A few months ago, I was on the verge of burnout. Maybe you can relate?
Feeling overwhelmed, like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, is quite common with musicians. After all, we are expected not only to perform and record, but also to book our shows, do all the marketing to get people to attend our shows, engage on social media, write songs, keep up with our song catalog & PRO administration, and a lot more.
Often, artists don’t recognize the signs of burnout until it’s too late to just “take a break.” They end up exhausted, jaded, and many actually give up on music (sometimes until the passion and drive kick back in, but sometimes for good!)
I want to help you recognize the signs of impending burnout so you can avoid full burnout. Once you know the signs, I’ll give you some simple changes you can make to turn it around and help you live a healthier, more balanced life without having to quit music.
Signs That You’re Nearing Burnout
Insomnia and Lethargy
Insomnia is trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia can plague people for a variety of reasons, but if you wake in the middle of the night or out of a deep sleep because your mind can’t stop thinking about your to-do list, that’s a warning sign that burnout could be around the corner.
Insomnia can become a vicious cycle of not getting enough sleep, then feeling tired all day so you’re not productive, and then your to-do list continues to grow. That will of course give your mind more to race about at night and cause more insomnia.
I’ll give you some ways to quiet your mind and reduce that to-do list in the action steps section below.
Lack of Focus or Engagement
A clear sign of burnout is an inability to focus on a single task. Just like with insomnia, if your brain is flooded with things you need to do after or instead of the thing you’re trying to focus on, you’ll just be spinning your wheels. It’s almost impossible to gather enough mental power to finish a task with a million ideas swirling around in your head.
Or maybe you’ve found yourself trying to have a conversation with a friend or family member, but you’re constantly thinking about your next to-do. If you can’t stay present and contribute fully to a conversation, it’s definitely time to create some mental white space using my tips below.
Thinking About Your Music Career Feels “Heavy” (Literally & Figuratively)
Personally, this is my #1 sign that I’m nearing burnout. A feeling of “heaviness” is hard to describe, but if you’ve felt it, you know what I mean.
Physically, it can manifest as a weighty feeling pressing on your chest. Your breathing can feel constricted or shallow. If you’re experiencing these physical signs and you don’t normally suffer from anxiety, time to make some immediate changes.
But there’s a mental heaviness that’s hard to describe. For me, it shows up as “fight or flight” instinct when I think about having to do something. I either have the desire to buck my own system and refuse to do it, or I want to find an escape so I don’t have to do it.
For example, if I’m feeling overwhelmed by social media, instead of breaking it into 5 minute sessions so it doesn’t feel so daunting, my immediate reaction is to want to quit social media altogether, or just refuse to open the app.
In extreme cases, even looking at my phone when I’m in social media burnout mode made me nauseous.
Sound familiar? Keep reading and I’ll give you some antidotes so you don’t have to suffer these debilitating side effects.
Numbness or Seeking Solace In Addictive Behaviors
In our society, we’re never far from mindless escape if we want it. If you find yourself sucked into binging on the newest Netflix show or endlessly scrolling the Facebook newsfeed when you should be working on musician business tasks, you’re definitely using escape as a coping mechanism.
Don’t get me wrong, some escapism is good for you. I certainly have my share of go-to entertainment when I want to relax. Just like most things, escapism can be beneficial in moderation.
But, and I’m gonna get real here, where I tend to get myself in trouble is with a few too many adult beverages. I often have a drink with my husband at the end of a work day to wind down. But when the motive for that cocktail is to shut out the to-do list voices in my head or to give myself an excuse to not work on important tasks, that can become an unhealthy pattern.
I’ve learned to analyze my motives for my desire to have a “happy hour.” If I’m relaxing and celebrating a productive day, that’s fine. But if I’m doing it to give myself an “out” so I don’t have to work on something I need to do, then it’s definitely a warning sign that I need to make some changes in the way I’m approaching work so I don’t use alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Small Changes That Can Make A Huge Impact In Avoiding Burnout
Have A Creative Outlet Outside Of Music
Having a creative outlet is important. Before you had a musician business, music was probably your outlet. But now it’s wrapped up in work and your feelings of burnout. It’s probably not feeding your soul and providing the joy and relief it once did.
