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The Thrill Is Gone: What to Do When Work Stops Being Fun

By on May 2, 2016 in Inspiration
The Thrill Is Gone: What to Do When Work Stops Being Fun

Maybe you have artist’s block. Maybe you’re burned out. Or maybe you’re just sick of dealing with the grind. But whatever it is, your energy and will to go on are depleted, and the joy you first felt has been completely sucked out. No matter how much we enjoy our work, we all deal with these things from time to time.

And even if you’re not dealing with full-blown burnout, you might be get tired of the specific type of work you’re doing. In-house designers and freelancers working on long-term or recurring projects run the most risk of this, but it can happen to anyone, no matter how much you enjoy your work.

So let’s talk about how to counteract these issues and get the spring back in your step!

Take a Break

This might seem obvious, but for those of us who tend to get too wrapped up in our work, it can always be said again: disconnect completely. And this doesn’t mean grab a cigarette or a cup of coffee: clear your mind of the matter for as long as your schedule will let you.

If this is a chronic issue, it might require a readjustment of your overall work-life balance, not just a simple vacation. You know what they say about all work and no play: it’s beneficial to pursue a hobby or something else you’re passionate about to avoid asphyxiating your work. Don’t try to turn your productivity into a competition: no matter what you’ve heard about that one startup founder who puts in 120 hours a week, remember that the amount of time off we need differs from person to person and project to project.

Many freelancers make the mistake of trying to be too self-restrictive, denying themselves any distraction they think will be too time consuming. You need to be conscious of when you begin to fall into a rut, and try to self-correct before the boredom and repression caused by an overly restrictive schedule hurt your ability to create interesting work.

It’s important to remember when you start feeling bored, what kind of work bores you and how long you can work on a particular piece before you become overwhelmed. Once you know your own ‘internal’ schedule, you’ll become more adept at recognizing when to take a break before burnout sets in.

Multitask… Or stop doing that.

Or, you can try the opposite approach: work more. Taking on more tasks can seem like the exact opposite of what you should do when bored with work, but it can actually help. If you’re the kind of person who tends to focus myopically in one project and grind it out until completion, try keeping a second one in the wings to work on. Then, when you get bored with that one, you can bounce back to the first one... And vice-versa.

However, proving that no one solution fits all, burnout can be caused by trying to work on too many projects at once. Multitasking can make you feel overwhelmed or cause you to let a project slip; then, like a line of dominos, the rest will follow.

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Image by Magurok on CreativeMarket

If that sounds like you, take a look at which projects you can afford to put on hiatus and cut back to the minimum for a while. You’ll feel more in control of your own life.

Try to Push Your Limits

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Image by Al Shep

If you feel like you need more variety, try learning a new skill altogether. This can have the added benefit of filling another need for your employer, making yourself more valuable to them, while curing your fatigue with doing the same old thing. You might even find yourself expanding your career options.

This may not work when you have a restrictive job. Unfortunately, the creative professionals most prone to burnout are the ones working on rote and repetitive projects that offer the fewest chances to expand beyond the confines of your basic task and try new things. If this is your case, consider going about it in a different way.

For example, if you’re editing images, why not download a few trial or freeware alternatives to the program you’re currently using and try some of the same tasks on those? Not only might you find one you like, but you can also bulk up your resume.

Remind Yourself What Got You Into it in the First Place

What do you love about this line of work? What masterworks first made you want to do it? Who are the artists that you admired with stars in your eyes when starting out? It always helps to keep a file of work that inspires you, even if it’s nothing like what you’re doing at the moment.

Many creatives like to decorate their desks with art, designer toys and sometimes inspirational quotes. This is a good start, and we recommend that you also keep art books and computer folders full of inspiration.

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...And some take it a bit further. Image from ComicArtFans

As corny as it may seem, sometimes hearing that a creative person you look up to was once in the same position can be very helpful.

But don’t just look at the big-picture, grand-creative-vision stuff: consider the details as well. Say you’re a graphic designer. What’s your favorite stage in coming up with a design? Sketching? Digital painting? Layouts? Interactive design for the web? Or maybe seeing your work in print? If you can determine what you like best about what you do, maybe you can set that part aside for when you’re feeling a little burnt out, as a way to recharge or relax.

Plus, it never hurts to keep your goals in mind. For example, if you wanted to be a game concept artist but you’re stuck airbrushing photos of pet supplies, keeping that goal in mind can help steer you in its direction. Maybe you can start doing work for game websites in your free time, allowing you to network and create contacts with people in the industry.

Try Working with Someone Else

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Image by Deyan Georgiev on CreativeMarket

Isolation can cause boredom. And, on a more pragmatic level, having to work with someone else can force you to get your work done, whether you feel like it or not, just so that you don’t let them down. They can also offer encouragement, make sure you stay on task, and provide a real-time assessment of how you’re doing, all of which remove a lot of the difficulty from a long project.

Let Yourself Mess Up

Finally, two of the biggest causes of burnout are perfectionism and inflated expectations. We expect that we’re going to knock it out of the park every time, or that a project needs a certain level of detail, so we procrastinate because we don’t know if we’re going to be able to produce that amount of work. We often get to a certain point and then stop because we don’t feel like adding what might turn out to be completely unnecessary in the first place. So calm down, and try to look at the project from an objective point of view. Maybe it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get all the kerning right in the first draft.

Any other questions, comments or suggestions? Tell us about a time you experienced creative burnout, and how you dealt with it.


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C.S. Jones is a freelance writer, artist, and photographer. In the past, he co-founded an art gallery and worked at a product photography studio. These days, he does photo tutorials (and gigs), online copy, and content marketing for a living. He also writes about webcomics at Webcomicry.com.

3 Comments

  1. And if all else fails, change careers and/or start your own gig. Stop putting your life in the hands of someone else. Fact is, no matter how hard you try, luck may not be on your side as it was for others.

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