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  • Work + Play (and 4 Ways to Avoid Burnout)


    (c) Jessica Swift

    I recently attended an illustration conference. I’m not really an illustrator (I’d say I’m illustrator-adjacent …. I’m a painter and a surface pattern designer, but I don’t do any advertising or editorial work), so I felt a little guilty taking four days out of my busy schedule to do something that wasn’t totally necessary for my business. I figured I’d probably learn a few things but that a lot of the content wouldn’t necessarily relate to what I do.

    That turned out to be somewhat true, but what I didn’t expect was that the theme of the conference — which was WORK + PLAY — would stir up some major inspiration inside of me.

    I think I can comfortably make a broad, sweeping generalization that as a society, we’re a workaholic, 24/7-connected bunch of folks who could use a heck of a lot more true downtime. Can you relate to this? Even when we’re “taking time off,” we’re often checking our email, browsing the internet on our phones, posting photos to Instagram, seeing what others are up to, thinking about how we “should be” being productive ….

    The aha moment I had during the conference was this: PLAY doesn’t have anything to do with any of that stuff. Play is tapping into the moment, being with your own creativity and what it’s calling forth … play is gardening, play is painting on a canvas without caring how it looks or wondering if anyone will buy it, play is lying in a park reading a book, play is daydreaming, play is knitting for the fun of it, play is stream-of-consciousness writing, play is quietly laying on the couch purposely not doing anything productive, etc.

    Play is basically everything that our minds tell us is “unproductive,” but it actually helps us:

    • avoid getting overwhelmed and sick of our work,
    • be productive (counterintuitive, I know),
    • create aha moments for ourselves, and
    • live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

    When we neglect the side of ourselves that wants fun + unproductivity, it makes it harder to focus when we actually need to be productive. We have to fight resistance in our minds to doing our work. Which eventually leads to … burnout. Yuck.

    If you’re feeling burnt out, my suspicion is that you may not have enough play in your life. (Believe me, I’m not judging — I can relate!) Here are 4 easy steps to add more play into your days and avoid burnout:

    1. Set a timer for 20 minutes a day for whatever PLAY means to you.

    Doodling, laying in the backyard looking at clouds, sewing, doing cartwheels, whatever. Just set a timer and commit to giving yourself 20 minutes of play time each day. Everyone can find 20 minutes somewhere! If you can’t find 20, try finding 10. But commit to it — that’s the key.

    2. Schedule a day-long play date with yourself once a month.

    Tune in to yourself and ask yourself what sounds really FUN. Then take yourself on a date to do that thing! Maybe it’s taking a dance class, or going to the beach by yourself, or visiting a museum, or using a whole day to getting better at a hobby that has nothing to do with your work … whatever lights you up, do it.

    3. Ask yourself throughout your day, “Am I taking this too seriously, and how can I make this more fun?”

    Sometimes just being aware that you’re not having fun and that there might be an alternative way to approach a situation is enough to add a bit of play into your routine. Try it out — I’m willing to bet that your days are naturally soon infused with more play.

    4. Give in to your gut impulses telling you it’s time to play.

    If you need to take a break to be outside in the sunshine, do it! If you need to spend a day in the studio just goofing around making things that aren’t for clients or commercial purposes, do it! You’ll be refreshed and way more productive when you return to what you were doing before.

    Work + Play can be beautiful partners when you realize they’re two sides of one coin and are both important aspects of leading a rich + full life. Embrace and give equal importance to both, and you’re on your way to a burnout-free existence. Doesn’t that sound amazing? (I think so!)


    Jessica Swift, a full-time artist and surface designer in Portland, Oregon, is on a quest to inspire everyone on the planet to pursue their wild + colorful dreams … and never give up. Her magically uplifting artwork is licensed by companies and manufacturers for iPhone cases, fabric, stationery, and much more. You can find her colorfully creating and blogging online at

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