There came a time in my life when bullying myself into getting work done no longer motivated me. Getting started on the creative projects I loved to do was like pushing a heavy boulder up a hill. I knew something was off and I realized burnout had come to grace me with its presence.
Unfortunately, I had to keep working. I removed projects from my plate, said no to things that drained me, and closed two of my three businesses.
What I learned from that experience is that making things is hard but suffering through the process is optional. Today I’m sharing the tips that help me manage my burnout and still live a creative existence, one that comes with the requirement of creating when I feel like doing anything but that.
Please remember that if you need a break, take it. This is not a post about productivity hacks or anything that might fall under the girl boss gaze. Rather, it’s simply a list of small tactics that have provided me a way to start and nudge myself forward on various projects. I hope you find them helpful too.
Here are eight realistic tips for how to start a project and keep making progress on it over time.
Start in bite-sized chunks.
What’s helped me most in my current writing project is starting in bite-sized chunks. I have a writing goal to write 250 words per day. If I write more words, great, but if I get 250 words out, that’s enough. I also try to not be too obsessed with hitting specific marks or writing something “perfect.” I show up, try, and if I don’t hit the mark, I remind myself I can try again tomorrow. I used to work in a more rigid way and that voice has been replaced with something that’s more compassionate. It’s really focused on making a little bit of progress at a time rather than forcing myself to do more, more, more until I inevitably burn out.
Move away from avoidance.
I’ve learned over time that avoidance only feeds more avoidance. The more I avoid something, the scarier and bigger it becomes in my mind. I know now that the waiting is counterproductive and avoiding a task entirely is no longer worth it to me. This little shift has been transformative. Make complete avoidance a non-option and try gently redirecting yourself back to the original task at hand.
Give yourself a boost of momentum.
I have a timer on my watch that’s set for five minutes. When I don’t feel at all like getting started on a project, I simply set the timer and tell myself to get something done within those five minutes. Usually, those few minutes give me all the momentum I need to begin and I generally keep going once the five minutes are up.
Reprioritize your task list.
One of the roadblocks I have with creativity is that I sometimes find myself in the middle of a lot of half projects. I used to think that speed and multitasking were my superpowers, but I’ve now realized that removing low-priority tasks and slowing down bodes much better for my ability to get things done in the long run.
Ask yourself, Are there things I can take off my plate to make focusing on this core project/task easier? If the answer is yes, do it. We often don’t realize how those tiny tasks are taking us away from what we actually need to do. Once you weed out the things that are a distraction, protecting the project that’s most important to you is easier, and you set yourself up for success.
Remove the expectation for perfection.
I’ve found over time that the circumstances surrounding any given creative project don’t need to be “perfect” for me to get started. Seeking perfection is only an excuse to not start in the first place. While little things like a comfortable spot to work or a fresh pot of tea can be helpful, try to remind yourself that getting started or making progress isn’t contingent on everything around you being just so.
Give yourself time.
Working on deadlines can be helpful, but having a long stretch of time to do something gives you the space to work through your feelings and any obstacles that may arise in the process of getting the work done. Allowing yourself time at the outset of a creative project makes room for flexibility along the way. This may not always be possible, but if the timeline is in your control (fully or partially), I recommend extending it accordingly. In my experience, it also leads to more interesting results.
Give your mind a (helpful) distraction.
For many of us, there’s power in giving the mind a bit of additional stimulation while focusing on a task. I love keeping a fidget tool close by while I’m working on a creative project. I also find that when I’m sorting out a creative problem in my mind, it can be helpful to do some light activity. A brisk walk or taking a few minutes to stretch can often be all I need to solve the problem at hand.
Remind yourself that it’s okay if it feels scary.
Sometimes I feel like the act of creating is scary or overwhelming. Rather than fighting against it, I find that it’s helpful to remind myself it’s scary for a reason (usually because I’m being pushed a little outside of my comfort zone) and that the feeling is normal.