personality for too many years, or from being too much of a perfectionist, or maybe I’m just too busy — whatever it is, it’s a recipe for disaster. If I keep going like that, I’ll either burn out or come down with an illness or start hating my work…none of which I want to have happen.

Here are some of my favorite tips for managing the chaos, which I’m posting as much to remind myself as hopefully help someone else.

I know that you already know most of these, but maybe like me, you forget to actually do them sometimes.

1. Get enough sleep

Admit it. You probably don’t get enough, and without ample recharge time the rest of this list won’t matter.

2. Try David Allen’s Getting Things Done method

The gist of it is to write down the very next action you need to take on any given project. It helps clear your mind from having to hold too much detail and breaks big problems down to more manageable size. It also helps you set priorities and be more efficient with tasks.

3. Use a  timer and take breaks

I use a little digital kitchen timer that I got at the dollar store. There are online options, too, but I like being able to carry this one around if needed. I set it for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. When it goes off, I take a little stretch break or get some water. It’s also very helpful for tracking time spent (or wasted) on various tasks involved in my freelance jobs.

4. Eat for your body’s needs

Creative brains burn huge amounts of glucose. I’ve heard that writers at work burn as much energy as marathoners do during a run.

You know what makes you feel good and energized and what makes you feel like crap. Eat the former, not the latter. At regular intervals.

5. Try a stand-up desk

Or put your work/computer up on a counter or bar. Alternate standing and sitting and you may be surprised at how much more energy you have.

6. Stay away from distractions

Tumblr, I’m looking at you.

7. Go outside, and maybe move around a bit while you’re there

Get some vitamin D. Fresh air. A walk. Lunch outside at a cafe with a friend. See if you can spot hawks (or cranes, or parrots…whatever lives in your part of the world) flying high overhead; can you hear them?

8. Don’t be alone (too much)

Especially if you work from home and are an introvert by nature — you still need to snuffle around with the wolf pack from time to time (humans are social animals, after all). Go find those people who love and support you and spend time loving and supporting each other.

9. Give your brain a break

Do nothing for awhile, without headphones on. Sit or walk outside and think of nothing. Do yoga, go for a run, fold the laundry, meditate… or not. Just be quiet and still and feel the relief.

10. Feed the Muse

Take time to read something new, go on an artist date, watch something that sparks your imagination — anything to feed the creative fire and keep it burning.

What are your favorite ways to pace yourself and take good care of your inner artist? Please leave your suggestions in the comments!

This entry was posted in Essays, Inspiration, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint — Ten Tips for Avoiding Creative Burnout

  1. Great post! I try to remind myself to do something restorative when I feel run-down. Drinking a cup of tea helps me slow down, refocus, and give my brain a break. Thanks for the great tips.

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