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Do you feel like you’re in a slump? Can’t seem to get going again or find the will to work? Freelance creatives share their top tips on making yourself motivated and ready for the new year ahead.
More than ever, this was the Christmas many of us needed. A chance to switch off, unwind, and enjoy time away from our desks with family and friends. Peace from all the events of 2022 and some much-needed time for ourselves. A period when you get so relaxed, you don’t even know what day it is – and don’t really care.
But sometimes a great break can be too great. As the festive season comes to a close and normal life resumes, you find yourself struggling to get back into the swing of work. And that can be a killer for your momentum and productivity.
If that’s a common problem for you, then the good news is that you’re not alone. While some of us are ready to get going again, many of us aren’t and struggle to get back into the freelance routine every year. But certain tried-and-tested strategies can help.
We asked the Creative Boom community on Twitter how they cope with the return to work after the festive break, and as ever, you responded with tons of empathy, tips and helpful advice. We’ll share some of the best ideas in the article below. And for further ideas for starting the new year with a swing, check out our list of the best 2023 apps for freelancers.
1. Set yourself a new challenge
Part of the problem of returning to work after Christmas is the feeling that nothing has changed: you’re just stepping back onto the same treadmill. So why not do something about that?
As the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. So as artist Chris Cyprus suggests: “Start fresh with a different medium, treat yourself to some Gouache paints or some oil pastels. It will force someone new.”
“I always set myself a challenge to learn something new in January,” says illustrator Niki Groom. “One year it was learning to paint buildings. Another was getting an iPad and learning Procreate. Another learning simple animation. Doing this takes the pressure off just getting on with usual work and always leads to inspiration.”
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money either. “A lot of the courses on Domestika and Teachable are inexpensive,” notes Nikki. “I’ve done courses by Harriet Lee Merrion, Shari Blaukopf and Abbie Lossing, and will do the Jocie Juritz one once I’ve invested in a Wacom. I’m currently looking at a composition course by Nathan Fowkes. As a result, I’m always desperate to start work again, and often do so by the 29th Dec.”
2. Ease yourself back in
The joy of freelancing is that you have more scope to organise your time. So make the most of that freedom. Rather than going hell for leather the moment Christmas is over, ease yourself back into work more gently.
That’s the exact approach that designer and illustrator Wajeeha Abbasi, aka Wasabi, takes. “I usually try and keep the first week of January simple and, if possible, off from work to ease into the new year,” she explains.
Instead of diving into client work, for example, you might start the year with personal or self-promotional work. That’s how freelance motion designer Dan Silverstone tends to play it. “I’ll make a reel, something for socials, or simply update the year in the footer of my site – a personal favourite!” he explains.
3. Blow away the cobwebs
Often, it’s difficult to get going with freelance work after a break because you’ve been physically inactive for so long. So the obvious solution is to get outside, breathe some fresh air, and start moving those muscles again.
“You can’t beat a solid walk with work colleagues for getting back into it: chewing the fat and getting the old brain cells a good boost,” says Will Stone, associate director for Duo Consulting . “And if you don’t have colleagues, check out local groups like Freshwalks.”
For similar reasons, if you normally freelance from your home office, why not make January the exception? “I usually work from home, but at the start of the year, I do things differently,” says artist Sravyaa. “I make an effort to build a schedule and go into a co-working space regularly for at least two weeks to build a routine and get into a working mindset.”
4. Get inspired by great work
Another reason to get outside is to get fresh creative inspiration at a time when your brain may have slumped a little. “Whether it’s going to exhibitions or browsing bookshops, this is a great way to remind myself of the type of work I’d like to get commissioned for – such as book covers or packaging – and get motivated,” says illustrator and silk-screen artist Melissa North.
Pablo Marques, chief creative and design officer at Handsome, takes a similar approach. “Looking at a lot of great work is my one-trick motivational pony,” he explains. “Any time I need to get motivated, I look at a bunch of great stuff made by others. That gets me itching to go make stuff myself. For instance, I’ll open an old D&AD annual, check design publications, or visit a museum or gallery. It never fails.”
