Structuring your days as a full-time creator isn’t as cut-and-dry as you might think.
- You want the freedom and flexibility of being your own boss, but you have a lot on your plate (and a never-ending to-do list.)
- You want to work hard and earn a great salary, but without spreading yourself too thin (to the point of becoming burnt out.)
- You want time for relaxation and creative work, but you also have to manage the business side of things (along with your actual content creation work.)
Burnout—which can look different for different types of creators—is a widespread problem for people working as solo entrepreneurs.
You can't shake burnout off with a one-day break. You can, however, combat it with healthy habits and a routine.
I’m incredibly protective of my schedule so I can stay balanced. I schedule time to work and time to reset. I also double down when I have the energy for work and set aside time as a buffer for off days.
–Ashley Cummings, freelance writer
Optimized routines are different for everyone, but let’s look at how a few successful creators start and end their days following a sustainable approach that keeps them from burnout. Maybe you’ll get some ideas that inspire change in the texture of your workdays, too.
Why and how a routine can help manage creator burnout
First: Why is this a topic worth talking about? Short answer: Because it’s a widespread issue.
According to our State of the Creator Economy Report, we surveyed nearly 3,000 creators about their experiences and found that 61% of creators experienced burnout in 2021.
And this is not just for creators who’ve been creating content for a long time. Even newer, younger creators deal with content creation fatigue and burnout. Jack Innen, a 22-year-old TikTok content creator, said in a New York Times interview:
I feel like I’m tapping a keg that’s been empty for a year. I get to the point where I’m like, ‘I have to make a video today,’ and I spend the entire day dreading the process.
Burnout can take many different shapes. For Jack, it became a feeling of dread. But for other creators, it might look like procrastination, reduced quality of work, inconsistency, lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits, second-guessing a content-related career, etc.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling burnout. But a great place to begin is by setting a routine.
1. Helps you get in the “zone” for the day
There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than waking up in the morning and not knowing what to do. Should you look at your emails, do your workout, take a call, strategize content, or follow your skincare routine? It all becomes hazy, and the next thing you know, you’re roaming aimlessly in your workspace trying to figure out what to do (and it’s almost 6 pm).
However, starting your day with a clear routine can put you in the right mindset and workflow. This can be as brief as a 15-minute routine where you journal, meditate, go for a walk outside, take a run, or write down your to-do list. Whatever form it takes, a routine will help set you in a composed mindset to maintain both creativity and productivity.
2. Allows time to unplug from work
There’s not a lot of downtime when you work for yourself. You’re constantly working unless you make it a point to unplug after a certain point in the day. But what if even after doing that, you still find yourself sneakily checking emails and browsing social media, wanting to send perhaps just…one more tweet?
Having a routine to end your day or just instituting a few daily habits in your end-of-the-workday routine (like going to the gym every day at 5 pm, joining a swimming class, or going for a walk at 4:30 pm) can help you get out of your work zone and enter personal time.
3. Allows you to manage time and prioritize better
By following a routine, you can finish your work on (or before) it’s due and squeeze in other tasks during the day (like going for lunch, suddenly deciding to go on a trip with family, or just doing more in a day without extending your working hours.)
This will also help you prioritize your tasks better because you know exactly what you’ll do at the start of your day, while you’re working, and even after it. Writer Christine Morrison says:
The key to my wellbeing is CrossFit every other morning and an early bedtime each night. This also ensures I spend time nurturing my dog, connecting with my husband, and reading with my boys before bed.
6 tips from creators on how to start and end your day on a high note to manage burnout
Now you know how a routine can help you avoid feelings of burnout. But how, exactly, can you start creating your own individualized routine?
1. Create a wakeup routine that works for you
If you’ve ever heard about the book 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma, you know that many creators follow and swear by early-morning routines.
Every creator functions differently based on the audiences they cater to, the lives they lead, where and how they live, etc. And no, it’s not feasible for every type of creator to follow an early morning routine. The solution: Create a wake-up routine, but don’t require it to come with an early-riser alarm clock.
You can follow a morning routine even if you decide to wake up at 11:00 am. The key is not when it’s done but how it’s done.
Here’s how you can create a wakeup routine of your own:
- Identify what emotion you want to feel while working and in which mood you want to create to start your workday. If you want to enter with a calm mindset, journaling, yoga, and meditation might do the trick, but if you want to get into a “get-it-done” motivational mindset, you might want to go running or work out to get the adrenaline pumping.
- Decide what not to do when you wake up. Editor Grace Smith has some sound advice for all creators:
Psychological studies show it's best for us to avoid phone use (triggers our stress response) and caffeine (can interrupt/stop our brains’ natural wakening chemicals) within the first hour of being awake. I often fail at this, but know that I'll feel physically and mentally better if I can do it. It should be a must-include for everyone in the mornings.
Overall, focus on creating a wake-up routine that’s in line with how you want to feel throughout the day to stay grounded and far from the black hole of burnout.
2. End the day with an unwind routine
That feeling of never getting enough done won’t go away unless you take steps to unplug from work at the end of the day (so you’re not checking emails or replying to Slack messages at dinner.)
If you have a wake-up routine to go into work with the right mindset, why not follow a shut-off routine to exit your workday, too? It’ll allow you to stop thinking about how other creators started working on a new project, how you left that one tiny task on your to-do list today, or what you need to catch up on tomorrow.
