February 11, 2020 Ray Nuñez

The Fight Against Burnout: Changing a Creative Culture

Burnout is brutal. It doesn’t discriminate and it doesn’t care about your experience, your title, or whether you’ve planted your creative roots in an in-house agency or you’re working as a digital nomad from your couch. Burnout is real. Short deadlines, long hours, caffeine-overdosing, and unrealistic expectations have become synonymous with the life of a creative.

In 2019, Fishbowl surveyed 1,875 ad agency employees and found that nearly 65% of professionals in advertising and design suffer from burnout. That’s a whopping 13% higher than public school teachers. We at The Nuñez Co have felt first hand the crippling side effects of burnout and the damaging effects it has on our mental health, physical health, and emotional wellbeing. We also are keenly aware of how destructive it can be for our productivity. We started this agency to develop and promote our own culture, one that strives to deliberately be anti-burnout and proactive in regards to well being rather than reactive when our team is slumped as a result of bad habits.

Every day is a work in progress, but we’ve outlined some of the core pillars behind our approach to building a sustainable, productive, and mindful work environment.

"We live in a culture that has made burnout a right of passage to move forward in our careers"

How We (Work To) Avoid Burnout

Environment Matters: As agency owners and designers, we (somewhat-gracefully) migrate between wearing hats of operation and business to hats of creativity and innovation. We strive to make our home-office an inspiring place to work, but we know that staring at the same four walls, desk trinkets, and tiny succulents can block our creative juices from flowing. That’s why we often run down to our favorite coffee shops, like Sin Bakery or Seven Stars, especially when we are handling less-creative and more operational work. We’re also fortunate to have a range of coworking spaces in Providence to work out of. Our favorite is the Cambridge Innovation Center downtown, that’s quickly becoming our mother-ship and a place where we can work independently, collaborate with other startups, and meet with our clients. You’d be surprised, the option to switch between these environments makes a big difference in our creativity and our mindset.

Diversify Your Plate: We recently subscribed to HomeChef. One of our favorite things about the food delivery subscription model is that it answered quite possibly the most difficult questions we face every day; what are we having for dinner? It rotated our options and made us fall in love with variety. Dinner no longer was monotonous or a burden to decide on. Like our meals, we deliberately try to keep a diverse range of projects in rotation. We might start our day with a branding workshop for a youth-focused nonprofit, have a lunch meeting with an insurance organization that’s been around for 65 years and looking to rebrand, and wrap up our evening at a store opening for a cannabis dispensary. This broad range of projects keeps us excited to start our work-day and bring creative new ideas and solutions to each project. We’re inspired by this diversity and we found that it strengthens our approach by not being limited to one industry or market. If you’re finding yourself eating the same thing for dinner, we recommend changing it up and exploring new recipes; you might find the change as a healthy source of motivation.

Step Away: Most creatives are not good at this. Admittedly, this is something our team struggles with the most. We’re classically trained to be “all-in” and not work until the job is done. This mindset of hustling-at-all-costs normalized long workdays in our industry, regardless of the damage to our sleep and health. We totally get it, you might have a project that needs to go to print yesterday and you are planning to work late into the night to make sure it’s successfully delivered and that all stakeholders are happy. That’s okay! Once in a while, those situations happen and we work with extreme deadlines to make sure projects are complete. However, this can’t be the daily routine. These habits of overworking only come with negative side effects that, in due time, will sure to cause damage to your process and quality of work. Most importantly, it’s not sustainable. This also comes with a bigger conversation of changing client-designer culture and relationships. Folks wouldn’t go to other professions and expect them to work throughout the night to make up for their timing decisions; it shouldn’t be expected of creatives either. What you can do today to be proactive is to close that laptop early, include clear deadline expectations in your next contract, perhaps take a walk to clear your mind, and remember that some things truly can wait for tomorrow.

Bonus Burnout Tips:

Stick With Your Strengths: If you’re falling out of love with your work, it may be a sign of negatively-utilizing your strengths. If you’re stretching yourself too thin and dedicating too much time on projects that don’t align with what you love, it may be time to bring in backup in the form of a subcontractor, freelancer, or expanding your team. A creative shouldn’t be expected to be well-rounded and love every bit of it, but a team should be composed of a range of strengths and of members who truly understand and love to lead with their strengths. 

You Are What You Eat: In the past, this was something we struggled with. Pizza was a quick and easy source of fuel that kept our projects running. We celebrated when Doordash and Grubhub came out because it gave us more options for take-out. But really, it just gave us more unhealthy and convenient substitutes. As with some of the points above, many of these habits are rooted in allocating and managing personal time better. They rely on you reclaiming your day and making time for yourself to avoid the plague of burnout. Making time to cook yourself a meal just might be the healthiest investment you can make. Our friend, Katie McDonald from bnourished, makes this point best. 

Find Your Tribe: Personally, this is one of the most important investments I’ve made to avoid burnout. I’ve surrounded myself with entrepreneurs and folks who aren’t necessarily in the creative space but share the same passion for their work as I do. There’s a direct synergy I feel after I walk away from a networking event or get off a mastermind call that inspires me to keep growing my businesses. It makes me fall in love with my mission and reminds me of why I started a company in the first place. There’s plenty of places to find similar cohorts like this that can help motivate you and hopefully guide you away from burning out. 

The Takeaway:

There’s no easy way to avoid burnout as a creative. We live in a culture that has made burnout a right of passage to move forward in our careers. From personal experience, I can say that it’s about time we, as the cogs in the creative machine, make deliberative strides towards changing this culture. The thoughts you just read are outcomes from our own experience, but we hope you find value in our lessons learned. If you’re in the pit right now, we hope it gave you some clarity on how to climb out. If you’re just getting started in your career, we hope this message becomes a doctrine for you to follow in your journey. We’re always looking to improve our processes and culture and we’d love for you to share your tips and experiences in creating healthy environments. How are you leading the fight against burnout? 

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Ray Nuñez

Ray Nuñez has a life-long passion for creative storytelling, strategic community engagement, and building successful brands.

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