5 STEPS FOR AVOIDING BURNOUT
Burnout is all too often accepted as a necessary evil of working in the arts. As something we all HAVE to endure. Essentially, I’m on a bit of a mission to try and interrupt the work-all-the-time mentality that seems to pervade a lot of what we do in the arts. I’ve done a couple of workshops on my own experiences. I make it a focus of my producing workshops. It's about interrupting something Lou Platt (Artist Wellbeing Practitioner) and I call the "mantra of martyrdom".
I’m thoroughly aware that some of this comes from a position of privilege. It’s also based on experience of about 10 years working in different fields in the arts, and seeing good and bad working practices in visual arts, theatre and music industries. Here's 5 techniques that I've been using for the last 2 years. Two documents I used, when I was establishing my own self care practice, can be found here. They include a basic cashflow document and a spreadsheet to calculate how many days a week you are committing to each project you are working on or are planning to work on.
1. Delete your emails from your phone. Your facebook. Your twitter.
Turn off YOUR NOTIFICATIONS
Seriously. Unless you are in production or on location, you don’t need your emails on your phone. It’s good to be able to work on the go and to work in times when you are on a train but clicking over your emails when you’re on the bus, or sat on your sofa at home, or in bed in the morning, none of that needs to happen. Remember that feeling that you get when THAT email pops into your inbox and you realise its the one you really, really didn’t want to see. And then you can’t sleep? Wait until you’re in your place of work and then have at it. If it’s actually urgent, people pick up the phone. The same largely goes for social media. Studies show it can often have a really bad effect on your mental wellbeing. Read more about that here. You can even put add ons onto your browser to restrict how long you can spend on social media. Here's a list of a few of them.
I recognise this is an immensely difficult task sometimes. I have had to go as far as using a password I cannot remember for my emails on my phone. It’s the only way I am able to stop myself from turning them on to quickly look at them when I’m idle. Same for Facebook and Twitter.
2. Make a separate login for your computer
Doing this means that you are much less likely to be distracted by that spreadsheet you left open on Friday night. It means you don’t accidentally click the tab for your emails or your facebook account. It’s like when you have an office or work somewhere other than your home. No-one in those spaces hulks their vintage HP desktop computers (or super swish desktop Macs) home at the weekend. Make a space for yourself where you can’t see your work all the time and where you won’t accidentally trip over it in the middle of the night. In an emergency, you can quickly login to your work account and log out again, leaving everything as you want it for when you are back in the office. Wherever your office may be.
Here’s how to do it for Mac http://bit.ly/2BK2rlf
Here’s how to do it on a PC http://bit.ly/2kKDv2o
3. Define your own working time
9am-5pm / 10am-6pm / 6pm-2am - Find the time that works best for you but make sure that the time that works for you isn’t all-the-time. If you’re juggling another job to support your work in the arts, make sure you create time for yourself. However small or short the moments may be, stepping out of the “getting stuff done” mindset is immensely useful for a sense of perspective. Ever noticed how the number of emails you get gets lower as you get closer to the end of a day and the end of the week? Or how few you get on the weekend? If you have to work at weekends, when will you get a weekend?
I work either 9am-5pm or 10am-6pm. If I’m in production for a big outdoor project or a theatre piece or a festival then this obviously goes out of the window but if that’s the case, I aim to have a few days away from emails, work and meetings after I’ve finished the project. It allows me space to recover and reflect.
4. Make a separate space for where you work
I’m in the lucky position to have a hot desk in a couple of places that will put up with my incessant puns and my inability to make a decent cup of tea for everyone. Before I did that, I had a desk at home. This didn’t work for me, it made it really hard to separate my working life from my home life and meant I had constant reminders of what I had to do. That separate space can be as simple as having a separate login on your computer. See what I did there?
This is potentially the hardest of them all. This takes practice, and patience. And you should keep a record of what you say no too as well. All too often we can find ourselves committing to projects and then suddenly all the ones we said yes to have got their funding or been given the green light. Then we feel like we have to make them all happen. There’s physical and emotional limits on what we can do with our time. I’ve spent a while figuring out the kind of projects and people I want to work with. I still get this wrong occasionally. But I do have a better sense of when there isn’t any space. And since carving out my evenings and weekends, I’ve created a barrier for myself that stops me from taking on projects that I would do in those times. There’s a saying that we should all keep at least 20% of our working time free. To deal with the unexpected and the emergencies. Read more about that here. When 100% of your time is committed, you don’t have space for when things go wrong. That’s when things start to slip and become much harder to control.