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If you’re an artist, you are no stranger to the effects of creative burnout. Your brain gets fuzzy, your eyes start twitching, and you forget what your back feels like when it’s not hunched over a project.

The creative industry demands a lot from artists. The pressure to produce quality work and meet deadlines can be overwhelming. It’s easy to slip into bad habits that prioritize work over your own personal health. This leads to burnout, which is far more than an occupational annoyance. It can be seriously detrimental to your work, lifestyle, and health.

However, there are ways to prevent and avoid burnout as an artist. Here are 5 tips you can implement now to take control of your creative work, including:

  1. Treat Yourself Better Than a College Student Stereotype
  2. Eliminate Ghost Hours
  3. Strive to Reach Your Goals in an 8 Hour Day
  4. Make Time to Sharpen Your Creative Edge
  5. Prioritize Your Health
Jason Martinsen shares his advice to avoid creative burnout.

1. Treat Yourself Better Than a College Student Stereotype

Sometimes when you’re on a tight deadline, there is a strong temptation to fall into the sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated stereotype of a college student. Lead Animator at Sony Pictures Imageworks Jason Martinsen is used to demanding work environments but admits the hardest he ever worked was in college.

Alum Art by Peter Stringer
Alum Art by Farid Perez

Check out the CGMA course Art Direction for Character Designers to learn more about the characters above!

“Obviously, having the youth, you didn’t get as tired and you were, you know, running on coffee,” Jason joked. “But when you’re getting paid to do work, you’re expected to do it at a certain level.”

Students are in a learning environment. They can afford to say yes to everything and pull all-nighters to cram in their assignments, personal projects, and social life. It’s a chaotic and exhausting lifestyle, that comes with flawed projects and missed deadlines. Professionals simply can’t function that way, and not just because you can no longer handle all the sodium in microwaveable ramen.

2. Eliminate Ghost Hours

Ghost hours are when you put in more work than you’re paid for. Whether you’re behind schedule or grappling with a creative block, a project can sneak into overtime. When this happens, you may choose to not bill these hours.

Alum Art by Adam Rogers

Artists do this for a number of reasons. Some fear that asking for more time is unprofessional. Others want to prove to themselves and their employers that they can handle the workload. No matter the reason, when you continue to work off the clock, you’re hurting everyone. Senior Technical Artist Mathias Royrvik said, “It can almost be a bit of guilt. If you’re sitting there at the end of the day, and you said I’m going to have this done by the end of the day but you don’t, you think, ‘I can sit for another hour or two.”

Senior Technical Artist Mathias Royrvik explains ghost hours.

“It happens a lot,” Jason explains. “It’s a bad problem because then you have an unrealistic image of your performance and the studio isn’t paying you fairly.”

If you let employers think you can pull off an 8-day task in 5-days, they’ll continue to give you a 5-hour deadline. Avoid this haunted cycle by tracking and billing all of your hours, so you can stay on the same page as your employer. Mathias said by keeping your leads informed, they can help understand and solve the issues you’re facing.

3. Strive to Reach Your Goals in an 8-Hour Day

When you enter the creative industry, especially as a freelancer, you might be ready to break away from the typical 8 hours a day, 40-hour workweek. However, this model provides stability and structure.

Sticking to an 8-hour day allows you to focus your energy to work for a set amount of time before giving yourself a break. This can actually improve your workflow because you learn how to get everything done in the allotted time. “It’s okay to work a lot of overtime a month or two here and there, but you should try to minimize hours and increase efficiency,” Jason said.

Not to mention, the typical workday could quite literally save your life. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that people who consistently work more than 8 hours a day face a 40-80% greater chance of heart disease. This is due to stress, raised blood pressure, and unhealthy diets (Forbes.com). Next time you’re considering burning the midnight oil to finish a project, plan for some counteraction yoga and deep-breathing!

Looking to switch from freelance to full-time? Explore CGMA course Getting Started in the Game Industry: Interviews, Portfolios, and More

4. Make Time to Sharpen Your Creative Edge

“Sustaining a pace of 12 hours per day causes your work to suffer,” Jason said. “You will lose the edge and creative spirit.” All work and no play truly does make Jack a dull boy. Dedicating every hour of your day to a work project kills creativity. Literally! When your brain is at rest, the subconscious mind can problem solve and connect ideas that an active mind wouldn’t (scientificamerican.com).

Overworking can also prevent you from gaining new ideas. Reading, watching films, listening to music, doodling – there are so many relaxing activities that can inspire your breakthrough moment. The more your mind can wander and wonder, the better. Jason provides a great tip: “If you’re dreaming about work, you’re probably working too hard.”

Alum Art by Roberto Chriqui

Looking for inspiration? Read “5 Tips from Top Digital Artists for Staying Inspired”

5. Prioritize Your Health

When your job is also your passion, it can easy to make sacrifices. A missed karaoke night, however, is different than neglecting your physical and mental health. Creative burnout does more than impact your efficiency at work. It leads to increased anxiety, emotional distance, exhaustion, and feelings of numbness (verywellmind.com).

By prioritizing your sleep, exercise, and diet, you’ll minimize the impact of burnout even when work gets stressful. And these tips can contribute to your creativity as well as your well-being! Morning walks can increase creative output by 60% (Stanford.edu). Foods that are rich in fiber, protein, and Vitamin D boost concentration (everydayhealth.com). Sleep can help with memorization and pattern recognition to assist with creative problem-solving (dreams.co.uk). Even spending time with family and friends improves psychological well-being and reduces stress (piedmont.org).

Alum Art by Monika Róża Wiśniewska

Despite all of the ways prioritizing health can improve creativity and workflow, the most important thing at the end of the day is your health and happiness. Whether it’s a 20-minute meditation, a family dinner, or a morning walk, put your work on pause. Your art, body, and mind will thank you for it!

RELATED LINKS

Check out the CGMA course Art Direction for Character Designers to learn more about the ramen and coffee characters!

Looking to switch from freelance to full-time? Explore CGMA course Getting Started in the Game Industry: Interviews, Portfolios, and More

Looking for inspiration? Read “5 Tips from Top Digital Artists for Staying Inspired”


LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

Sources

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/09/12/why-working-more-than-8-hours-a-day-can-kill-you/?sh=17e0117c3c4c

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/q-a-why-a-rested-brain-is-more-creative/

https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-and-burnout-symptoms-and-causes-3144516

https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/4-reasons-friends-and-family-are-good-for-your-health

https://www.everydayhealth.com/add-adhd-pictures/what-to-eat-in-an-adhd-diet.aspx