Stop Doing Too Much

Are you a creative person with mulitple interests? Do you have a history of diving into too many projects at once and burning out? I do.

In How To Deal With Multipotentialite Burnout, Emilie Wapnick has a great description of a too-typical creative cycle that leads to burnout, from the initial impulse through the point of effortless creative momentum into pushing too hard, taking on too many new things, and into the panic of discovering one is over-committed and crashing.

Emilie argues that to avoid falling into burnout, we need to notice the shift from following the creative momentum into pushing too hard and to stop and reevaluate our priorities as soon as we notice.

It has taken me decades to start catching myself in that place. And I noticed the symptoms this week. Yesterday, for the first time since starting my new morning routine, I had trouble writing because all of my writing projects were clamouring for my attention and I found myself unable to say ‘no’ to any of them, thereby ensuring I said ‘yes’ to none of them.

All of the fabulous creative breakthroughs that have been hitting me with regard to my novel have inspired me to push forward in that direction. But, I still have many other responsibilities. I must not pursue the novel to the exclusion of those.

If I am to make room in my schedule for more time writing my novel now that my muse is shouting at me, I need to let something go. I am taking the time to figure out what.

So, I am revisiting some of my commitments. I am questioning my desire to continue blogging daily here. I am questioning the approach I want to take to a blogging challenge I have been planning to participate in during April. And there are other, less public, commitments that I am also looking at.

This re-visioning of my projects is crucial to avoiding burnout while honouring my internal drive to pursue many paths at once.

If you struggle with the cycle from motivation through overcommitment to burnout, Douglas Eby presents a collection of reflections and links to excellent articles addressing the danger of burnout faced by “multipotential” individuals in his article, Multiple Talents, Multiple Passions, Burnout.

Taking care of ourselves is crucial. The key is noticing when we start pushing ourselves too hard.

What do you notice that tells you it is time to step back and revisit your priorities?


About Kate Arms-Roberts

Posted on March 21, 2012, in Creativity, Daily Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. On Saturday I reconnected with a major area of creativity that I became blocked in about eight years ago. It has potential to be pretty big (on a personal level) if I go all the way into it, so I stopped well before I got to the departure point.

    Instead, I blogged about it passionately (which I may or may not publish on my blog), including writing plans for how and when to start moving toward it so I don’t go into overload. It means I’ll have to wait for something that could be my deepest creative connection ever – but I’ve already got way too much going on this month. Diving into it now would guarantee a meltdown.

    To answer your question: what I noticed is that this is too precious to me to reawaken if there’s a risk it will drown in a sea of too many options.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Good for you.
      Waiting is hard, but protecting the soft spot is vital.
      And by writing about it, you let your muse know you are paying attention, which I always find is important to keep mine speaking to me.

      • By the way, your question was challenging. After I wrote it at the end of my comment above, my answer seemed so obvious. But I had to really think about it before I could put it into words. Thanks for the question. Now I’ve got my reason clearly in my mind, and that always helps in keeping my priorities straight.

  2. The question at the end isn’t meant to be easy. I nearly didn’t ask it because I knew it is the sort of “leave it with you and see if it has any impact” kind of question rather than a “just drop by and comment on a blog” kind of question.

    I am so pleased you found it useful to answer it.

    Figuring out how we know that we are moving into dangerous waters isn’t easy. It is easy to notice that we have collapsed, and it is easy to notice that we are being swept up into a new idea or passion, but noticing when we are in danger of losing our balance is much harder. The signs are subtler and easy to miss in the midst of enthusiasm.

  3. When I am exhausted by just thinking about a project, or hate every minutes of doing it, I know something is wrong. I was fired up, excited, and happy to be doing it before. When a labour of love becomes a source of exhaustion, stress, and unhappiness, I know that I’ve taken it too far too fast. I have to step back. It will either happen consciously, as a break, or unintentionally as a permanent end to the project. It’s much better when I make a conscious effort to give it a rest. To avoid this happening, I meticulously plan and plot out projects. I split up the project into tasks, and spread them across my calendar, giving myself breaks in between items. That way, I get mini breaks, and I’m excited to get back into it when the next task is scheduled.

