How to stay sane during launches

Published by Nela Dunato on at 09:02 in Business, Tips for creatives, Mindset

If you’re any type of creator, there are going to be times in your life when you’ll be required to “launch” something.

We think of launches in terms of websites, courses, books, retreats etc. but the same things apply when you organize an art show or prepare for a crafts fair, a big show, speaking engagement etc.

Launches typically include the following things:

  • You’re required to produce a large amount of work in time for a deadline
  • You need to take care of many moving parts on the logistic level

Take these things combined, and you get weeks of sleepless nights, stress and avoiding social gatherings. (We lovingly call it a growth period.)

When you come out on the other side, you’re proud of what you’ve achieved, but you’re also completely drained, and need a few weeks of doing nothing just to recover from it all.

You'll also inevitably drop the ball on many things that you would normally consider important, but simply don't have the time for. (For example, I ditched my weekly blog post commitment in September and October. I’m not glad about it, but I accepted that it’s not a top priority at the moment.)

How to stay sane during launches

My experience with launching comes mostly from organizing live events.

Every autumn for the past 5 years or so has been reserved for the big event my non-profit organization organizes in our hometown Rijeka: the sci-fi and fantasy convention Rikon.

In the past 2 years, we raised the bar and organized another festival on top of our yearly convention, called the Fantasy month (See Croatian website).

Fantasy month is exactly what it says on the tin: a month-long festival consisting of different fantasy or sci-fi themed events. Last year we had 10 of those events spanning over 4 weeks, and this year we’ve been a bit smarter and focused on 5 events over the weekends.

In between these two events, my responsibilities and tasks included the following:

  • Creating an illustration and designing posters, flyers and a ton of web banners for different uses for Fantasy Month
  • Designing posters, flyers, banners, tickets and the program book for Rikon (thankfully, another artist volunteered to illustrate them)
  • Updating website design and content for both sites
  • Managing and instructing a team of web writers for one site
  • Attending up to 3 meetings per week with our team and partners
  • Writing and sending press releases
  • Writing the missing content for the flyers and website
  • Managing social media channels
  • Managing and setting up the art exhibition
  • Co-hosting two creative workshops and two events, in addition to the 3-day convention Rikon (where I spent a total of 30 hours)
  • Taking care of a myriad of other tasks, including selecting and buying prizes for contest winners, designing nametags, etc.
  • Negotiating sponsorships and discounts
  • Attending radio and TV interviews
  • Taking photos of the events, and editing mine and 4 other photographers’ photos afterwards

And on top of it all (and other tasks I can’t remember right now) I also got to cosplay Sailor Moon with our Sailor Senshi group.

Sailor Moon cosplay at Rikon 2015
Cosplaying my favorite childhood cartoon at the ripe age of 30

If this looks like I did everything myself, I'll have you know there's more things on top of that that my teammates and our partners were responsible for. For people who never did live events before, seeing even just a tiny bit of what goes into it comes as a shock. It’s a crapload of work, for sure.

Even though this makes autumn a pretty crazy time of year for me, I keep doing it. I care about the convention so much that I don’t want to give up on it (at least not until I’m sure I have a capable and worthy replacement. Ha ha. Ha.)

And with my own future plans for this business, it’s safe to assume that launching is going to remain a part of my life indefinitely.

So, what bits o’ wisdom can I offer you from my oh so rich experience of launching? What can you do to prepare for and survive an extended period of time when nothing is normal?

Here are some of my tips.

Set an intention to stay centered

The first step to getting what you want is to clearly define what you want. If you don’t even know what it is, how will you know if you’re getting it?

Before you even start working on your project (or if you’re reading this as you’re in the middle of one, do it right now), think about how you want to be feeling throughout (hint: it’s usually the opposite of what you’re normally feeling), and write it down.

Spend some time journaling, sketching or meditating on your intention. You can create little reminders of your intention like cards or post-its, an art journal spread, a vision board, a piece of jewelry – anything that you can keep an eye on as you work.

Sketchbook art journal intention

You can also add a post-it widget to your phone home screen, or use a reminder app (I like Daily Helper for Android) with an encouraging note, or simply the words “I am calm and centered.”.

You won’t remain calm and centered at all times, that’s impossible – but you can remember your intention and take 10 deep breaths. Just doing this will bring your desired feeling much closer to you.

Create firm boundaries around relaxation

I start every morning with my morning routine, and during that time no one can reach me because my phone is in airplane mode.

