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How to plan creative projects to avoid burnout

person with pointing at laptop image for article uncomfortable writing truths

When I started my first nursing blog in 2012, I set a daily blogging goal. You read that right. I planned to blog every day and send a newsletter every week and update social media like a madwoman. And none of that includes the work I was doing to start a career as a health writer. I was all over the place.

A few months in, and I almost quit. Everything.

I felt tired and overwhelmed every day.

Daily blogging goals weren’t the problem. In fact, I’m planning a 30-day writing sprint on Medium soon. Writing every day isn’t necessarily the problem. The issue lies in setting high-intensity daily goals with no end in sight.

You see, my creativity works in cycles. And, I’d wager yours does, too. You feel inspired to focus on one project, you go all in, and then you stop. Sometimes you stop out of overwhelm and other times you stop because it’s time to change directions. You may have thought that made you flighty or unreliable. I’m here to make you feel better (in a non-weirdo-kinda-way). There’s nothing wrong with working in cycles.

Everything is cyclical. There’s a reason we have night and day, spring and fall.The key is to plan these bursts of creativity so you don’t get to the point of overwhelm.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, at burnout (or nearing burnout), chances are you’re not paying attention to your creative cycles.

Planning my projects in cycles has been game-changing for my productivity and keeps me in love with my work. And I’m going to explain just how I do it.

I write every day. By choice. I don’t think everyone needs to/should do this. It’s what works for me. But there’s writing and there’s writing. Sometimes I’m writing a paltry 500-1000 words a day. Other times I’m writing up to 5,000 words, on a good day. Then some days I only write in my journal. It all depends on:

*Client deadlines

*Products/courses I will be launching

*What cycle of creativity I am in.

Consistency is important (as explained in the Guide to Prolific Writing). But so are cycles. It’s a matter of balancing the two.

You need to honor your cycles and work around them, planning your life and projects accordingly.

Here’s how:

Plan your most intense projects with breaks and a clear end in sight

Because I love to work in these highly productive bursts (writing a book for the next few months or creating and launching a product or site, etc.), I’ll plan months of intense work followed by at least a month of lower intensity.

It took me years to get this right (and I still forget to plan accordingly sometimes).

Intense creative output cannot be long term. You will burn out and become resentful.

Plan your projects with ample time to dial it down and coast for at least a month before you ramp things back up again. How long of a break is up to you. You have to gauge it by how you feel. A month is good for me. And that month doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything (although sometimes I plan that, too). It just means I am not working intensely on anything. I’m still writing and doing things like maintaining social media and networking, but I’m not going at full intensity. There’s a big difference in level of focus and energy.

Pay close attention to your energy

Monitor your energy levels. Daily and weekly. Energy works in cycles, too. Schedule your work and breaks by when you have highest/lowest energy levels. Pushing yourself continuously for too long doesn’t end well. It’ll almost always lead to overwhelm.

Be real with your creative goals

Just because someone wrote a book in a weekend, that doesn’t mean that’s a wise goal for you. It’s one thing to push yourself, it’s another thing to attempt to scale a mountain in an hour. I’ve been there. I’ve tried to accomplish the goals that are blatantly-obviously-impossible.

You know what happens?

You end up spending days (or weeks or months) getting little sleep, eating crap, glued to the computer and you still don’t reach your goal because it was impossible in that timeframe. Can you relate?

Instead, break down each creative project into its smallest tasks. Then plug those tasks into a calendar and time frame. Does it all fit? And does it fit in a way that allows you to come up for air when needed?

Plan projects with finances in mind

We dream of being able to write full-time, never considering the more boring aspects of life (such as those bothersome things called bills). But this also leads to resentment and burnout. You can burn yourself out with worry over finances. I’ve been there, too.

Unless you have a trust fund or a supportive significant other who foots all the bills, your writing/blogging pursuits most likely need to support you financially. And it is possible. But you have to plan your projects like a ninja (wait, do ninjas plan?).

Be detailed.

How much will each project bring in? How does that balance with your expenses? How can you earn enough during intense projects to cover you during your less intense months? This is something I’ll be writing about more often on this blog, as I don’t see it addressed much in the writing world (and it can make or break your creative endeavors).

I consistently work in creative cycles (on and off, on and off) and it fuels my creativity. I don’t crash and burn from overwhelm anymore. And I love each project intensely. That’s my style. Try it, and see if it fits.

Figure out your best creative cycles that honor your art, your energy, and your financial goals.


Filed under: writing encouragement inspiration, writing habits


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