Image Description

Avoiding Burnout

This lesson is a part of an audio course Your Career in Computer Graphics by Eric Carlsen

In the last lesson, we discussed the idea of taking calculated risks. Now, we'll talk about avoiding burnout.

Sometimes, less is more. A job is a job. You don't need to be absorbing computer graphics 24/7 to be an effective employee or freelancer. In fact, the opposite is often true – if you're well-rested and living a balanced life with lots of time away from the computer, you're likely to do much better at your job and to be much happier in general.

It's harder than ever to disconnect from work these days, and especially computer graphics, which can be done from almost anywhere so long as you have a good computer and internet access. And, of course, we have our smartphones and smartwatches, which, unhindered, can funnel work and client requests directly to us all hours of the day.

Luckily, there are many things we can do to help avoid burnout.

Limit your daily hours. There was once a time when it was much harder to bring work home with us. When you left for the day, that was it! Work messages would be left on your work phone or desk, inaccessible until you returned the following morning. So you truly were working a 9-5 job.

Now, that is obviously not the case, so it falls on us to proactively impose restrictions. A great way to do this is to be relatively strict about your start and end hours. Let your client or employer know times when you'll be "offline" so you can devote those to other aspects of life and not feel like you have to be always "on" and always "available."

Obviously, show up on time and work hard during your work hours, but when the end of your day rolls around, shut down your computer and get on with enjoying and nurturing the many other areas of your life.

Be wary of "crunch" culture. It's understandable to have tight deadlines in any job where you may need to put in a few extra hours at the end of a project, but that should not be the norm. If your employer or client is regularly expecting you to put in well over 40 hours a week, or work on nights and weekends, proceed with caution. This isn't worth the detriment to your health and can be a significant contributor to burnout.

Know when to take breaks. Pay attention to yourself – if you're feeling overwhelmed in the middle of a workday, give yourself a break. Get up and stretch or go for a walk. If you're in an office, go say hi to a coworker. At a bare minimum, at least once an hour, you should move around a little and look away from your screen.

Learn to say "no." Saying "Yes" is not always best. It might seem like defaulting to saying "yes" to requests and opportunities makes you an all-star worker, but it can hurt not only you but also the client if you're not careful. It is way better to say "no" to an unreasonable or unattainable request, than to bite off more than you can chew and not be able to deliver. By saying "no" early, everyone involved can make alternate plans for getting their task accomplished.

Saying "no" may also take the form of tempering expectations. If a client wants you to turn around a complex and lengthy animation in one day, you could let them know you can't do exactly what they're asking for, but you could if they hire another animator to work with you or shrink the scope of what they envisioned.

More broadly, you don't have to take on every project opportunity, particularly as a freelancer. Nobody can do everything. Develop systems that give you time for breaks in between projects or that ensure you're not overbooking yourself.

Seek out inspiration, including non-digital inspiration. Remind yourself of what got you into computer graphics in the first place. Watch inspiring movies, play absorbing and well-made video games, peruse art books and magazines.

Check out portfolios of amazing artists, whether on their own websites and social media channels or on sites that curate great work from around the globe.

Also, get away from the digital world! Visit a museum or historic site. Go on a scenic hike. Attend an awesome talk, concert, or other show. Play board games with friends. Play an instrument. Play sports. Read a book!

Inspiration is everywhere, so make time to enjoy the world just for the fun of it, without any intention of it being for work. All of it feeds your spirit and creativity.

Take care of your health. Focus first on sleep. Avoid screens and electronics right before bed. Give yourself time to wind down a bit, and avoid eating or drinking right before bed. If possible, and if space allows, avoid bringing work or ideally any electronics into your bedroom.

Exercise. Countless studies have proven the benefits of exercise. People that exercise regularly have less depression, more energy, better sleep, and better health overall.

Nutrition. It's possible to do an amazing job at exercising but still have terrible health if your nutrition isn't up to par. Make it a priority to eat well. And be wary of snacking while working! If you have a bowl of chips or candy on your desk, it's far too easy to mindlessly reach for them while focused on a task. Try to be intentional with your eating, and be mindful of what you're putting in your body.

Psychological health. Make time for friends and fun. Practice mindfulness and meditation, which have far-reaching benefits that can spill into all areas of your life. Therapy can also be helpful. With therapy, you're regularly setting aside time to talk through your life and thought patterns and work on personal growth with a professional. This can help you be happier at work, get along better with your coworkers, overcome imposter syndrome, and break bad habits.

Your task: Consider the many ways to avoid burnout. Reflect on how you're currently conducting your career. Project out five or ten years, and assess how you'll be doing if you continue with your current habits. Are you working reasonable hours and not biting off more than you can chew? Are you living a healthy lifestyle, including looking after your psychological health?

Work is a major component of life, but it's not all that there is. Try and think long term, and design a work/life balance that can be sustainable and help you have a long and happy career.

In our next and final lesson, we'll talk about best practices when working from home.

Image Description
Written by

Eric Carlsen