How Setting Boundaries Protects Creativity
I’m teaming up with Adobe Express once again to bring you another blog all about creative business or creative wellbeing. As always, I used Adobe Express to create the artwork for this post. In particular I incorporated an image from the Adobe Stock library to perfectly match my post topic. Choose from thousands of top quality stock images to enhance your design projects, all accessible from within Express. If you want to try this all-in-one design app for yourself, get started here.
Hello! I’m comin’ at ya today with some thoughts about boundaries. It’s a pretty hot topic among freelancers, small business owners, working artists, and creatives juggling multiple income streams. We’re probably all aware of the importance of maintaining strong boundaries to protect our creative energy, but when it comes down to actually figuring out which boundaries are important and how to uphold them, it can be really difficult! Looking back on the past 10 years of my career, I’d have to say that this has been one of my biggest challenges, and I feel like I’m not alone in this.
When I first started out in my career all I wanted was to please people so I could get that all-important foot in the door and gain a reputation of being professional, compliant and easy to work with (which I now know you can achieve without bending over backwards for your clients!). I said yes to everything, always defaulted to whatever the client wanted (no matter how outlandish or even at some points physically impossible) their requests were, and literally dropped anything and everything to prioritise work above my wellbeing, relationships, and life responsibilities. Building a career in a niche field like craft-based design is hard, there’s no denying it. You have to put in the work, and you have to work hard. You have to make sacrifices and prioritise some things over others, that’s just the way it is and I don’t resent that at all. But what I didn’t realise at the time was that I was taking it a step too far and building an extreme relationship with work that was unsustainable. Fast forward a few years and I was completely burnt out, after pushing myself to the brink mentally and physically for my career. I realised I had not one single boundary in place to protect my creative energy, wellbeing and mental health. As a result I sunk into a rut that lasted over 2 years. It sucked.
I would say I’m infinitely better now at creating and enforcing boundaries than I was back then, but as always, there’s still room for me to grow and things for me to learn. I’m no expert, and I still struggle regularly with keeping those boundaries intact, but I wanted to share a few things that have helped me improve in the hopes that you might find them useful too. To me, creating and upholding strong boundaries around myself and my creative time and space is crucial. It ensures that I’m protecting the nurturing environment I need around me for my creativity to thrive.
Define your non-negotiables
One thing I consider when learning to set boundaries for myself is what my non-negotiables are when it comes to my creativity. What am I not willing to budge on, no matter the situation? At the moment some of mine are:
- Sundays are always a free day for me experiment and have fun with non work-related creative projects. No client work and no social media posts scheduled on Sundays! And if I feel like doing absolutely nothing at all then I can, without feeling any pressure or guilt to work (which is my total M.O usually!)
- I try not to look at my phone until I've properly got up in the morning which I hope will protect my mental space from all the content out there waiting to flood in. Full disclosure - I looked at my phone the minute I opened my eyes this morning so obviously I still have work to do here lol.
- I never take my creative work into the bedroom and don’t ever do work in bed.
- I reserve time to go for a walk every morning and stand up and stretch every hour or so to break things up.
What are your non-negotiables?
The self-care connection
Another thing that's linked to this is whether or not you're taking care of yourself. I find that along with setting boundaries for creativity and work, I need to also set them for my own general wellbeing, to ensure that I’m reserving time and space for self-care. When I don’t, it can lead to physical burnout and in turn poor mental health. This all has a direct flow on effect to my ability to be creative - everything’s connected! If you're feeling stuck in your creativity it can be helpful to ask yourself:
- Am I getting enough sleep?
- Have I moved my body today?
- Am I eating delicious foods that nourish my body?
- Am I drinking enough water?
- Am I stressed about other things in life?
Building boundaries and structure into my day allows for me to carve out time for self-care, which has far-reaching benefits for me and my creative energy.
Setting boundaries at work
You can set some positive boundaries for yourself, but it's also important to set them with others too. One simple example is, if you've blocked out a specific time for your creativity, make sure the people around you know so they don't interrupt you. But also, if you’re a working creative, enforcing boundaries with your clients, staff and contacts is SUPER important. I learned this the hard way, which as I mentioned earlier led to extreme burnout. Here’s a few tips for working creatives, but there are so many more that we could discuss, and I imagine they are different across the creative industry depending on what you do for work, so let me know in the comments if yours look different to these.
- Enforce business hours, choose your clock on/clock off times and stick to them. You deserve time away from work!
- Try not to answer emails after hours. If clients email you after hours and expect a response, don’t give in! We need to respect each others’ time.
- This one is so much more complex than one line in a blog post and maybe I’ll do a whole other blog post about it if you’re interested but… learn to say no! This is HUGE! One simple word can do so much good for protecting your creative energy, mental and physical health. But for me, it’s also the hardest word to say. There are ways to push back and say no that aren’t rude or disrespectful. Find what feels comfortable for you and practice doing it often until it feels normal. I’m still working on this for myself.
- Much like setting your non-negotiables for creative time, it’s also important to set the for work too. What are yours?
- Set your out-of-office every weekend! I consider this another way to gently communicate to people that I work with that I’ve got boundaries on my time.
- In general, manage the expectations of your clients. If you’re as upfront as you can be about your capabilities, and capacity to work, they will hopefully be less demanding of your time and energy (hopefully).
Some other work-related ideas around boundaries that I’m trying:
- If I can, I factor in a buffer day to my production schedule to allow for those days during deadline periods where I might wake up feeling off and can't get it together. We all have off days, it’s just part of being human. It’s much better to know you have extra time up your sleeve then to know you missed a day and now have to work all night long to play catch up. Yuck.
- Where possible, I try not to pack my week full of back-to-back to-dos. Instead, I allow time for busy periods to ebb and flow so I get regular breathers and don’t get overwhelmed. There are of course times where this isn’t possible and in those cases I try to at least schedule a block of time off after.
- I always take a lunch break and try not to eat at my desk (easier to do now that I work from home but can be harder in a studio or office setting!)
- I have tried to set up systems to allow time to play and be creative rather than doing things like business admin all the time. Automating as much as business admin as possible has really helped with this.
So there you go - just a few thoughts and ideas around setting and enforcing boundaries to protect your creative energy. Learning how to have strong boundaries and stick to them is an ongoing effort for me, but the more I practice the better I get at it. I’ve learned over the years that nothing is more important than my health and wellbeing, not even my career which I love so much. You can love something a lot but still need space from it after all! When I’m feeling frazzled and feel my boundaries are slipping I try to remind myself of this fact. Also, creativity is always inside you and can always be found again after a period of rest or some space. I believe that setting boundaries will help you avoid burnout and maintain your creative energy for the long run.
I’d love to hear what boundaries you set to help protect your creative energy. Join the conversation on my Instagram post or leave a comment below! Thanks as always for reading! x
This post was sponsored by Adobe Express - all opinions are my own.