Despite my fine parenting skills, my kids love the show Spongebob Squarepants (there’s just something about that bright yellow sponge kids adore and parents hate.) In one episode Spongebob overcommits to doing too many things at once and the whole episode goes awry when he realizes he can’t physically do all the things he said he would.
While I may not agree with all (or any) of Spongebob Squarepant’s methods of learning, it’s a classic tale of overcommitment and overload.
When we start doing something we love, it’s easy to want to take it to the next level and do it all the time. We start getting new ideas, researching new projects and generally get excited about our new hobby or creative venture – it’s basic human nature.
But during this phase there’s also a threat of taking on too much, saying yes to too many things and going overboard with what we think we can handle.
Classic creative overload.
How do we avoid this? How can we make sure we keep our spark of creativity but not load our plates too high and crash from overwhelm?
Recognizing creative overload
The first step is being aware of when you’re close to creative overload. By identifying the warning signs and steering clear of it in the first place, you can avoid unnecessary stress.
The three signs of impending creative overload are:
1. Having more than 3 projects going at any one time
2. Starting to look up other ways of being creative (ooo calligraphy!)
3. Starting to make excuses as to why you can’t create today
Do any of these sound familiar? Paying attention to these signs of overload will help you stay grounded, keep creating and not have any meltdowns.
I see it coming! Now what?
When you’ve identified creative overload cresting the rise and coming toward you – what do you do? How can you make sure it doesn’t take your knees out from underneath you and set you back in your creative time and energy?
The three main techniques I use whenever I sense impending creative overload are examining my priorities, reducing my work and increasing self care.
Examining your priorities
What’s most important to you right now? Of all the things you have on your plate (and the things you’re planning to do) which take top priority?
If you have to write them down and assign them A, B or C – then absolutely go for it. When you see it written down, it will solidify the order and importance of your commitments and reinforce the need to work on what’s important first.
My kids and my house are my top priority. If that means I don’t paint today so I can catch up on cuddle time before bed or a few loads of laundry, then its not the end of the world.
Reduce your work
Go through the list of commitments you have and slash out anything which isn’t absolutely required. Reducing the number of things you’re doing is the best way to stop overload in its tracks.
Have a series of 10 paintings planned? Cut it down to 3, or 2. Thinking of taking on a renovation project? Perhaps just a coat of paint will do for now.
Or simply put these projects off until you’re not as busy and have more time to devote your attention to them.
Increase your self care
I know it sounds weird to take some time off when you’re faced with lots to do, but it works!
The reason we need to devote more time to self care is to fend off stress and further increase our ability to deal with it. If we’re not making self care a priority we get stressed easier and it makes the whole house of cards come tumbling down.
You have my permission to just go read your book tonight or watch your show on Netflix. Take a nice hot bath and devote an evening this week to yourself. Your projects will be there when you get back and you can pick up where you left off.
Overload is ambition gone awry
Creative overload can hit us all. It’s rooted in ambition (which is not necessarily a bad thing) but it can easily take over a person’s life if they let it.
It’s important you set clear boundaries when it comes to the amount and depth of projects you take on at any given time, guarding your time and creative energies fiercely.
We’re not meant to do everything. We have to pick and choose what we’re able to do and be realistic in our expectations of ourselves.
If we aren’t we risk overload, burnout and a number of nasty side effects of pushing ourselves too hard – which leads to longer recovery times and severe side effects.
Lessons from Spongebob
When Spongebob realizes he can’t do all the things he committed to do, he comes clean to his friends about how he overbooked himself in his quest to please everyone. Of course everyone forgives him and let’s him know that its ok to say no to something if you can’t do it.
While you may be overbooked with just yourself, perhaps it’s time to come clean and admit you were wrong. Make a renewed promise as to what you can and cannot get done and go from there – if Spongebob can do it then you can too.
How do you avoid creative overload? Do you have any set rules or guidelines you follow to make sure you create at your best? I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks to avoid creative overwhelm.