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How to Deal with Creative Burnout

Have you found yourself facing the impossible task of innovating another element for your business? Does your normally creative effort somehow seem like a chore? These are some of the signs that you may be facing creative burnout, a very real form of mental exhaustion caused by constant stress or ps

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
Creative Burnout

Have you found yourself facing the impossible task of innovating another element for your business? Does your normally creative effort somehow seem like a chore? These are some of the signs that you may be facing creative burnout, a very real form of mental exhaustion caused by constant stress or psychological strain.

In innovation, its the creative spark keeps you innovating.  I am going to give you some tools to identify whether you are facing creative burnout as well as some strategies for resolving it.

How to Know that You are in an Innovative Slump

The following is a simple list that may help you identify whether you are suffering from creative burnout.

  • Loss of Interest in the Creative Process – Creative activities can be highly rewarding, but also require high amounts of energy. If you have lost the energy to do your favorite creative tasks, and find yourself procrastinating, this may be a sign of burnout.
  • Feeling of Sameness in Creative Tasks – In employment, leadership, or entrepreneurship, creative tasks often are put on repeat. You have to complete creative projects and come up with new innovations on a schedule. If every task starts feeling the same as the last one, it is a sign of burnout.
  • Inability to Meet Demands – After the feeling of sameness comes the inability to think creatively and meet your innovative goals. This comes from the fact that you are no longer engaged in the creative process through your work.
  • Chaotic Workload – Rather than focusing on your key creative and innovative processes for work, you move from one activity to the next, relentlessly pursuing shiny new objects. This creates chaos in your normal workflow causes your creativity to suffer.

If these signs describe you, it might be time to find some mental space where you can work toward a more sustainable creative process. Rest assured, there are simple solutions to get you back in your creative mood.

6 Ways To Resolve Creative Burnout

Take Time to Yourself

Often burnout comes from doing too much without time to recover. It is OK to take some time off to vacation, spend time alone, or simply to relax. Just like resting any overworked muscle, you can rest your creative muscle by participating in other activities that don't require their use. When you are in a slump, productive rest can include spending time with friends and family, learning something new, or changing your surroundings.

Practice the “Easy Stuff”

Sometimes the most difficult part of the creative process is beginning. When you are burned out from overworking and overextending yourself on projects, returning to the fundamentals of your craft can often inspire creativity. This can re-introduce you to the joy of your creative process and create a space where you can relax.

For example, a musician who has been overloaded with concerts and performing new material every night can begin to love the music again by doing scales, simple warm-ups, and playing songs from childhood. This can also remind you of your progress you’ve made.

Try New Creative Outlets

Creative burnout is often associated with the feeling of doing the same thing over and over again or with the feeling of being in your own way. Often, the way to solve both of these feelings is the same: find a different creative outlet.

If your regular creative activity is writing then play music with friends, visit an art museum, pick up a paintbrush or make art out of ordinary resources like previous guest Noah Scalin ( If you are a marketing designer who usually loves graphic design, pick up a book or go for a walk in a flower garden.

Another great idea for getting outside the ordinary routine is to try comedy improv such as the creative people at Second City Works (listen to it here: podcast).  This change of creative scenery will help your brain get out of its rut and give your body the endorphins you're craving from a successful creative process without the high standards you set for yourself in your profession.

Systems Management

The systems you use to structure creative activities are as important as your imagination. People who come up with creative HR solutions or marketing plans cannot afford to spend mental and emotional energy managing a systemless environment. If you attempt to be creative while trying to mentally manage a home or work environment that is constantly in flux, this may be contributing to your burnout.

Steve Jobs was famous for wearing the same clothing every day. Likewise, you should find some activities that you can put on autopilot in your week. Creating these systems will help you carve out the mental time and energy to focus on your creative process.

Compete in Daily Challenges

Daily challenges can sometimes spur you to move through what seems like an insurmountable creative block. These challenges can be related to your systems management or your creative process. A systems management challenge might include a 30-day or 90-day challenge that forces you to adhere to a specific regimen (take a look at the episode on 30 Day Challenges to Jumpstart Your Creativity). A creative process challenge helps you focus on and fine tune a certain aspect of your creativity.  Think of a skill that needs improvement and choose to focus a specific amount of time on building or improving it.

Giving yourself a challenge and sticking to it can spur your creativity in new and innovative ways.

Use the Law of Resources

Finally, use the law of resources to ensure you have what you need in order to achieve creative innovation. While recovering from creative burnout, apply the law of resources both to the organization and yourself. Without the right people, time management, creative equipment (try the Killer Questions Card Deck) and budget, creative burnout is difficult to overcome. With the right resources, you are able to work at your best, move past your blocks, and get your creative mind back in working order.

For more information on the creative process, read 3 Actions To Improve Your Creative Thinking.

If you are experiencing creative burnout, I hope these points will help to get you back in the creativity game.  For an excellent booster to keep creative burnout at bay, help you get through the thick of it or if you’re just looking for an honest exchange of innovation ideas, Don’t Go it Alone, join The Innovators Community.

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Phil McKinney Twitter

Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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