Talking about taking too much on and burn out

Talking about taking too much on and burn out

“Hi Emma, we found you on Instagram and love your work. We need something shot Weds afternoon and the images turned around the next morning for press” - this is a typical email I can receive on a Monday at 5pm. Just to be clear.. I am forever grateful for new clients and new projects and turning work around quickly is part of mine and many other peoples jobs. But there are parts of the year though a dilemma arises from this kind of email - you're already struggling to find enough hours in the day to juggle what you have in already and any self employed reader will sympathise in that you just cannot turn that opportunity down. Your new contact will find someone else who can do it and not be your contact again.

Everything is moving too fast and there’s not much you can do but hop on that bus and try and grab some air while you firefight your commitments.


I know I’m entering burn out… I know because I cannot bear to listen to anything but Boards of Canada and the Zero 7 CD I had to blow the dust off (podcasts are a no go - too much information going in and not enough going out), I’m irritable, I can’t cope with unexpected things in my day - phone calls or an unexpected extra task to deal with, I’m shouting at the dog, I avoid everyone, I’m clumsy - possibly because I’m trying to do everything at three times the speed, I’m considering if a desk job would be a better idea… I want all the sugar. Gimme the sugar.

It’s important for me to stress that I am so grateful to be in position of great work coming in and this post is a survival post, far from a complaining one. The long and short of it is…. I’ve taken too much on and not given myself enough self care time in-between. Perhaps it’s not the done thing to be admitting that on a blog primarily advocating self care but at least you know I’m qualified to write about it.


And let’s be real about it, the last thing you feel like doing when you’ve got a to do list manically running through your brain is lighting a candle and taking a bath. It’s just not a solution.

So now the admission is there, this is how it’s going to pan out - we’re in this together because if you’re reading this post you’re here because you know it too. So we know we’re in it. It’s a while until we get a few days grace to catch up with ourselves and short of bailing on the work we’ve committed to, here’s how it’s going to pan out:

First the I’ve not been to the gym in two weeks guilt gets a firm farewell. It’s against everything in my being to say this (I love to sweat and work out hard - it does so much for my mental health) but heavy exercise can stress what might already be fatigued adrenals. While my body is telling me go go go!!!! (fight and flight) yoga is the thing here - sure, the schedule is tight but one hour a week isn’t an unreasonable ask to keep grace. If you do have some more time to fit exercise in, excellent - moderate strength training, gentle cycling, swimming, pilates are your friends.

While call sheets are non negotiable my editing time in the evenings (I know, I know, but thems the breaks - this is a temporary situation) is for me to schedule. At the beginning of each week time is planned for when shit’s gonna and gotta get done and there’s also that all important one hour a day for unexpected tasks and an hour before bed for absolutely nothing, even if this is just sitting at the end of your bed staring into space.

The early morning walk with the dog might seem like a chore in busy times but they are a gift - a great big bloody gift - that should be cherished and enjoyed to it’s full capacity. 40-60 minutes of sheer me time taking air into my lungs and letting my brain masticate all that’s going on. Walking with friends is beautiful in less fraught times but for now, it’s gotta just be me and the dog (tip - you don’t even need a dog). No podcasts. No music. Just thoughts.


Journal. Please journal. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day while eating breakfast instead of scrolling through Instagram. Writing this post is incredibly cathartic - get those thoughts out. It’s essential. Some thoughts I wrote in my journal last week are sharp, seemingly dramatic and random but when I asked myself to visualise what I need to pause the thoughts led me to a Saturday morning walk on the coast which turned out to be exactly what I needed.


My next clear days become desk days - no meetings, no scheduled calls, no last minute shoots. The catch up has to happen.

Booze intake is kept low. Oh I know - wine is such a friend when you need to just relax. But it’s actually an energy drain. I found a beer does the trick to relax at the end of the most taxing days but leave it at that. And I know it’s boring and predictable but keep that sugar intake in check. Sugar spells inflammation which spells trouble for a stressed body.

I’m a fine one to say this but review each opportunity as it comes in and do you REALLY need to take it on? Have you figured out where you’re going yet? If not, when time allows consider working that one out (as recommended in my Ears & Eyes Aug post, Tara Mohr’s ‘Playing Big’ will get you there). Is the commission a ‘YES! - this is taking me where I want to be’ kinda commission? If not, let them go. Recommend a peer for the job and move on. Honestly, I know the money is needed but take it from someone who gave themselves a stomach ulcer (wiping out a chunk of the diary in the process) by trying to do too much - it really is not worth it.

Formally Emma Gutteridge