The creative long game SUCKS. But you can overcome it with these quick habit changes.

Originally published on LinkedIN.

As creatives, playing the long game can be excruciating. Your head is almost always going a million miles a minute and new ideas are kicking out old ones constantly. Our built in need to create and produce things is in our nature. So, when it slows down to a snail’s pace of revisions, concept rounds, strike outs or delays in a project it can really kill your motivation. Don’t fool yourself, burn out is not only caused by working 80-hour weeks or a lot of travel. It also sneaks up on people who are locked into inaction and stuck waiting for things to progress.

I remember going over 8 months not bringing anything tangible to production after having a killer busy and strong year before it. It was demoralizing and unfortunately put me and my writer partner in a very bad place. Unable to dig ourselves out, desperate to win again, pointing fingers. And when we did get back up to good pace every slowdown can cause a knee-jerk reaction. A built-in flight or fight response of “OH NO NOT AGAIN!” even if it was a small issue that would work itself out the next day.

I remember trying to explain to friends and family how a 30 second tv spot and campaign took 8 months to do and millions of dollars and countless hours. They thought I was crazy. You need a lot of patience to ride that out. Apps and larger tech projects can have an even slower rate. We spent close to a year working on the Breathe-Right Sleep Clinic app and campaign. And making product like we do at Vicimus can take just as long or longer for a larger feature or new product to come out as sprints are usually smaller iterations and evolution. It’s seeing the small wins and small steps forward that keep you going.

With that in mind I wanted to share a few insights into how to play the long game if you are like me and have a hundred new ideas crop up in the ol’ noggin before you even have time to polish the ones on your plate.

1.    Self-reflection is key. I made the mistake earlier in my career of falling into the “but what have you done lately” attitude for creative projects. That’s bullshit. Your experience is the culmination of years creating, thinking and releasing ideas into the world. Some will continue on after you have left for years. Some will get replaced with the next great thing. Some will absolutely tank and make you cry. But it is ALL still valid and worth remembering. You should be proud of it and be able to reflect positively back at it to remind yourself that you can do and finish things. If you are in a dark place today and angry or feeling like you are stuck take a moment and look back at what you have already accomplished and how far you’ve come. We are often the worst people at congratulating ourselves. Perhaps that is where the hunger for award shows gets some people – it’s easier to take praise from others.

2.    Talk about it. I had coffee with another Creative Director recently and the topic of being people who just need to make things came up and how important it was. As did the topic that if you don’t produce anything for a long time it really harms you. Small projects can help with this. We are constantly giving the creative team smaller marketing and social video projects at Vicimus to challenge them to polish their craft. More importantly to LET them create. Small projects are fast to make and complete, giving you or your team a sense of a small win. Not everything needs to be the world’s first or world’s biggest or world smartest. Those projects are few and far between and take a lot of energy. The small ones can be rewarding as well.

3.    Look for self-improvement. If it’s slow or you are stuck in a never-ending production take the time to better yourself. Learn something new, take up a new hobby or obsession, research something new, find an outlet to grow your knowledge and let your brain focus on things you CAN control – like sponging up something It may not know yet.

4.    Escape temporarily to reset. Take your time off. It used to be a bit of an internal competition with myself. Can I get past the 6-month mark before I take time off? Can I build it all up and take it at the end like a reward? The danger is that by the time you get there you are so exhausted that you don’t enjoy your time off. It takes half the time off to recover and the next thing you know you are back at work feeling bitter. Kids and spring break have changed that for me and I’m thankful for it. The old me would wait until HR threatened me with loosing them at year end to take it all off. And if you are an employer you should be enforcing that your staff takes time off and doesn’t stock pile it. Not only does it lead to an empty office and put unneeded stress on others working at year end, but you are devaluing your investment in your people and their health.

5.    Take care of yourself. In 2018 I had a complete health collapse. It led to months of doctor tests, scans, ambulance calls, ER trips, dramatic weight loss, multiple panic attacks and over a year of daily medicine that I have only recently come off of. It was the culmination of almost 20 years of bad habits; working to all hours of the night, skipping meals, pushing until I imploded. It took a lot to come back from and I’d like to just forget that year entirely. But it’s important that I don’t forget it. What started out as a wake-up call led to a few key habits:

  • I take walks or exercise or both…. Very often I have a set time in my calendar (rain or shine) to “Stop and Walk”. Moving and not looking at screens will relieve stress, improve overall health and circulation and can actually help you think clearer.
  • I eat better. We are stressful working people and comfort food can be a real killer. I didn’t get all super health food. But I certainly got rid of somethings and made better decisions. I still cheat regularly but I’m batting a better average.
  • Sleep. I would love to stay up late. And I have been a known insomniac for my entire adult life. In fact, last night I stayed up to work on a painting until after midnight and still got up at 7 to go to work. But I am feeling the effect of it today. In the past I would ignore it and hide it with more bad habits. Tonight, will be an early night for me I think to make up for it…
  • Meditate. The smart-ass 20 and 30-year-old me would smirk and laugh at this. But a few minutes of meditation make a huge difference. I use Headspace on my phone, but there are many ways to meditate and all are worth the 5-10 minutes it takes for you to reset. 

None of this will help move a project along that is out of your control or help you magically hit a home run with an idea. But it may help you avoid depression or boredom-burnout.


About the Author:

Todd Lawson is a creative/art director who has made commercials, brands and ad campaigns, understands code & designs UI & UX, a designer who does large scale paintings, a painter who writes articles, a writer who designs clothing, a clothier who is constantly curious about what’s next. His curiosity has garnered Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils, CA’s, Cassies, and countless other accolades. In 2014 & 2015, he was Ranked 9th & 15th Best Art Director by Strategy Magazine’s Creative Report Card. As Digital User Experience Lead & Associate Creative Director, Todd helped Grey Canada win ADCC’s 2013 Agency Of The Year. But the story doesn’t stop there. In 2015 Todd left Grey to Co-lead the complete transformation of Dashboard, his past agency, from a 16-year-old marketing firm into a Software SaaS Development Company, successfully selling it to tech firm Vicimus in under 2 years. Todd then led the company rebrand, developed departmental processes, guided UI/UX for product, oversaw and built external marketing plans and rebuilt creative and design teams. See 18+ years of curiosity at

Originally published on LinkedIN.