This year, illustrator and animator Edele Watters is taking an organised approach to finding inspiration. “I’ve been making a January advent calendar of creative prompts,” she explains. “I’ve got a little set of houses that you can put things inside, such as quotes or creative ideas, along with a treat. A mix of writing prompts, inspiration and creative direction.”
5. Have a clear out
Feeling like your brain is a little foggy after the Christmas break? As the saying goes, ‘Tidy desk, tidy mind’, and for many creatives, this really does work.
“Have a good clear-out and get rid of clutter from 2022,” recommends Will Stone. “That includes emails and notebooks. Have a proper tidy up and free that mind.” Illustrator Sarah J Coleman aka Inkymole takes a similar view. “I do struggle with ‘new year dread’, always have, so I have to be very careful not to start the year overwhelmed,” she explains. “So before I resume work, the studio will be tidied, the diary and wall planner will already have been deployed, and so on.”
While this might sound like a chore, for many, it can actually be quite fun. “I enjoy cleaning my workspace and files during that weird gap of space after Christmas, but before New Year,” says illustrator Oli. “It helps motivate me to get excited for January, plus I always think of new ideas or discover things I meant to do. I write those down, and then in January, I have a list of amazing new ideas and things I want to do. Plus a somewhat cleaner and more organised space. Looking at my list of newness gets me super excited and I’m not struggling to think of what to do, because it’s already done.”
6. Remind yourself of your successes
Resuming work after a break is often difficult because your head just isn’t in the right place. One easy way to boost your mojo is to remind yourself, well, how fantastic you are.
Illustrator, designer and muralist Leanne Van does exactly that. “I’ll start with a recap of my best projects of the previous year,” she says. “It helps remind me why I do this and motivates me to plan the year ahead. I have a photo wall in my studio as a visual reminder of the year.”
Branding agency Kingdom & Sparrow take a similar approach. “We’ll start with celebrating all the amazing projects we completed last year and then have a little showcase of all the fantastic new projects in the pipeline,” they say. “Looking back first is the perfect way to launch forward on a positive new drive.”
7. Plan the year ahead
Seeing yet another year go by can be depressing if you don’t feel you’ve achieved anything over the last 12 months and are just treading water. If that’s the case for you in 2023, then the best way to motivate yourself is to do something about it.
“I like to start the year with setting some dream goals for what I want to achieve next,” says freelance multidisciplinary artist Alice Roseberry. “I then break these down into smaller, more attainable goals. It makes my overall ambitions less daunting and much more achievable. It helps me to avoid procrastination and allows me to get stuck in.”
B-Corp certified coach Lyanna reckons this is a great way to start the year. “Go old school!” she recommends. “Make a vision board with bits and bobs from old magazines: what you want to do, have, be, feel. Organise this all with dates and steps to get there. Also, book breaks across the year: stuff to look forward to that energise you. Set non-negotiables that have to happen to meet your needs.”
If you’re struggling in this endeavour, comedian, author and podcaster Rosie Wilby recommends changing up your routine and location. “Last January, I spent some time in Margate by the sea, making my plan for the year,” she recalls. “That change in pace, away from more hectic London, hugely helped me to zoom out and see the bigger picture.”
8. Reboot your team
Work with a team? Then finding ways to motivate them as a group can also be a great way to motivate yourself as an individual.
“I organise a ‘creative reboot’ for my team in January,” says Anna Stanford, senior marketing manager at Vault49. “Every Thursday afternoon, we’ll stop work an hour early and do something creative together. First up this year is painting table tennis bats. I also hope to include a hand lettering session, watercolour painting and something with fabrics.”
9. Give thanks
We’ll finish with one last tip that we absolutely love for putting yourself in the right mindset for 2023. “Every year, I’ll make a gratitude list for three things that went well or made me feel good,” says PR freelance Heather Suttie. “Also, remember that what you give out, you get back: appreciation, compliments and constructive feedback. This will help keep your good vibes flowing in 2023.”