In a creative profession like copywriting, it’s very easy to succumb to burnout. It’s that feeling of being utterly unable to do any of the work you need to do and, as you can imagine, it’s dangerous for both your overall well-being—and your career.
We all hit the occasional wall where we don’t feel like working, aren’t feeling creative, or both. Not feeling excited about the work you’re doing and/or trying to just “power through it” are both telltale signs you may have burned yourself out a bit.
The bad news is that “powering through it” is the absolute last thing you should do. The good news is, I’ve got some advice to help you work through it and prevent it from happening next time.
How Does Burnout Happen?
In order to prevent burnout from happening in the future, it’s helpful to identify why it happens in the first place. You’re chugging along just fine, doing your work as always, maybe taking some extra projects on and then…you start to slow down.
It gets harder to get yourself to sit down and work. Finally, you hit a point where you’d rather stick a fork in your eye than do the work you’ve got to do. In extreme cases, your body might even shut down a bit and you’re faced with illness or extreme fatigue. How did you get here?
Most likely, it resulted from one of a few factors: you pushed yourself too hard, you took on too much work, or you did too much repetitive work for too long without a break. (Yes, you can get repetitive work in the copywriting field, too: Product descriptions, while a great gig, can get repetitive if the products are similar and you have a lot of them to do.) Burnout happens when your brain and body start fighting back against all of the demands you’re putting on them. And how do they fight back? They shutdown.
The Cure for Burnout
When you hit burnout, your brain and body are so exhausted that “powering through” is the worst thing you can do to try to remedy your burnout. In fact, it may only exacerbate it.
When you’re running low on gasoline in your car, you don’t drive further, faster or harder—you pull over and refuel. That’s exactly what you need to do when you’re burned out: You need to take a break. (Emphasis on “need.”)
Do something that doesn’t involve writing. Listen to music, take a nap, go out for lunch with a friend—anything to give your brain time off from copywriting. Well, not anything; I actually don’t advocate watching TV as a burnout solution. It tends to turn your brain to mush instead of offering relaxation and recovery.
5 Tips to Avoid Burnout in the First Place
Once you’ve recovered, you have to make sure you’re watchful for burnout in the future. Not only is it difficult for you to go through, but it puts your career at risk: If you can’t get yourself to write, you’ll miss deadlines, turn in sub-par work and disappoint your clients. Definitely things you want to avoid, right?
Here are the top tips for protecting yourself from burnout in the future.
1. Schedule breaks.
If you’re facing a long project, make sure you take the time to actually schedule periodic breaks. It can be tempting to push yourself to motor though and finish it all in one fell swoop, but your work and your well-being will suffer.
Pull up your calendar right now (really!) and add in time for breaks. Whether you take them at the times you set or not doesn’t matter as much as actually taking breaks throughout your day. Having them scheduled on your calendar will increase the chances of you actually taking them.
Plus, if you have time blocked on your calendar, you’re less likely to overbook yourself. If a client says, “can you meet at X time on X day?” you can see that you have zero free time, unless you give up your scheduled break. That allows you to recommend a different time to your client—a time that ensures you’re still taking your breaks.
2. Evaluate each new project to make sure you really can do it.
I know: It’s hard to say no to new projects. Who doesn’t like getting paid? But, at the same time, you have to make sure that you truly have the capacity to take a new project on.
If you’re overloaded and facing tight deadlines, it’s probably not the best time to take on another project. Sometimes you just have to turn work down.
But just because you can’t get to a project in the next week or even two weeks doesn’t necessarily mean you need to turn it down. Let your client know when you do have time to start the project and see if that aligns with their schedule.
Too often, copywriters feel like they have to do every project. Right. This. SECOND! But the truth is, many clients aren’t going to expect you to start a project the same week you discuss it.
3. Build extra time into (almost) every project.
Honestly, I say “almost” because inevitably there are going to be rush projects you opt to take on (charge accordingly!). But for every other project, you should build in extra time.
This can vary based on the project. For example, if you have a 10-page website that you think will take you a week to write, you may give the client a two-week timeline to give yourself space to draft each page and revisit them with fresh eyes. Plus, it gives you space to juggle other projects on your plate, or extra time just in case life happens.
But say you have a single email that the client wants to be less than 100 words that you think will take you an hour or two to write. It doesn’t mean you need to turn it around within a day.
Build in at least enough time for you to write the email and then sleep on it. Looking at your copy with fresh eyes will allow you to improve any areas you may have missed and ensure you’re delivering the best copy to your clients.
4. Take up a new hobby.
Many copywriters are also creative writers on the side. That’s great, but creative writing isn’t going to offer your brain enough of a respite after a long day of churning out copy.
Pick up a hobby that stretches your brain in a different way. Things like painting, learning an instrument, or playing a sport give your brain and body a break verbal challenges.
5. Schedule your vacations and other self-care time.
Daily breaks are a must but so are periods of more prolonged rest and relaxation. Put time on your calendar for a vacation or two (or even a handful of long weekends) right now.
Even if you don’t end up taking those exact days off, the blocks on your calendar will help you plan projects around the vacation if you do decide to take that time off. It’s super helpful so that you don’t get to mid-July and think “I meant to take time off,” but you now have scheduled five projects to deliver in the timeframe you were hoping to get away.
Resistance or Burnout?
There’s a big difference between “I don’t want to do this because it’s hard” (or scary, or uncomfortable…) and “I don’t want to do this because I physically don’t have the energy today.” The first is resistance. The second? You may be getting real close (or perhaps even experiencing) burnout.
In this episode of the Build Your Copywriting Business podcast, Nicki and Kate dig into some ways you can start to recognize the difference between resistance and burnout and tactics for preventing your train from ever getting close to pulling into Burnout Central Station (like having a couple of days each week that you do not schedule work!).
How do you protect yourself from copywriting burnout? Or how have you saved yourself when you’ve succumbed? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on September 23, 2023