Ingredients for a Creative’s Work-Life Balance

Hello hello, my name is Rebecca and I am the newest animator at Pixel Bakery!
Rebecca CookRebecca Cook
|9 min read
Written by the one and only Rebecca Cook
Ingredients for a Creative’s Work-Life Balance, by Rebecca Cook
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Hello hello, my name is Rebecca and I am the newest animator at Pixel Bakery! A little background about myself is I'm originally a Cali girl, but I've been bouncing around the midwest for most of my life now - growing up in Omaha, earning my Bachelors of Fine Arts from the Kansas City Art Institute, and rolling to a stop in Lincoln to be the newest Cook in Pixel Bakery's Kitchen.

As an Animation Generalist, I do a little bit of everything along the production pipeline when Pixel Bakery is producing an animated sequence. I'm involved in the concept work, storyboarding, sometimes I'm doing the animating myself, and other times I'm building the structures to be animated by my peers.

Which all sounds very whimsical when I introduce myself at social events and family functions - I'm a cartoon-loving kid who gets to make her drawings move for a living! Drawing all day, this is the dream! Well, I do love my job terribly, but I would be remiss not to mention that, like any creative career, it comes with a lot of trial and error to find work/life balance when art is my job and my hobby.

I'm still tweaking my routine to find that balance for myself! And while I don't have all the answers or the Ultimate Recipe for juggling your responsibilities to others and to yourself, I do have some tips and tricks I've picked up along the way that I'd like to offer from my spice rack to yours.

Identify What Is Essential For YOU

Notice the things you need to feel okay. That means your comfort in your work, in your relationships, in your body, and taking steps to choose a life that feels good over a life that looks good.

You need sleep, you need food, you need to move around, you need to socialize, you need breaks. And it takes some trial and error of treating these like they're optional, secret extra stashes of work time, to realize that they're real limits to work with, not against.

For me this means daily routine changes like prioritizing my sleep in a way I didn't for many years, not doing work during mealtimes, limiting my social media time, having a stretching routine, correcting my posture when I notice it (even when slumping and sitting like a pretzel is reeeally comfy). I recently made a change with my work equipment, I replaced my drawing tablet with a new tech setup that isn't going to hurt my wrists over time.

For you this might mean noticing what time of day you work best at, changing your social media habits, taking more breaks when you need them, whatever you need to feel more okay in your routine than you were yesterday. Be on the lookout for ways to care for yourself in increments - working with your body when you notice that a habit isn't working for you, and setting boundaries for yourself so you aren't stealing your sleep or family time to squeeze in more work.

Schedule Out Your Time

We have all had times when we wanted to accomplish something, but were derailed when "life happened". We're busy people! We've got a lot going on!

A tool I use to combat this swept-away feeling is to schedule out my time. And I don't just mean writing out my To-Do's for each day, I really mean logging where each of my 24 hours a day are going. I keep a dry-erase board of my weekly schedule by hour, and I've worked it into my weekend routine to set it up for the following week. I don't always follow it to the letter, but the exercise is a valuable visual aid for seeing my goals as a marathon instead of a sprint.

First, I block out my big obligations: my work hours, my commute, my appointments, my plans with friends and family. Next, I block out the time to look after myself and my home: the amount of sleep I need, time to exercise, approximate time for meals and chores. After establishing these limits, I can start loosely delegating how I want to spend the remaining time.

Some free mornings I have a project I'm just itching to work on, some free nights I facetime my family to have game night from across the country! I can fill those hours with anything - or nothing when I need the break - I'm still very flexible to the curveballs life throws at me. But the exercise of scheduling out my time this way has given me a new sense of control over my schedule and helps me to value the limits I have imposed upon it. When I can see at a glance how it all fits together, I'm much less likely to skimp on my sleep, and I stick to my work hours instead of cutting into my family time.

Whatever your method of keeping a schedule, knowing where your time is going in a concrete way helps you feel less like life is just happening to you, and more like you are an active participant in it.

Keep Trying New Things

When I'm thinking about how my job intersects with my hobby as a creative, the first concern in my mind is "I'm using my creative brain all day every day, how am I going to avoid burnout?"

And I'm learning to think of it the same way I handled the conundrum of "how am I going to avoid eye strain from being on the computer for work and for fun?"

The answer is easy but hard to accept: Use the computer less.

If that's not an option for how I do my job, I need to lessen the hours I'm on it in my free time.

The answer is also easy for my creative conundrum: If my creative muscle is being strained from using it so much, I need to,

1. make less art. I am very satisfied with the work I do for my career, and I'm working on giving myself permission to do less hobby-art than I used to. It's alright for your relationship with your craft to change with you.

2. focus on quality over quantity, and really narrow what art pieces I execute to the projects that matter to me. This can mean ideas I think are important or just things that are purely for fun! (I think my best work happens when I'm having fun anyways)

3. fill that time I was spent churning out more work with new activities! Time with family, time with friends, new hobbies, old hobbies, getting to know my community, anything that lets my Artist Side be only one of many sides to me.

Do the thing you enjoy less to better your relationship with it, is easy advice to know and hard advice to do. It's hard to accommodate the idea that this isn't a problem you can muscle through! But it is frightfully important as creatives, to keep our relationship with our craft a positive one - for our careers, for our hobby, many times for our sense of self. And to do that you need to have a whole life outside of your art career to feel well-rounded and avoid burnout. Most importantly this keeps you feeling fulfilled, an added bonus is that it makes your art better. It's the desire to process and share your experiences that drives creativity, so you need new experiences to feed your art and your soul. Remember that you haven't tried all the things you are going to love yet.

You Can't Do It All, So Pick One Today

As you can probably guess from how meticulous I am with my weekly schedule, I'm a note-taker. I have dozens of notes stashed everywhere I possibly could keep notes - about things I want to try, things I need to accomplish, things I want to make. I am, realistically, not going to do them all. I'm not even going to do most of them! There are just so many ideas I've had, and I am never going to stop generating new ideas, new wants, and new interests to pursue. This is okay and normal.

There will never be enough hours in the day, ever, so you have to decisively pick what to do with yourself today, so you can stand by the choices you made for yourself. Because you'll get even less done if you never come out of that indecisiveness cave.

When I'm starting my designated Task Time, no matter what it is, I try to queue one big task to focus on, and maybe two smaller tasks to fill the gaps. And doing one thing well is enough!

A valuable piece of advice I was given in college was, "if you can only manage to do one thing every day, in a month you will have accomplished 30 things." This is a guiding principle I use to both narrow my focus when there are too many choices and to be more okay with the amount of less important options I leave behind. I may not be able to pursue every interest I've ever had, but I sure do have a lot of niche knowledge that is evidence of the hard work I put into the interests I've chosen to take with me.

The final takeaway I want to send you off with is that no one gets this work/life stuff perfect. We are all trying our absolute best, so as gracefully functional as the people around you look, don't feel like you're doing it wrong.

My work at Pixel Bakery is better for the skills I've developed in my free time pursuing things that are important to me, and in return, my personal work is elevated from the professional touches I'm developing at Pixel Bakery. It's a balancing act but I think I've got it, and I'm looking forward to the things we'll create together.

And if you see me wandering about the streets of Lincoln looking lost, I know.

I know I'm lost.

I'm working on it.

Look, this is the Life part of that balance, I'm building character.


motion design
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