cartoon character's head open with a battery, slowly depleting

dealing with creative burnout

April 6, 2021

written by
Bri Martinez

procrastinating too much? dreading a project? feeling stuck? you might be experiencing creative burnout.

Let me tell you a secret. When your job is to creatively solve problems with different solutions fairly often, it’s common to feel devastated when that fuse suddenly goes out like an overused lightbulb. We aren’t creative machines that can constantly produce good ideas every day of the week, every hour of the day…as much as we don’t want to admit to that. At an agency, you’re often working for multiple clients at the same time and even if everybody loves you and you love your job, sometimes you can get stuck. And if you’re like me, creative burnout comes along with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome.

So what do you do when at your wit’s end and are incapable of finding that creative spark again? I’ve come up with a series of tricks to get myself back in the groove. Check in with yourself, maybe do some low-attention tasks, and use some of these tips that I use when experiencing that moment of peril.


1) check in with yourself.

First and foremost, it’s important to make sure you’re checking in with yourself.  It’s easy to be distracted by outside forces that are unrelated to the project entirely. Just stop for a moment and center yourself.  Maybe you have a lot going on in your personal life, or maybe you pulled too many late nights working on your latest campaign project, or maybe you’ve made some bad habits. There are a lot of different factors that can play into losing that “touch”, and once you’re able to help pinpoint where it might be coming from, it can lead you to the next tip…


2) check in with your colleagues.

One thing I’m extremely grateful for, even when working remotely, is that our teams have one-on-ones every week. This is a great time to talk to your mentors about what’s been challenging for you and what you’ve been doing really well at during the week. It’s an opportunity to communicate that you’re having a hard time getting something done and ask for help.

So what if you don’t have something like one-on-one meetings?  If you feel like your burnout is being caused by an overload of work being put on your plate, it’s important for you to speak up. I promise you that in a good agency, your coworkers won’t think you’re being lazy, or that you “aren’t good enough”; it will help you and the entire team out in the long run if you reach out and ask for help when you need it. It’s the ebb and flow of collaboration and teamwork that creates success, sometimes that means handing something off or reordering priorities. So don’t hesitate to call it when you’re at the wall.

3) don’t be afraid to take some time off.

When was the last time you took a vacation? When was the last time you took even just a day off? Work/life balance is really important, and if you’re constantly working in the place that you’re also living in (work from home team, heyyy!), then it’s easy to muddle your boundaries. You need to give your body and brain time to rest in order to juice back up, and sometimes you might need more than a weekend for that.

You also don’t necessarily have to take a full day, or even a half day off. Sometimes just stepping away from your workspace and going on a 15 minute walk outside can work wonders. Before 2020, our team would take field trips to bond, find inspiration, and get back that joy. Find what feels right and just go with it.

No matter if you’re going on a short or long vacation, just turn yourself off from thinking about your deadlines. Easier said than done but you’d be surprised at how much it can help. Besides, who doesn’t love finding inspiration on vacation trips?


4) do a ‘me’ project

When was the last time you did something creative just for yourself? Personally I feel like it can be really challenging to do a creative project for work, even if you have no expected criteria, because in your mind you’re still providing a deliverable for someone other than yourself. This might not be something you’d be able to do during work hours, but I highly encourage you to put even just 20 minutes aside to doodle on a sketch pad and create a personal creative project for yourself that’s pressure-free. Other ideas from our team are puzzles, photography, figure painting, needle work, and others just do DIY home projects.


5) do “non-creative” tasks.

You know how you can feel overwhelmed in a room that you haven’t cleaned up in a month and now there’s clutter on every surface and you can’t get anything done? Maybe it’s time to focus some attention on cleaning or organizing some things.

Operation and admin work is rarely at the top of anyone’s list of priorities, but sometimes doing the most “mundane” work can help just give that brain of yours a little break, even just for 30 minutes. Spend some time organizing your desktop files, and backing work up on your server. Maybe you can also close the 20 tabs you have on your browser that you forgot you left open because the browser window has been hiding in your dock, and you have 10 of those tabs open in another browser anyway? A clean workspace = a clear mind.

6) find inspiration

As a designer, I always have different resources open for inspiration. If I’m not looking at visual inspiration on sites like Behance and Designspiration, I’m reading articles on UX, design, and art from newsletters I’ve subscribed to. Documentaries and YouTube series are also great things to have on and use for inspiration as well. Or if you’re doing “non-creative” work like in tip #5, listen to a good and fun podcast that you find inspiring.

Personally my favorite resource for creativity is attending a Creative Mornings talk, or listening/watching an old one they recorded. Creative Mornings offers an amazing and diverse range of speakers with different backgrounds that speak on behalf of a monthly theme. They have chapters across the world too, so when in-person events can happen again, their talks are definitely worth checking out (if just for the free breakfast).


Creative burnout is inevitable for every long hauler, but just remember that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Sometimes we forget just how much and how hard we’ve been working on things, and all we need is a little bit of self love. Give that creative muscle of yours a nice massage