Creative work can be exhausting. More so than I think non-creative people realize. It really sucks it out of you; being funny, making movies, writing blogs… Sometimes you just gotta step back and do nothing for a while. Sink into the couch. Take a nap on the porch. Mindlessly browse a used bookstore when you know you can’t afford a used book right now. You have to reset yourself every now and then. And while it may feel bad – like you’re being “lazy” or “unproductive” – just know that it’s totally okay to indulge in some me(you)-time from time to time.
There’s a lot of talk in the filmmaking and entrepreneurial communities about maximizing productivity. Using all of your free time to grow your side-hustle into your main-hustle. Eating shit and rolling in the dirt, according to many influencers, is the only sure-fire way to succeed in this world. There’s likely a lot of truth to that. I’m fairly certain I’d be in a more prominent place amongst Pittsburgh indie filmmakers if I spent more time making movies and less time watching them with the audio commentary on. You have to make sacrifices in order to get what you want, but at what cost? Burn out is real and can be a career killer. If you dedicate every part of yourself to a specific task, you’ll eventually lose your passion and hate doing the work you once loved. It happens to all of us and it can be debilitating. The only way to avoid burn out is to slow down and do nothing for a while! Here are some tips to help get you started.
Give Yourself Time Off
Sometimes you have no choice but to keep working. You’re on a strict deadline with an already agitated client. No time for breaks… Wrong! There’s always time for breaks. Set an alarm to work for an hour or 90 minutes and then take half an hour for yourself. Do this all day, or all week. It helps keep me productive without driving me insane. People often say this is a good technique to make yourself work for longer than you anticipated. The theory is that the alarm will go off after 90 minutes, but you’ll be in the zone and won’t want to stop. This has never been true for me. I generally look forward to taking my short breaks. Gives me time to brew more tea!
Give Yourself Days Off
I have a rule that I often struggle to live by, in which I partake in no (or very few) Zero Days. A Zero Day is a day in which you take no steps to achieving your goals. You do nothing. Zero. For me to avoid having a zero day, I just have to write or edit or take a photo or do anything semi-creative. It’s pretty easy… except for when it isn’t.
Some days are meant to be zero days. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with that and find peace in it. Even doing the smallest amount of creative work can feel like torture on these days. Everything is okay! Take a zero and try again tomorrow. Time might be your most valuable asset, but you’ve got a lot of it, so take advantage of that when you need to. If you’re a more disciplined person – I’m not – you can schedule your zero day every week. “On Tuesday, I will do nothing,” again, might feel lazy, but as long as you hold yourself to working towards your goals on the other 6 days of the week, you’re only doing yourself a favor by taking a break.
Give Yourself Weeks Off
Let’s say you’ve been going too hard for too long. This blog came too late in your life and now you’re experiencing burn out. Everything is still okay! This is just your body telling you to back off and mind your own business for a bit. You’re probably stressed or facing anxiety. Maybe you feel like your work is garbage and so are you. It’s not true! But you’ve over-exerted yourself and now you need a cool down phase. Start with 2 weeks. Or however long it takes, but 2 weeks seems to work for me.
Be comfortable in allowing yourself to think about other things. Work on a new hobby or start exercising more regularly, but do not try to get back to work too quickly. You need this time to reset yourself. Stepping further away is the only way back, I promise. After 2 weeks of binging Netflix shows and reading Calvin and Hobbes, you’ll likely feel more energized to get back to it. But if you’re still feeling burned out, it’s okay to take more time. There’s no point in being miserable just because you feel like you have to.
Get New Experiences
The best thing you can do while “taking a break” is to try something new. Travel somewhere, pick up a new hobby, make new friends (I have no advice for this one), get out of your ordinary routine. Broadening your mind and developing new skills is the best way to stay motivated and evolve as an artist. You can’t expect yourself to make meaningful work if you’ve been using the same material for your entire life. If you’re burned out, it’s possible your body is simply telling you to restock ideas. You need to find new sources of inspiration. Getting out of your usual habitat is a good place to start.
Most importantly, we need to change our attitudes on relaxing. If you have ambitions and are willing to work towards them for a long time, it’s okay to take breaks. It’s necessary to take breaks. Your mental health will thank you and your work will be better because of it. It’s all about knowing what works for you and how you do your best work. I can’t focus on one thing for too long. I need several projects going and I need a lot of time to work on them. I tend to create things a lot more slowly than other people. Likely, because I take a lot of breaks, but I know what works for me and with time you’ll know what works for you too. But please don’t get down on yourself for not being as productive as you could be. Be as productive as you want to be and everything will come together in the end.