November 29, 2015
Last week I suffered from burnout. It was an odd experience that hit me hard. In my own case, I would define burnout as a result of having or doing too much at once and finally hitting a type of creative plateau, in which you essentially stop doing what you have been so long because you just can’t. Obviously, everyone is different so your results may vary if this has happened to you.
When I set out to create for a living I never anticipated that my drive and inspiration would ever be an issue to contend with. When always having a lot of work on your plate, one would think everything would be progressing nicely, but sometimes that’s farthest from the truth.
The end of the year is approaching fast and with so many projects needing my attention as well as side projects to catch up on I simply hit a wall. I couldn’t bring myself to become inspired enough to produce any work or even write. I went into a depressive state that caused me to be lazy, not take care of myself, and not apply myself towards anything to do with my work.
This period of burnout only lasted about a week or so, but it affected me badly as well as those around me. During this time, I questioned my entire motive as a designer and began questioning if it is indeed the ideal career path for myself.
At the same time, a lot of long terms and short term goals became my focus. Not so much as achieving these goals but possibly reordering them so that some of the long-term goals actually become a short term. It was an eye-opening experience I couldn’t quite control but eventually, it passed.
What Leads To Burnout
In my own experience, burnout was the result of me trying to do too much at once and not allowing myself a break along the way. Saying yes to clients even though I didn’t have the bandwidth is another part of the problem as well. On top of those key points, I’m trying to finish a book, learn a new language to advance my development skills and work full-time for a software startup during the day as a design lead.
All of these things combined are taking a toll on me which no doubt explains my recent case of burnout.
What’s funny with my own work ethic is that I like to prioritize but sometimes if prioritizing is a task in itself I start procrastinating. It seems like the more work I have to do, the less I want to do it. I’m not sure why this is, but I find it really odd.
You would think that having more work would mean you need to dive right in but sometimes I suppose we as designers/developers get a little anxious about starting a project. This could be due to the fact that there are uncertainties ahead or possibly that the project could take a back seat at some point, which would mean you or your client would have to shift focus elsewhere.
Turning Things Around
I’m not sure how I turned myself around this time. The effects of burnout simply started to fade. At my worst I spent a day doing absolutely nothing and oddly, I think that’s what helped the most. Turning off your brain, ridding any obligations, and focusing on yourself is sometimes the best therapy you can provide to yourself.
During this time, I recommend just doing things differently. If you’re feeling lazy, then be lazy. If you work from home or remotely like me you may need to get away for a brief period. Go somewhere new and explore as much as you feel like or take the time to just take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Focus on how far you’ve come and try not to worry about the next step to get ahead. If you’re already setting goals in mind, chances are you’ll get there someday, but there’s no need to rush.
Doing too much at once won’t benefit anyone because it definitely will lead to burnout. Balance is the key. If you can work hard and still live the way you like to live then you’re doing things the right way. There will be hurdles and times where you do have to pull those all-nighters but after you do, be sure to take some time for yourself. Work and money aren’t everything. Always remember that you only live once.