    • Sounds like you have a good system with planning in advance to get those mini breaks you need.

      I still tend to get to the first signs that I have done too much before I start the scheduling process. But, even that is much better than getting to the point of unintentionally taking a break when I collapse – which does usually end in the permanent end to the project without completion.

      • Kate, you just brought something else to mind. Before I REALLY even TOUCH a project, I toootally play with it in my mind. I think about. How will I approach it? CAN I do it? Will the end result be awesome? What does google have to say about it? I do LOTS of research. I probably spend as much time researching as I do completely the project. Lol. Maybe this is why I’m happy to take breaks during the REAL process?

  4. I know I’m in too deep when I just sit, paralyzed, by what needs to be done. Everything clamoring for attention, ensuring nothing gets done. Even setting a timer for 15 minutes doesn’t help, because that doesn’t decide for me WHAT gets priority. I’m at this point right now, in many ways.
    Douglas Eby’s article brought to light how and why I’m so stressed ALL.THE.TIME. and why no one understands why. It’s certainly not by choice, that’s for sure. I need to reread it and let it simmer.

    • I know that paralysis far too well.

      It is really tough to figure out how to take a good-enough break when so many of the things that cause me stress are things I cannot step away from completely (all those parenting things).

      I saw a the headline “Leonardo was Never a Mother” yesterday and really wanted to read a rant about how it’s all well and good to idolize Leonardo DaVinici, but if he had to prepare meals and maintain schedules and routines for a crew of quirky kids, we would have no idea what he had been thinking. It wasn’t. I felt betrayed. I’m sure the writer had some good things to say about how she manages her issues with too many passions, but I never got past the headline. Maybe you could use the headline and write the post I wanted to read.

      • Jen and Kate-

        Me too! And I blew it with the NaBloPoMo because we had a bit of a family crisis over the weekend before the Monday that I forgot to post, and Monday was a stressful waiting game for information. My intention had been to post something after we got our information about the situation, but before then, I couldn’t even think to write. Just sat and either read (if I was lucky enough to have my brain fog lift for a while) or knit most of the day. That Monday was also the deadline I set for myself to get my blog post in and scheduled for the following Friday to Christine’s blog. I think once I got that written, my mind and body felt I was done for the day with writing and I completely forgot I still had another blog post to write –for my own blog!

        In some ways, though it has been freeing that I don’t “have” to write a post everyday now. On the other hand, I even skipped out on my usual Wednesday project update post…I’ve been spending most hours of the day working on my knitting and crochet projects….then I look over to my left and there is a basket of laundry (mostly socks) to be folded. Must…pull…out…of…downward…spiral….!

  5. When I left my FT job at the end of 2010, I leaped at the chance to take on creative writing projects. I took a personal essay class at The Writer’s Center and immediately started working on two essays. I dusted off a novel I wrote five years ago and started polishing it. And I crafted proposals for two different nonfiction books. Too much.

    I finished those two essays, and I’m pleased to say I found publication homes for both of them. I put the novel aside. I abandoned one of the two book proposals. And the other one I put aside once I started the MFA, so I could better figure out what the book would actually be before pitching it. I still feel at times I have too much going on, but that was too much, an assurance of not being able to finish anything.

    FYI, I’ll take a moment to boast here and say I’m quoted in the introduction of Doug Eby’s Developing Multiple Talents book that came out last year!

    • I remember how cool it was to see you quoted in Doug Eby’s book. 🙂

      When I first decided to go as an artist full-time – in my case in theatre, I was paralyzed. I need something I have to get up and do to get me moving in the morning, but I can imagine that I would have taken the first gig and then piled on a thousand and six projects on top.

      I got pregnant instead, so I never got the chance to find out.

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