This will also help you transition into the right mindset to end the day on a lighter note to get a good night of restful sleep and start fresh the next day—with high energy and productivity.
Here are some best practices to create an after-hours routine:
- Review your to-do list before calling it a day. For a creator, it’s sometimes impossible to cross off everything on the task list in a day. It may have taken more time to create a piece of content, a meeting could have been extended, or a creative task may have required more effort than expected. Looking at your to-do list is a great way to review what you accomplished in the day and get a sense of satisfaction.
- Clear your physical and digital surroundings. Just shutting your laptop when you have a cluttered desktop, over 50 emails unread, and 10+ tabs open likely isn’t going to end your day on a positive note. Clear the digital clutter, organize your desk, and set your space in order.
- Ensure your notifications are on snooze after hours—on desktop or mobile. Sometimes it’s the necessary fail-safe when you’re bad about checking and re-checking notifications.
- Do activities you enjoy to celebrate another day of work well done. Drink wine, play games with your family, go out to dinner, take a long bath—anything that helps you feel relaxed.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Without a restorative period of rest, it’ll be hard to stick with any sort of routine during the day.
3. Choose your own form of meditation
Meditation can mean different things to different people. For some, it can be the actual act of meditation; for others, it can be taking a stroll in the evening, journaling, doing yoga, going for a solo cup of tea, or just listening to music.
I do pilates to start my day and read a book to end it. I also like to take CBD before bed and color on the Happy Color app on my iPad (with blue-light-blocking glasses). It's my form of meditation.
–Laura Leiva, freelance writer
The idea is to dedicate a small portion of your day to doing things that don’t take much effort but put you in a peaceful state. During these moments, your brain can rest, you can focus on your breath, and find some time to gather your thoughts after a busy day.
For a creator, this is especially important, as content creation and working for yourself can get overwhelming quickly. Meditation breaks can help alleviate stress and restore the creative streak that’s hard to maintain every day.
4. Set some boundaries
Setting boundaries isn’t just about not using your phone at the dinner table or checking your emails after 6 pm.
An essential step to setting boundaries is identifying (and acknowledging) your limitations.
For example, ask yourself: How many hours do you want to work in a day? Now, assess how many hours you actually end up working in a day. You may be spilling your working hours and going over time because you’re trying to squeeze more tasks in a day or overcommitting to tasks you don’t have time for—either way, you’re setting yourself up for burnout.
Identify your limitations and understand:
- How many hours do you want to work in a day?
- What are some non-negotiables in your life that you can’t miss no matter what? Like weekly dinner with the parents or a stroll in the park with the kids.
- What are some habits taking a toll on your mental and physical health?
- What lifestyle changes should you make to lead a healthy life?
- What are some things you’re compromising right now in the name of work? How can you prevent it?
Look at these questions closely, and set or rewire your boundaries to maintain a healthy balance. However, perhaps the biggest roadblock in a creator’s journey to draw boundaries is learning to say “no.”
You can get calls at any time during the day.
You can get campaign requests on an urgent basis.
You can get invited for a brand collaboration when your plate is completely full.
You can be invited to events that clash with your personal commitments.
All of this can happen to a creator, but it doesn’t need to.
Learn how and when to say “no” to draw clear boundaries and ensure you’re not committing to things that will push you over the edge.
5. Practice journaling and mindfulness
An online community is often a creator’s biggest source of support. But even that support can grow dim when you find yourself burnt out. One of the best things creators can do to stay grounded and acknowledge their feelings is to journal and document their feelings and practice mindfulness.
Journaling is a healthy way to express yourself, understand which feelings you’ve been suppressing, help uncover signs of burnout, and allow you to face problems or fears holding you back from growing—personally and professionally.
You can begin journaling by setting a five-minute timer in the morning or before you go to bed to pen down your thoughts and feelings and what you’re grateful for. After a while, it becomes a habit that makes you more aware of your feelings and acts as a point of reference for pattern identification (helping you spot what you were doing when you felt great and felt less-than-great.)
If you want to practice mindfulness further, here are some best practices you should follow:
- Identify your definition of success as a creator. Go beyond revenue numbers and followers to pin down exactly what success looks like to you. This will tell you how far along you are and what you need to do to reach that stage.
- Embrace a positive rather than a depreciating mindset. For example, instead of saying, “I just have 5,000 followers right now, and I’m very far from the 10k goal,” say, “I have a community of 5,000 people who love my content and support my art every day, and this audience is growing every day.”
- Be intentional about your growth. By being aware, and focusing on your feelings and thoughts, identify what’s holding you back from the success point you defined earlier. Create a mindful plan to achieve that without any scope for doubt or judgment.
While mindfulness is a quality, it needs to be nurtured with meditative practices.
For a creator, this is especially important to help them re-group their thoughts, introspect the course of action, find a moment of solace in all the chaos and hustle and intentionally grow, rather than dumb luck.
Rely on a routine to supercharge your days
Creating a routine is ancient advice, but it’s highly effective in structuring your work and life to achieve a sense of balance and satisfaction. Reaching a stage of burnout is not uncommon for creators, but it’s avoidable by following a routine that sets the tone for the day, allows for moments of “refresh” during the day, and allows you to unwind and unplug at the end of the day.
While it may sound like a lot of work, a routine is really just a chain of activities repeated every day until they become an automated habit—for the better. Follow the tips here to create a comfortable and energizing routine and see how it impacts your day-to-day experience.