Pandemic Burnout for Creative Professionals

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This article discusses the fatigue and burnout that all of us creative professionals are feeling because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Warning: this post is going to be a bit all over the place. It’s coming straight from the heart, y’all.

Life in a Pandemic as a Creative Professional Working from Home with a Toddler

This is my current situation:

  • It is 4:17 PM. I just put up my Microsoft Teams status saying I’ll be offline and out of pocket until 6:00 PM so I can just not feel guilty about not responding to an endless amount of questions.
  • My toddler is taking an absurdly late nap since for whatever reason he slept in until 10:00 AM this morning.
    • Editor’s Note: Since writing this, the past 5 days he’s woken up before 5:30 AM.
  • My inboxes (personal, professional, and side business) are all overflowing and I’m a strict Inbox Zero person.
  • I’m two days late on my weekly review of my OmniFocus projects.
  • My Reminders App on my phone as a red circle with the number “10” in it.
  • I already know that at 6:00 PM when I log in again to my work computer I’ll have a dozen or more messages and client emails that should be responded to.
  • After bedtime with my kid tonight there’s a sink full of dishes calling my name but I also know I need to spend some time on a project for my 9-5 because it’ll be the first time all day (besides right now) I’ve had more than 15 minutes to myself.
  • I meant to publish a blog post on my other site a few days ago and haven’t even started it yet.
  • And I’ve been ignoring a feeling of extreme overwhelmed-ness for the past several weeks.

Attempting to Extinguish the Burnout

I could go on. I know I’m not alone and am not looking for a pity party. All of us creative professionals are facing pandemic burnout. I hope if you’re a fellow creative professional that you can relate to this article.

Back when I first started writing on the internet in 2013 it was for pure escapism. I didn’t quite have the mental and emotional tools I currently possess thanks to taking a deep dive into the world of Calm over the past two years. However right now I’m channeling that 2013 version of me because I sense I need a bit more at this present moment to carry on with business as usual.

Maybe that’s the issue though… “business as usual”. Even though we’re currently 11 months into our new normal, at what point in anyone’s lives pre-2020 was any of this “usual”?

Expectations feel higher than ever. The ability to escape, even if it’s just for a coffee or an IPA out with a friend, is non-existent. Creative professionals like you and me are expected to churn out art and projects like there’s nothing wrong with the world.

Hello?? I can’t even go to Target without two masks, hand sanitizer, and the patience of Buddha.

Somehow business is booming in my 9-5’s field. Our crew is still doing video shoots (cautiously, of course). And the deadlines are legit.

Toddler with hand on computer mouse
FYI: Not my kid

My Tiny Assistant Editor

I’ve now spent nearly 11 months at home with my child. He was 9 months old back in March 2020, barely crawling. And he’s now almost 20 months old legit running and climbing around on everything.

We’ve spent more than half of his life together here in this house on Teams meetings, Zoom calls, and isolated from everyone but our one set of neighbors who are in a similar situation to us. I have to quietly feed my kid handful after handful of puffs in order for him to stay chill sometimes when my wife and I are simultaneously on calls and they are both important.

“Hey, want to do calendars?”

My wife or I at some point each morning

Each morning my wife and I do “calendars”. We talk through our meetings for the day and upcoming days because we usually bother each other numerous times throughout the day with things like “I need to schedule a meeting next Tuesday when can’t you have him?”. If our Outlook calendars and Teams chats were connected OMG my life would be 10,000x easier.

But we take turns playing with our kid while we attempt to work and give the other time to have meetings or get focused work done (like what I should be doing now).

Trying to be Creative in a Pandemic

Creative work? Ha. My typical day is spent in 5-10 minute chunks of “mini-focus” if I’m lucky. My kid is coloring or doing a puzzle or stacking blocks and I get a few minutes to respond to emails and play air traffic controller on Teams for all the various video projects my company has going on.

Then it’s time for a meeting and I hand him off to my wife who has the same 5-10 minute chunks of “mini-focus”. Then he gets tagged back to me after my meeting because she’ll have a meeting. We squeeze in lunch when he gets hungry and usually one of us is pounding down leftovers or a sandwich before our next call while the other tends to the little guy.

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Creative work?! I look up at the clock and it’s 4:17 PM and I’m putting my Teams status message up saying don’t bother me til 6:00 PM because I need a gosh darn break.

I have three video projects that I am editing on top of all the project management, video producing, script writing, graphic design work, and quality assurance testing I’m doing for my 9-5. These projects have been sitting untouched since before Christmas.

I mentioned in a video over the summer that I took over as our graphic designer. While I have my systems and processes pretty much down it still requires creative work. Editing videos though? Man, that requires 20x more focus and time and patience and mental clarity.

I have a feeling these video projects are going to be on the backburner for another few weeks…

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Fighting Pandemic Burnout

Being at home with my son everyday is an absolute joy. Seriously. Even though I only have those 5-10 minute mini-focus sessions to typically get stuff done. I know other parents aren’t as lucky with their toddlers and having older kids is an entirely different battle which I do not envy. The folks going into offices or into places of business where they interactive with other humans everyday? Yeahh, hard pass. I salute you all if that’s something you are enduring. I’ll gladly stay here stepping on legos instead.

Back to creative professionals fighting pandemic burnout. I have no answers for us. Sorry if you read this far and thought I did. We’re in this mess together though.

What’s worked for me in the past when dealing with regular burnout is 1) finding the time to recover then 2) focusing on the tasks that are giving you the most mental stress. These are usually the most difficult tasks anyway… Like those three video projects I need to edit… 

But right now for me, I need #1. I need to find some time to recover. Like this writing. This is a type of recovery. And hopefully tonight after bedtime and dishes I’ll have enough left in this gas tank to get some deep work done.

How are you doing? I hope you’re hanging in there. Leave a comment below. Or if you want to tell me privately use my Contact Page.

I genuinely hope that this article on pandemic burnout for creative professionals helped you if you were able to relate to it. If it did, please consider subscribing to my email newsletter.

– Josh

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