Want to know a secret? Towards the end of every project that I work on, I’m usually so exhausted and creatively drained that I just want it to be over with. Even the total dream projects. I get to this point where I’ve worked on it for so long – staring at concepts for hours, making tweak after tweak – and I just can’t look at it anymore. It’s good ol’ burnout and I’ve struggled with it time and time again in my business. So I wanted to take some time today to talk about it openly, share about how it has effected me and, hopefully, some tips to avoid it.
But first, let me just say that it’s completely normal to get burnt out. Even as a “creative”, I really struggle to be creative all the time. And it makes sense! Most of my projects last 1-3 months, which is a really long time to be pushing all of my creative energy towards one thing. Sometimes I feel a little guilty for getting burnt out so often. Creativity is supposed to be my thing, right? But the truth is that getting burnt out is normal, everyone struggles with it and you simply have to learn how to navigate it.
Words to Remember
Words to Remember
Words to Remember
“It’s completely normal to get burnt out. Even as a “creative”, I really struggle to be creative all the time.”
Now although I get these mini-burnouts towards the end of every project, I’ve also had a few major burnouts so far in my career. I’m talking about the “crying at your computer, thinking about quitting” types of burnouts. They were awful and totally overwhelming. It felt like everything was crashing down on me all at once. But now, looking back, I’ve noticed a few trends that seem to pave the way to those major moments of burnout. Here are a few of them that I’ve found to be the most common for me:
- Saying yes to too many things. In the past, I’ve had a real problem with overbooking myself and saying yes to everyone out of fear of being rude. It never ends well.
- Not setting healthy boundaries with my clients. I’ve messed this up in a lot of different ways – from not being strict on deadlines to allowing late night Instagram messages as acceptable client communication. As much as I hate putting my foot down, I’ve learned that it’s necessary to keep your business running smoothly.
- Not giving myself enough time off from work while going through a big life change. Specifically during our many international moves. Imagine me, flight cancelled, stranded in JFK airport at 1am, sitting in the floor with my laptop, rushing to make last minute changes for a client. NEVER AGAIN.
- Letting work take priority over real life. This kind of goes hand in hand with saying yes to too many things, but it’s more about just obsessing over work and never taking a break. I’ve had a few moments where all I did was work all day long. Barely leaving my computer. Just in the zone all the time and neglecting other parts of my life. It just not healthy.
Every time that I make these mistakes, they tend to lead to burnout. So moving forward, I have to be way more intentional about avoiding them. Here are a few things that are helping me:
Giving myself a strict limit on how much I’m allowed to take on and not compromising it for anything. Right now, my workload limit is 3 projects, meaning I can only have 3 projects max going on at one time. I WILL NOT take on more than that. And honestly, I’d like to get that down to 2 next year. This looks different for everyone, but for me, I’ve found 3 to be the most that I’m able to work on without feeling totally overwhelmed.
Setting boundaries early and being upfront about them. I’ve added an entire page in my project proposal template that outlines a few boundaries that are really important for me. This way, I know that the client is aware of them before they even book with me. I’ve also gotten more strict with some of my boundaries, like adding a rescheduling fees if the client is late getting something to me and delays the project.
When I need time off, I always give myself even more than what I think I need. You just never know what is going to happen, what obstacles might arise, so it’s better to give yourself plenty of breathing room. I’ve actually been doing this for pretty much everything in my business, including my project timelines. I’ve been extending my standard timelines so that I have even more room for delays, rest, or whatever I need.
Purposefully working less and allowing myself to not feel guilty about it. I only work on client stuff 4 days a week. I try my best to keep my evenings and weekends work-free. If I want to go spend time with my husband in the middle of the day, I give myself permission to do that. I’ve just been trying to shift my mindset a little bit and embrace my freedom to set my own hours.
Outsourcing the tasks that bring me the most stress. For me, web development always stressed me out. It’s such a tedious, long process and even though I did ultimately enjoy doing it, it just got to be too much mixed in with all the other work that I do. I started outsourcing my development over the summer and it’s been such a huge help! I’m also going to be working with a copywriter next month to do all of my web copy + a few other things. Outsourcing is scary, but so so worth it.
- Always having a personal project to work on. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much a love personal projects! I even wrote a whole blog post on how to get dream clients with personal projects. But aside from attracting clients, personal projects are just a great tool to step away from client work (which can often be stressful) and create something solely for yourself. Whenever I hit a creative block with client work, I’ll often turn to a personal project to get those creative juices flowing again.
So like I said, sometimes you just can’t avoid burnout. It happens to the best of us and honestly, if you’re passionate about what you do and work really hard, you should expect it occasionally. BUT there are things that we can do to shift our mindsets and create healthier work habits so that it doesn’t happen as often. And to close us out, I wanted to leave you with some steps to take if you ever start to feel burnout sneaking up on you.
- What I’m going through right now is normal. It’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean that I’m bad at what I do. I will get through it.
- What brought me to this point? Did I make any specific decisions that might have contributed to me feeling burnt out?
- Now that I’ve pinpointed some of the things that might have lead to my burnout, let’s examine them. Is there a way that I can change them? Could I outsource them? Could I limit them? Could I set up better boundaries within them? Could I eliminate them from my process altogether?
If you’ve found a solution by that point, great! Implement it as soon as you possibly can! If not, let’s take a step back and see if we can tackle burnout through other aspects of your business. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Where am I currently feeling the most stress in my business in general?
- Is this part of my business that I can change/outsource/limit/eliminate?
- If I could change any part of my business, what would it be?
Hopefully those questions are a little eye-opening for you. Sometimes the things that are causing our burnout are things that we feel we can’t let go of, and therefore, don’t recognize as the source. It’s important for us to keep an open mind and trust that everything can be streamlined in some way to lighten our load as business owners. This was exactly what I went through when deciding to outsource my web development. I was so stubborn and felt like I couldn’t give that up even though is was such a burden on my business. I finally had to recognize that it was the main source of all my stress and there was a simple way to fix it – I just had to be brave enough to let it go.
So look, we’re all going to face burnout. It’s just part of the job sometimes. BUT the key is learning how to recognize it + make adjustments so that each time it happens, it gets easier and easier. I’d love to know, what are the common trends that have led to your big burnout moments? How have you learned from them?