Creator burnout: A guide to sustainable creativity

There are clear actions you can take to keep your creative work on track.

As the creator economy grows, many people are starting to realize that burnout can still occur in passion-driven, creative work.

Have you felt more tired or cynical than usual? Are you getting annoyed with things that used to get you excited? Do you seem to always be fighting off some type of illness?

All of these are symptoms of burnout.

Thankfully, you're not alone, and there are clear actions you can take to both recover from and avoid future creator burnout.

#1 Get physical

Even if your work is primarily mental or digital, creativity relies on your physical wellbeing. When addressing burnout, it’s best to start with the basics.

  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Do you exercise regularly?
  • Is healthy eating a part of your routine?
  • Do you take the time to listen to your body (e.g., take naps, practice meditation, schedule relaxation)?

Creativity is an input-output mechanism. When you take in interesting ideas, conversations, and experiences, you have better resources to create with.

In the same way, when you prioritize your physical health, you give yourself clearer thinking, better energy, and build stronger resilience to stress. Your body is the most important tool in your arsenal; take care of it.

#2 Pick up a side project

One common misconception is that all burnout is caused by overworking. However, burnout can occur for a number of different reasons, such as a lack of clarity, control, or social support.

This is why stopping everything to do nothing is rarely what’s needed to mend. Instead, it’s better to be proactive and add the right things to your life to help you move forward.

Dr. Fio Dossetto, author of the newsletter Contentfolks, recently interviewed their audience to learn how they navigated feelings of burnout and many answered:

“Have a creative side project.”

Adding a creative project to your off-hours can help relieve some of the pressure from your primary medium.

If you’re a writer, experiment with design or videography. For photographers, start a written blog. If most of your work is in front of a computer, take an art class with physical materials like clay or paint.

Remind yourself that creativity doesn’t need to be all about performance; it can just be fun.

#3 Build a bliss station

Creative work flourishes in the right environments. If you’re feeling exhausted, one cause may be your workspace.

Author Austin Kleon advises every creator to build a “bliss station,” a place where they can:

“…retreat from the world long enough to think, practice your art, and bring forth something worth sharing with others.”

Here are a few simple ways you can turn your workspace into a bliss station:

  • Clean your desk, office, or area so that it’s free of clutter.
  • Rearrange items so that you are inspired, well-lit, and comfortable.
  • Upgrade your essentials, such as getting a new chair or keyboard.
computer work station with calm lighting
Maker Stations is a publication dedicated to exploring the workstations (aka bliss stations) of creators around the world which may spark ideas for your own space.

#4 Set strong boundaries

Energy is a finite resource, and every yes you give is a no to something else. Burnout is a consequence of saying no to ourselves too many times.

Setting good boundaries encourages creators to be proactive about their priorities so that random emails, notifications, and calls don’t drain them of the energy they need to create.

Some of the easiest and most effective boundaries you can start with are:

  • Setting office hours and fully disconnecting outside of them.
  • Blocking off vacation dates and rest days in the calendar so you can plan around them.
  • Practice saying no in order to build buffer time in your schedule.

#5 Write down specifics

A lot of the time, our feelings of anxiety and overwhelm are vague. They present a general sense of dread rather than a particular problem that needs addressing.

This is where getting specific can be helpful.

Start by writing down exactly what is on your to-do list, the things overwhelming you, and what your creator goals are.

tweet by james clear with pink background

Getting your thoughts onto paper helps put space between them and you so that you’re more able to approach them with a logical frame of mind.

Plus, expressing them might help you see the stressors in a different light and discover new solutions to them as a result.

#6 Ask for help

David Burkus, a professor and author, writes that one of the biggest myths creators believe is that they must work alone, but research has proven otherwise.

“Creativity is a team sport.” — David Burkus

The most prolific creators, the ones who create habitually and stay in the game the longest, are the ones who actively seek out relationships to support their work. These become a source for collaboration, feedback, and idea generation.

Even more than that, they offer a type of safety net. Fellow creators, family members, and professional counselors can each support you in a unique way, enabling you to create your best work. All you have to do is ask.

#7 Walk away

Finally, sometimes the best option to address burnout is simply to take an indefinite amount of time away from your work.

This might look like an extended sabbatical, pivoting to a new type of content or medium, or evolving into a new career altogether.

One example of this is Wengie, a YouTuber who has been creating content for over 8 years. They’ve pivoted their content several times (i.e., makeup tutorials, crafts, viral challenges, vlogs) as well as taken extended breaks from publishing new material.

YouTube’s Creator Academy has two relevant courses on this subject. The first is staying healthy as a creator, and the second is building for long-term success.

Although this option does come with its own set of financial and logistical challenges, ignoring burnout will always lead to a higher cost. As the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson writes,

“The first wealth is health.”

Wellness requires action

When your livelihood depends on your ability to create, burnout can be terrifying.

Thankfully, there are solutions available to creators: support systems, tools, and active strategies that can help even the most exhausted makers find their energy once again. The best advice is to start small. Pick one action item from this list and implement it right away.

In dark places, you may only see the very next step, but that is all you need to move forward.

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