Normally, I enjoy my work. Not everything and of course there are bad days, but on the whole, I tick along quite happily, juggling the crazy deadlines and amount of work that I need to get through.
However, the last few months have felt like walking through a swamp. I have often sat down at my desk thinking "I just can't do this any more". The cause? I took on a piece of work that seemed like a great idea at the time and the resolution to a number of problems, but in reality turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.
I have learned that this is a usual scenario with me: I take on way too much, then let too many things drop including myself, my kids, my house, everything and end up pretty much unable to function.
For me, the problem with burnout is usually it is a short jump from "this situation is shit" to "I am shit and everything I have every done is just as crappy". That is a hard place from which to be creative. However, having been through this process before, I recognised the signs and put a plan in place to get back on track pretty quickly.
1. Limit the amount of time I spend working.
One of my less smart decisions ever was to read the Shining by Stephen King when spending Thanksgiving holidays alone in my 100 room college dorm building. However, the one thing I took away from the experience (other than the vow to never read horror stories about a haunted building when staying in an empty one) was that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
Now, I am not suggesting that I could just drop whatI was doing and walk away from work. Obviously, as a free lancer I have contracts to fufill, work to bid for and rent to pay. However, I set a working day and pared down to the minimum. I walked away from contracts, even good paying ones. Its unfortunate, but I tried to be professional and even suggested someone else to take over, all the better.
For me, its meant refocusing on the core of my business: my 2 regular monthly features in Knit Now and Simply Crochet, The Crochet Project, Blogtacular and this blog. Everything else is getting finished up this month or has been handed over. And with the rest of the time? Get outside, doing the things I love, making things that isn't related to work.
I find it very hard to be objective about my work. I can like and hate the same project within moments of each other. However, I found I was taking on a lot of work I really don't like simply because I could.
Like the rest of the internet, I read the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Now, my house is just as messy as ever, but I did take away her theory about asking myself “Does this bring joy?” about the things in my life – work included.
NOTE: Don’t get me wrong here, I will never be someone who tells others “Do what you love and the money will follow”. I simply don’t believe that. I think if you are lucky enough to do what you love and work incredibly hard at it, you may occasionally be able to pay the bills.
Looking at all the things I am doing, I went through each and asked myself “Does this bring me joy?” – and paying the bills definitely brings me a lot of joy. The things that were dragging me down were cut or reassessed. For example, I took on a gig charting crochet, because I can and it paid. However, charting is my least favourite thing to do and the amount of time it takes me is much longer than it would someone else. This was one of the first things to go.
3. Get Help
I can’t and don’t do everything and when I have worked myself into the ground, I have learned to ask for help. Other than my two awesome business partners, I often find occasional help to get me through. Yes, this can mean a significant out lay and (surprise surprise) crochet design isn’t all that well paid in the first place, but to get a bit of head space and to help clear the backlog of work, I use sample makers and Blogtacular’s PA to help me get through things.
4. Do Something Different
A change really is as good as a rest. I am not talking about totally changing direction or stopping alltogether, just mixing things up a bit in my work routine.
For example, for the last 7 years, I have blogged just as and when – no particular plan or agenda. However, recently, I have found that I am struggling to blog, struggling to organise my thoughts and struggling to enjoy it.
And so, I have instituted a content plan. I have a new planner, nice pens and I have brainstormed content and written and photographed a number of posts. By being intentional about it, I already feel energised by the things I need to do. July is going to be crazy hectic and I know I already have lots of content planned for the month. Not only that, I thought about the things I don't particularly enjoy doing (tutorials) and thought of ways I could make them more enjoyable.
5. Say No and Say It Often
This one comes straight from my beloved friend Joanne, who received a LONG email about just how overwhelmed I am. In amongst many pearls of wisdom, she told me NOT to take on any new work “NO NEW WORK!” - no matter if I think I can get it done to deadline, if I think oh that money would come in handy or if I feel like i should, unless it really really excites me, the answer has to be "no". She was so right. So much of my motivation for work comes from that moment 3.5 years ago when I started the business and wasn’t able to buy groceries. I don’t often make great decisions when it comes to chosing my work, because I am so worried about not paying the bills.
To help me decide what to take on, I have worked out that I need X amount of freelance work per month to pay the bills and save for things like holidays. Beyond that, I have said no to most everything else - even things I would have loved to do (teaching with a well known magazine, attending yarn fairs for example).
6. Head to the sea
If all else fails...