A flexible work setup, that fits around your other commitments – be that family, illness, or other demands on your time – is often seen as the holy grail of the woman who wants to ‘have it all.’ And if you’re lucky enough to have that – congratulations! Running my own creative business as a writer and online influencer has been without a doubt, the absolute best decision for me and my family.

But there is a flip side. If you’re the person who’s always at home, always able to flex her work hours to fit around others, the chances are you will naturally begin to pick up any slack, and take on much more than your fair share of the communal workload.

 

When overwhelm stifles creativity

As my business grows, I feel constantly overwhelmed by the volume of things I have on my plate. I’m quite sure that my tendency to want perfection has a part to play. I want to write the best articles, make the most beautiful instagram pictures, feed my family home cooked masterpieces, and have an impeccably trained dog – ideally one who doesn’t eat his own poo (that will only make sense if you’ve seen my insgatram stories!) Inevitably my to-do list never gets shorter, and a sense of achievement rests always just out of my reach.

It’s tempting to chalk that up as the norm – everybody’s doing it so you just have to dig in and keep going, right? Well, you’d think, but leaving my list of tasks undone for a whole weekend was exactly what I needed to feel like I had it all under control. And I don’t mean down time with Netflix and wine, or a bubble bath with a good  book – that kind of time out tends to set me even more on edge, feeding my guilt at not attending to that lingering deadline, or getting one more load of washing out on the line. No, what I’m talking about is booking in for an entire day or weekend away from your usual work setting, to learn new skills, meet like-minded creative business owners, and even to add to your business goals.

So if you’re an overworked creative, here’s why I think a work timeout will refresh your energies, and leave you poised to be more productive than ever before.

 

The benefits of taking a work timeout

Image courtesy of Tom Arber

1. A different setting allows you to take stock

Have you ever wondered what it is about a holiday that makes you relax so easily? The obvious factors of sun, wine, and time with family and friends are all factors, of course.  But for me, it’s the physical impossibility of folding washing, painting the scuff marks off the skirting board, or finding a new broadband supplier that really helps me concentrate on relaxing. When I’m away from home, there is almost nothing on my list of nagging tasks that I can attend to, and so I give myself permission to quite simply do nothing, or to do something amazing I wouldn’t normally have time for. It’s why you come home from a holiday ready to dive back in, or to launch that new venture that seemed an impossible endeavour before you left.

 

2. The freedom to experiment

Removing yourself from the confines of your standard work environment allows you to get really creative with ideas for your business. I’ve always assumed I wasn’t cut out for vlogging, being much more comfortable with my skill as a writer and storyteller. But it was whilst at The Retreat (in the stunning setting of Croydon Hall in Somerset) that I found myself signing up for a Confidence on Camera workshop, and thinking that actually, with a bit of practice and some good lighting, I could absolutely consider presenting to camera more often on my YouTube channel. See what you think:

Image of me at Somerset Film’s session on how to set up for a video shoot courtesy of Steph from Steph’s Two Girls

3. The chance to pick up some new skills

I’ve always enjoyed creating lovely images to illustrate my stories, and I know my way around the basics of a DSLR. I’m also aware of the need for good lighting, and for a glint in the eye of whoever I’m photographing! But here’s the thing – I don’t always know what to do when I’m not in the perfect light settings, which let’s face it in the UK is pretty much all of the time! Nor do I have time in my working day, or my busy family weekend to really explore my camera settings and see what else they can do for me. Hence my incapacity to get the focus on this heart confetti, no matter how many shots I take!

On the Retreat though, I spent time looking at creative product photography with Derek Lomas, a portrait and still life photographer. And with the help of a roll of tracing paper, a clothes rail, a daylight bulb, and a sheet of perspex I was able to create this – *whispers* on my iPhone! I will also be nailing that confetti shot very soon with a few more tweaks to my camera settings!

4. The courage to come out of your shell!

 

I’ve recently really tried to up my game on my Instagram account, and what I’m learning is that images of me are the ones that seem to get the most engagement. Like a lot of creatives, I’m most comfortable behind the camera, and I hate taking selfies, so this aspect of my work is the one I find most stressful, even though I love the results. So I signed up for a fashion shoot, to see if I could break my fear!

 

 

Once again we learned that a lot of making a model look good is the positioning of the camera, and how you use the light. We were gifted some gorgeous outfits by designer Tina, of NoLogoChic, which really made the most of the summery weather and got us in the mood for cocktails on the beach. I like to think it added something magical to our shoot!

 

The stunning Katy from What Katy Said, wearing NoLogoChic’s Cheetah and Fern maxi dress. Image courtesy of Steph, as before.

My own gift was this beautiful lime Dragonfly tunic dress that I know is going to be worn again and again on the beach this summer, as well as looking cool for relaxed weekends out with friends.

 

 

5. The strength to banish fears and slay the comparison

 

The other thing I figured out by pushing myself to do the fashion shoot is that I’m not the only one who thinks she’s not worthy of a fashion image! Every single gorgeous woman there thought her hair was too flat/chin too saggy/shoulders too slopey to be able to carry it off. We egged each other on, giggled and reassured the woman in front of the camera, until we all had amazing shots we were proud of – and just a little bit more confidence to do it again. It’s so easy to look at what others are doing, producing, and selling in their businesses, and put ourselves in the box that says ‘not good enough.’ That kind of fear leads to procrastination, which becomes demoralising, and you get stuck in a cycle of stagnation. I came back from the Retreat with shots I am proud of, and so happy to publish!

 

NoLogoChic’s Sweet Lime Victoria embroidered dress, photographed by Derek Lomas, edited by me (yes, I even learned not to fear Photoshop, and change the colour of my background in this shot!)

6. Relaxation

It really doesn’t matter what your work timeout consists of. In fact, I find that the mere fact of being somewhere different for at least one night makes me shift down a gear mentally, even while I’m working. It’s the combination of other creative business owners to explore ideas with, and the removal of the ‘nose to the grindstone’ mentality I normally operate under. That said, the perfect retreat will include some actual down time. This is me, lying flat out in a field, after a yoga session with the frankly brilliant Rachel Smithbone!

 

So if you’ve been putting off something marvellous because you’re just too damned busy, get it booked! Whether it’s a course you’ve always wanted to go on, or a workshop, or even a spa day or sports event with people you’ve met through work, I guarantee you’ll return full of energy and ideas for a new chapter.

 

With huge thanks to Sally, of Who’s the Mummy and Tots100, for organising The Retreat.

Image courtesy of Heidi, from Kitchen Talk and Travels

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