7 practical tips for navigating — and avoiding — burnout
The creativity that fuels our flames can also weigh us down. These techniques can help you prevent and bounce back from burnout.
We’ve all been there: burning the candle at both ends until the fire dies. For some Patreon creators, the pressure of producing content or providing rewards can take a toll on both mental and physical health, if systems aren’t put in place to prevent it. In a recent discussion, as part of Patreon’s Hot Topic series, Taylor Behnke, a writer, digital organizer, and the video maker behind It's Radish Time; and Robyn Warren, a certified teacher, health coach, and founder of Geek Girl Strong, shared their struggles with doing too much and tips for finding a sustainable approach to work and life.
Read on to learn practical techniques for navigating and bouncing back from burnout.
1. Schedule time for rest and play in your routine
The number one way to avoid burnout is rest. It’s easier said than done, but for creators with a lot going on, scheduling breaks into your day for rest, play, and movement can make a world of difference. “Sometimes I just think about it like, I do all of these things for my dog. I know that I need to feed her twice a day and take her out for three walks,” says Taylor. “ Why would I not treat myself with the same level of care?”
When Taylor first decided to go full-time with her creative business, she pressured herself to post videos twice a week. But now she’s shifted to an every-other-week cadence. “I've implemented a system where I allow myself three tasks for work and three tasks for play,” she says, “because I need to schedule in having fun or I forget to do it.”
But try to resist the urge to work overtime in an effort to stay ahead of the game. Taylor adds, “I see a lot of people say, ‘I'm going to take a break, but that means I'm going to work twice as hard to bank content before I leave so that it can just be posting in my absence.’ If you can find it within you, I encourage you not to do that because you're really not resting.”
As a mental health professional, Robyn also underscores the importance of breathing room for nurturing creativity. “I know that brains work better when they have time to be creative, time to daydream, time to lay down,” she says. “If you don't do things that fill up your ‘magic meter,’ then you'll have no magic to impart on the world and the things that you care about.”
2. Delegate, delegate, delegate
Another way to avoid burnout is to share tasks with collaborators or team members — or to hire people to help. Robyn, for example, has hired two freelancers: a virtual assistant (who is a real person, not AI) and a marketing manager to help her with the business side of Geek Girl Strong. Hiring help for the first time might feel intimidating or even unattainable. But Robyn could see that, in order to build a sustainable business, she couldn't afford to not hire help. Her assistant works eight hours per week, which means Robyn has eight more hours to focus on the parts of running Geek Girl Strong she loves best. “I can focus on my more creative endeavors and being the kind of health educator that I want to be,” Robyn explains. “They also tell me to go lay down sometimes.”
3. Be honest with your audience
Communicating with members and setting expectations about the timeline for rewards is key to maintaining their support, without working yourself to the point of burnout. “Just being really transparent with my community helps me stave off burnout,” says Robyn. “I do work that is related to health, so it's a lot of practicing what I preach. If I'm not doing it, why would I have the ground to suggest it to anyone else that I work with, or in this community?”
Switching up your approach can also give you a fresh perspective and a boost of creativity, and keeping your community of fans in the loop can ease the worry of making a necessary change. “I felt my audience could tell that I was sort of stagnating,” Taylor says. “I found that a majority of my audience was willing to kind of follow me on a different journey when I changed gears.”
4. Focus on mental and physical health — not just “self-care”
If your work involves taking care of others, whether clients or members, it’s important to prioritize your own mental health, too. To get through the hard parts, turning to your community and sources of support and care is essential. “I go to therapy and talk to someone who cares about me, but doesn't know my clients. Her focus is not taking care of my clients; her focus is taking care of me in that moment,” says Robyn.
The prevalent idea of “self-care” can be a trap. It’s not a cure-all and we can’t really “self-care” our way out of burnout — a concept that co-authors and sisters Emily Nagosoki and Amelia Nagosoki delve into in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. “Burnout is a structural problem,” Taylor explains. “It's not just something that you can take a week of vacation or do a sheet mask and you’re fine.” She poses this question: “Where can we create new systems for ourselves that are going to be more sustainable in the long term?”
“Burnout is a structural problem. It's not just something that you can take a week of vacation or do a sheet mask and you’re fine.”
5. Set healthy boundaries
If people are creating a negative atmosphere or breaking the community guidelines you’ve established for your platform, it’s up to you and your team to ban them to create the sort of space that you and your members are proud to be part of.
“Definitely take advantage of all of the safety features that whatever platform you use has available to you,” says Taylor. “ I have banned words. I am not afraid to block somebody if you're going to come into my space and start talking to me in any kind of way. It's my space and I get to choose how people interact with me in it.”
She also suggests setting the tone by pinning a good comment as a model of the “rules of engagement” to show the sorts of conversations and interactions that should take place in the space. Bringing in moderators can also help keep conversations on track.
6. Don’t quit your day job (yet)
If you’re considering turning your creative work into your full-time job, Robyn advises taking your time and not rushing into it. When she started Geek Girl Strong, she wasn’t relying on her business to keep a roof over her head or food on her plate at first. “[That] allowed me to put more of my creative attention into it,” she says “and I think that really helped Geek Girl Strong.”
Having time to build a strong foundation for your creative business before relying on it as a sole source of income can also help you build sustainable processes. Taylor also kept working for a while (about two years) before quitting her day job.
“For a long time, I saw having [my job] and having my creative work on the side as its own form of freedom,” she says. “I see a lot of people will take the leap of faith, quit their job, become full-time creators and they just trade one kind of burnout for another kind of burnout.” When it was time to ditch the day job, Taylor made sure she had saved enough money as a cushion to keep going if It’s Radish Time didn’t pay the bills at first. “I'm really, really grateful that I had that,” she says. “It would not have been possible otherwise.”
“A lot of people will take the leap of faith, quit their job, become full-time creators and they just trade one kind of burnout for another kind of burnout.”
7. Make a “happy place” folder
Sometimes the internet can be an overwhelming place, which is why it’s important to have a go-to source for uplifting comments. Robyn keeps what she calls a “happy place” folder. “The happy place folder helps a lot because our brain is trained to recognize and hold on to danger,” she explains. “In a field of flowers, we will zoom in on a snake because we’re worried about the snake harming us and we will miss the beauty of the field.” So, she keeps a file with beautiful, inspiring, and motivating tidbits to make sure she spends time looking at the flowers and not just the snakes.
In her “happy place” folder, Taylor includes screenshots of the sort of feedback, testimonials, and comments that keep her going. “Then, when I'm feeling low or burned out, or [wondering], Why am I doing this, I just read that stuff,” she says, “and that validation helps give me a boost when I need it.”
What motivates you to keep doing the work you love? What techniques do you use to prevent and recover from burnout as a creator? Share your experiences and advice with fellow creators on our official Patreon Creator Community Discord server.