My first recommendation is to find another creative pursuit that isn’t tied to goals and aspirations. It’s just fun! Take up cooking, painting, knitting, or something on your bucket list.
For some, the answer is to find a way to make music fun and casual again to fill that creative void. Take up a new instrument that you’re learning just for fun. Play with a jam band in a style that isn’t related to your career goals. Explore writing songs in new genres that you think you’ll never use in your own career. Taking the pressure off of creating will turn music back into a joyful stress reliever.
Take A Vacation
Obvious right? But the key is to do it BEFORE you hit burnout. If, as soon as you notice some of the signs above, you take a short vacation, you’ll actually be able to enjoy the vacation. You’ll refill your empty cup of energy, creativity, and desire to work on music again.
If you wait until you hit burnout to take a vacation, you’ll spend the vacation healing and just getting your mental and physical health back to zero.
The time I took a vacation after already reaching burnout, I spent most of the time playing word games on my phone and looking out at the lake. I wanted to unplug from the world entirely. Yes, I was healing which was a great thing, but I wasn’t having fun.
If you time your vacation to prevent burnout, you’ll be able to engage and enjoy family and friends. You’ll be revitalized by doing things you love. You’ll come back a strong, whole person again instead of just a fragile shell on the verge of burnout again.
Get A Change Of Scenery
If a vacation isn’t in your budget, take some time to visit a different location. Try working for a day in a different place (not a different room, but a different building altogether). Visit a co-working space or tackle some administrative tasks at your local coffee shop.
You can also build a change of scenery into your workflow. Start your day with exercise (outside if possible) or take 30 minutes for a walk after you’ve gotten some key tasks done.
Try the Pomodoro method and see if it works for you. Work for 25 minutes, then get up and take a break for 5, then start the next Pomodoro. You can use a timer to keep yourself honest. If you feel like the intervals are too short, try extending them.
Eat lunch in a different location. The compulsion to eat at your desk while working is a common trap for business owners. It creates the illusion that you’re multitasking, but you’re not really being productive. Instead, it contributes to the feeling that you’re working 24/7 and will surely cause burnout over time.
Instead, eat lunch at the kitchen table or on your patio. Leave the electronic devices behind! Enjoy silence for a while. Or, listen to your favorite podcast or read a book. Do an activity that makes you feel like you’re attending to your own needs during this break time.
Do Just 3 Music Business Tasks Each Day
When I did a live training on avoiding burnout, the thing that resonated most with the audience was my suggestion of doing just 3 things each day in your business. It sounds simple, but there are some nuances to this system.
Choose tasks that will actually move you toward achieving your music career goals. To know exactly what to choose, you need to have done the work in advance to determine goals and break those down into action steps. If you’ve put in the time doing this on the front end, deciding on your 3 things is easy. Here’s a process to help pick your goals and determine action steps.
Choose medium-sized tasks. Answering one email or making one phone call is too small. On the other hand, a task like updating your entire song catalog or building your website is obviously too large. Choose things that you can do in 20 – 90 minutes each, depending on how much time you have to work on music that day.
If you’re seeing and feeling the signs of impending burnout, don’t do more than 3 tasks per day. It’s important that you hear me and trust me on this one.
You will feel tempted to pile more on when you accomplish your 3 tasks. Don’t give in to temptation. Instead, feel accomplished that you were productive and plan your 3 tasks for tomorrow.
The feelings of productivity and accomplishment will help you fight the overwhelm and avoid burnout.
The other powerful effect of the “3 things each day” method is that, once you’ve done your 3 tasks, you can move on to something fun or mindless or creative without feeling guilty. Using this method will quiet the voices in your head. Since you know you’ll be getting 3 things done each day no matter what, you can rest assured that your to-do list will be whittled down slowly.
No more worrying, distracting mental “tugs” from the to-do list that keep you up at night or make you want to escape. You’ve got a system that works that creates momentum in your career and balance in your life.
Now that’s a mighty weapon in the battle against burnout.