During the Devoted & Disgruntled workshop by Improbable theatre company, we were invited to structure the time ourselves by creating discussion groups – Eleanor and I gravitated almost immediately to one entitled “How do we cope with burnout in creative careers?”. As we introduced ourselves, everyone listed at least six different things they were doing: teaching, studying, writing, performing, bar work, blogging, the list went on. No wonder we were all shattered – we were a group of twentysomething women, all using our “time off” to work on side-hustles and freelance gigs and creative projects.
A large part of dealing with burnout is unpacking it and, indeed, understanding what it looks like. During the discussion, I admitted that I wasn’t totally sure what burnout actually was – even though I’ve heard the word countless times – and usually describe myself as “a bit tired” or “too busy” rather than “burnt out” because I don’t want to sound dramatic. Realising that other people in my position experience similar feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion was reassuring, and made me understand that burnout is more common than I thought; I had no idea it was even a recognised condition until that day.
A real revelation from that discussion was the idea of time wasted – the “new normal” and today’s economic concerns have prompted us all to monetise our time and become acutely aware of how “productive” we’re being. I am particularly guilty of converting everything I do into obsessive lists, charts and other records of how much work I’ve done, and while it gives me a sense of accomplishment, I dislike how much I define my own worth by my workload.
The Devoted & Disgruntled workshop was built around a decades-old system designed by Harrison Owen called Open Space. It was essentially the idea of an “enforced coffee break”, in which time had been carved out for us to discuss anything that we felt was important. There was an emphasis on formalising “wasted” time, like gossip or idle chat – apparently one of Improbable’s most popular discussion stations during their own Open Space sessions is called “Let’s all have a nap”.
Time is a luxury, and being given time to unpack ideas with other people, or just have a chat, was a pleasure. It also, interestingly, didn’t feel like a “waste of time”. Formalising free time into an official space forced us to re-evaluate it, and has made me reflect on how I use my hours in the day.
I think, then, to try and answer Eleanor’s question: “What does using your time meaningfully look like for you?” For me, it looks like honouring my time, whether that’s two hours of intense focus, or a lazy morning of doing nothing, or going for coffee with a friend. It’s committing to however I am choosing to spend the hours in my day, enjoying it, and realising that it is never, ever, a “waste of time”.
This is the second instalment of a two-part response to the issue of creative burnout, discussed during London's Devoted & Disgruntled workshop. Read the first instalment here.