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Avoid Burnout: The Importance Of Taking Time Off As A Creative

Michael Clarke

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Burnout

Instead of focusing only on getting ahead, I’ve found it’s important that designers and creatives learn how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.


When you’re younger and starting your career, life has a different sense of urgency. 

Everything is about getting ahead and the desire to work with “big” clients or projects. Doing as much as you can to build a portfolio of work while sprinting at a break-neck pace. Maybe it’s because you have the energy, or because the stakes feel higher. 

But with age, I’ve gained perspective on that urgency and realized just how important slowing down is. 

Instead of focusing only on getting ahead, I’ve found it’s important that designers and creatives learn how to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Because being unbalanced leads to creative burnout.

Studies have shown that burnout is a condition—one that can be diagnosed with real symptoms. And because of this, conversations around the pace at which most people work has changed. Today, there’s a real push for creatives to learn how to take breaks and get good rest—and for great reason.

Having balance in your work and life leads to better, more productive work.   

Knowing this, young people still fear the thought of taking a break. 

This is partly because there’s a lot of pressure to work around the clock in many creative agencies. Big-name clients bring even bigger expectations, and young people who’re just starting their careers often feel like they have to prove themselves by working constantly. They may fear that if they take a day off, they’ll be replaced by someone else who stayed in the office. Or they may be considered a “bad fit” culturally. 

But working without a pause just isn’t sustainable—and that kind of expectation reflects poorly on management, not on you.

If you’re stuck in a situation like this, get yourself out of it. Because taking time off doesn’t mean you’re not being productive at work. In fact, it directly contributes to productivity. You’ll accomplish more at work if you take downtime to let your mind explore other things. 

And if you’re still afraid of taking a full vacation, I encourage you to start building regular breaks into your workday. Take a 15-minute coffee break in the morning. Grab lunch for an hour. You can gain a great amount of rest and refresh in those short moments. 

Time off helps you prevent burnout and see the benefits of taking a breather. 

As an entrepreneur, relaxing doesn’t come easy to me but I know it’s important. So time off doesn’t usually mean relaxing on a beach somewhere. It’s much more about exploration and diversification of thought than reading an autobiography next to a margarita (although that’s needed sometimes, too). 

Besides being a fencing and soccer dad on the weekends, I’m an avid DIYer. These projects are a nice way to use my hands and just create in a way that’s a departure from my more digital design world. 

On vacations, there a few things I try to do: First, I try to slow down. In general but also find opportunities to just look at a view, a piece of artwork or nothing and let my mind wander. This can be a moment or it can be more sustained. Conversely, I also make a conscious effort to stay in the moment—to enjoy experiences. I remind myself that not everything needs to be documented. If I am worried about how Instagramable a moment will be, I am not truly enjoying that time. Finally, I have taken the advice of Roman Mars, host of the 99% Invisible podcast: “Always read the plaque”. There are stories and inspiration everywhere if we take the time to look more closely.

Taking a break to escape burnout inspires and reminds you how far you can push your creative limits. 

Our offices at Clarke are in the middle of New York City. 

So when we have a lull in projects or it’s a slow day, I tell my team to go explore. We’re in the middle of one of the best cultural cities on the planet—go to a museum, spend time outdoors, or just watch people as they go by. Step out and view the world with some time off.

The more you can experience life outside of being an artist, designer, or writer the more perspective you will have when it comes to your own work. All of those inputs, our knowledge of the world and the experiences we’ve had are what help us form connections and have empathy for our audiences. It’s how we know when it comes time to produce an experience, that we’re creating the right one.

Here are a few other articles you might find helpful:

In 20 Years, I’ve Realized Building A Successful Design Business Is Not All About Design. And You Need These 3 Habits To Keep Clients Happy

Separating Yourself As A Design Agency Is All About The Little Things. Avoid These 3 Mistakes And You’ll Attract Great Clients

Is Bigger Better? Why A Smaller Agency May Be Right For You


I have a proven history of multi-disciplinary design success across many business categories. My background gives me a unique perspective and understanding of how design and brands need to communicate in a rapidly changing culture.

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