At some point towards the end of my freelance career, I began to notice things were taking a shift. Every day started to feel like an uphill battle to be creative. My work was looking the same. Every day felt the same.
Fortunately, it wasn’t depression — what I ended up realizing, is that I was burned out.
Burn out is something no one enjoys admitting. Our culture as designers is to show that we’re always “on” and working hard 100% of the time. Week in and week out, we always have a good idea ready to go and a willingness to make it happen.
However, it’s a super-unrealistic standard. At the end of the day, we’re all human.
So at some point you have to realize that burnout can and does happen. When it happens, we need to view it as a sign to step back and take care of ourselves.
For me, this meant rest. That’s very difficult when you’re a freelancer though. There’s always work to be done and rest sounds like it goes against that. But honestly, it’s the best thing to combat burn out.
I had to realize that by shifting gears from being creative all the time to being uncreative helped. It allowed me to disengage from being a designer all the time. I was able to let my mind wander in different, non-creative directions.
Things like taking showers or doing the dishes helped. Performing “boring,” monotonous tasks helped my mind rest. I even focused on getting more sleep — which helped more than I realized.
Focusing on positivity was also a boost. When I burn out, it’s easier to feel negative all the time. It’s more difficult for me because I tend to be sarcastic on a regular basis.
But when that sarcasm slowly starts turning into pure negativity, it’s time for me to pump the brakes.
During my last burn out phase, I started a gratitude journal. I forced myself to find anything positive every day. Over the course of a few weeks, the burn out crept away. It took some patience, but it was very helpful.
When I did get back into my full schedule, I also made a point to ease back in.
This might be easier if you’re your own boss.
But it’s worth it. Jumping back into the deep end can put you right back where you started — and that’s no fun. Work at not over-exerting yourself or placing unrealistic expectations on your work.
Focus on keeping positivity and rest in your regular schedule. They’re very difficult things to do, I know. As I see it, adding in some extra time while you work is worth it. Take care of yourself and being able to avoid burn out keeps you a happier, more productive designer for a longer period of time.