Slow Down … Or Burnout

By Jack Forde at

(reprinted here with permission)

“In the realm of ideas,” the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “everything depends on enthusiasm.”

In fact, said Arthur Balfour — the former British Prime Minister, agreement-maker, and ex-philosopher who was, ironically, known for his dispassionate demeanor — “Enthusiasm is what moves the world.”

And had you thought to ask Churchill, during your time travels, he would have told you the same and more, in the phrase, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

Without losing any of the irony that opening today’s post with other people’s quotes is, in itself, not all that creative, I can only add… “Easy for them to say.”

Sometimes, you just can’t help it.

There you are, half way up the mountain. Or worse, at the foot, bundled up in your metaphorical sleeping bag. And you figure… meh.

What to do?


First, let’s acknowledge a few things.

We are, I’ll be you’ve noticed, flooded with more opportunities than ever to be distracted…

Did you know, for instance, that according to the McKinsey Global Institute, the average working person spends a whopping 2.6 hours per day sorting through email? That’s 27 days per year!

Throw in nearly two hours of researching and reading “essential” information… plus a few more hours of combined chatting, work-free web surfing, smartphone checking, and pointless meeting having, and it’s a wonder anything in the world ever gets done.

I mention the distractions because I think they do more than just help us procrastinate — they can also become a crutch for a more serious condition, creative burnout.

Dry patches do happen.

But what to do when you find yourself unable to focus… apathetic toward results… hankering for “Miller Time” on a Monday morning… subsumed by the creep of cynicism… short tempered or moody or sleepless, all over work… or any of those other things Business Insider calls a symptom of burnout?

The French would say, take a vacation. And a long one. We “no-vacation-nation” Americans don’t do that nearly enough, frankly. And when we do, we rarely do it well.

Case in point: We took a week at the beach this summer. And of course, I took my laptop. Every day, I got up 5 am and worked until 1 pm. Even saying it now makes me feel oh-so-virtuous. I also had two one-hour meetings via Skype, plus various undisclosed, work-related email exchanges.

Yep, we hit the beach in the afternoons. And yep, I got in some kid time too. But I can’t help but think I’m not doing it right. To boot, the project I worked didn’t pan out nearly as well as hoped. So there’s that.

Next week, I’ve also got deadlines. I owe better stuff than I think I’m turning out to a few people, have more than one speech to write for two different copywriting “bootcamps” to come, and there are those standing weekly meetings… but we’re going away on a laptop-free trip to the south of France anyway. I’ll let you know if it pays off.

Meanwhile, what about the non-vacation solution to creative burnout? Turns out there are quite a few.

Like these, for instance…

1) Keep a journal: Write three pages every morning. Doesn’t matter what. And carry it with you during the day, just in case.

2) Add ‘change’ to your everyday routine: Move your desk across the room. Walk a different street. Read someone else’s magazines (but ask first).

3) Chill: This might seem a little counter-intuitive, given what we’ve said so far, but once in awhile the best way to get an idea really is to STOP trying. Think about it. Have you ever gotten a great idea while driving? Or taking a walk? While in the shower?  The subconscious mind is a powerful thing.

4) Paint, Draw, Play Music: Skills that force you to think creatively, but do things alien to your routine can jump-start a slumbering mind.

5) Think in squares and circles: Put one idea in the middle of a page. Write related ideas around it. Use lines and shapes to map out the connections.

6) Practice more problem solving: Just as musical people often learn languages faster, and people who do crossword puzzles live longer and stay sharper, just spending more time trying to be a problem-solver in any capacity — outside of work — can help you get back into the habit work-wise, too. The mind, it turns out, is a muscle.

7) Pick a hero: Start by imitating the creative greats who went before you. What did they do? Pretend you’re them and do it yourself. You might get mocked, but it’s an excellent way to pick up good habits.

8) Read: This is an easy one. Anything that’s in motion needs fuel and your brain is no exception. To get more out, you’ve got to pour more in. Does it matter what you read? Of course it does. But that resource might be different for different people, depending on what you’re trying to do. Not just blocks and niche-specific websites, but history and science, good fiction, good non-fiction — you never know what’s going to surprise you by being relevant.

9) And of course, there’s going back to what you’re working on like a beginner. Imagine what you would do if you’d never seen what you were about to sell before… and if you new nothing about how to sell it. Where would you begin? Revisit the original pile of product samples, articles and news clips, testimonials, studies, and more. And revisit a basic how-to book on copywriting too. You might be surprised how squinted shut your eyes have become, and how they might re-open.

10) Talk to somebody, anybody: Get in a conversation with the people you don’t usually talk to — or haven’t talked to awhile — inside your work circles… and outside them. They’ve often thought through the things that puzzle you or have the energy you can’t seem to summon on your own. And just by getting into a good conversation, some of that can easily transfer back to you.

As for me… well… I’m actually going to take off next week from the CR too, and I’ll talk to you when I get back… hopefully, renewed, recharged, and ready to go.