While this sounds selfish, remember that your project is not the only thing that matters in your life. You cannot live for it for 24/7 – you also need time for rest, relaxation and connection with people that matter to you.

I’d advise doing this both in the morning and in the evenings, so you can start your day on the right foot, as well as wind down before sleep.

For more information on how to relax properly, read my post 5 ways to use meditation as a productivity technique.

Seriously cut down on your commitments

And then cut down some more.

I've been doing this for years, so I learned to say no to every other opportunity that would require me to do something in September and October. I know a year in advance that I simply won't be available. I also stopped putting more unnecessary responsibilities and commitments on myself.

I've even decided not to celebrate my own birthday (I'm 30, omg!) because it felt more like a hassle than an enjoyable experience.

Create a list of things that you feel absolutely need to happen, and have someone else go through this list and cross stuff off because you probably threw in more than is reasonable.

Everything that’s not on the list is optional.

Tell your friends in advance that you won't be available, so that they don't even tempt you by asking for favors or inviting you for gatherings you cannot attend. You probably suck at saying no, so let them do the job for you.

And while we’re on the subject on other people doing our job...

Ask for help. No, really.

Don’t have time to cook lunch? Ask your partner to grab take-out on their way from work.

House is a mess and you don’t have time to clean? Hire a cleaner (it’s cheaper than you think).

Kids wreak havoc all day and you can’t concentrate? Ask a friend with kids if they’re open to hosting a playdate with your younglings so you can get some uninterrupted time for work, and offer to return the favor when this mess is over.

Are you working with other team members on a project? Give them more responsibilities.

Is there anything your friends could help you with? They would probably be glad to, if you only asked them.

Asking for help is hard and you likely feel guilty of needing so much from other people. You think you should be able to do it all yourself. I get you. But what you need it reasonable, and nobody can do it all by themselves.

Take time to process emotions

Launches are stressful. Things will go wrong and you’ll need to clean up the mess, your own or someone else’s.

At the time when it’s happening, we put on our superhero suit and block out our emotions entirely, so we can deal with all the issues that come our way – but neglecting your emotional health too long can result in getting physically ill from stress. I’ve seen this in myself, my friends and my team.

Pick a time every day – perhaps in the evening, after a long day – and just ask yourself, how do I feel about all this?

Just be present with any and all emotions that rise to the surface and stay with them until they go away on their own. (Don’t worry, they will go away, it just might take some time.)

A good crying or pillow punching session will leave you more relaxed and refreshed afterwards, and you’ll sleep so much better.

Talk to your project

This sounds crazy, and it's not for everyone. But if the thought of having an imaginary conversation with your project seems like a reasonable thing to you, definitely do it.

I already wrote about some occasions when having an inner dialogue with the object of my intention revealed useful clues and next steps.

Even if you don't think inanimate objects have consciousness of their own, this is still a helpful technique. When you perceive the project as something that exists outside of yourself, your own thoughts about the project will be revealed that you may not otherwise be aware of (because having those thoughts about a part of yourself would undermine and trigger your ego).

Try it, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Sit down, close your eyes and take a few breaths to relax. Think of your project and ask to be shown an image or a feeling that will represent its essence in your imagination. When this symbol or feeling shows up, start the dialogue.

Ask for what you want, and then ask it what it wants. You can give it what it wants in your imagination – if it needs to be appreciated, then just take a minute to appreciate it right then and there. If it needs a nicer, bigger space, you can make an imaginary space for it, and observe in the following days if an opportunity for a better space shows up in your physical life (but don’t feel obliged to go read the classifieds).

At the end of your meditation, thank the project and breathe it into your heart so it can live as a part of you.

Keep up with your personal creative practice

When we’re busy keeping up with the demands of others, the first thing to go is our personal work. You might think that taking time for journaling, sketching or playing music is self indulgent and you have to give it up in order to take care of urgent things.

I will propose a perspective that your personal creative work is essential to your well-being, and that depriving yourself will hurt you and make this launching process even more stressful.

There’s a saying about meditation that says “Meditate for 20 minutes every day. And if you’re too busy, meditate for 2 hours.” This can be applied to art just as well. If you’re under a lot of stress, your needs for blowing off steam are higher than normal.

I try to make time for sketching every single day before I start with client work. Even if my client work is drawing, that’s still quite different from doodling what comes to mind and not worrying about the final result.

Medusa sketchbook doodle

Schedule recovering time after your project

You’re smart, and you know that you shouldn’t be scheduling any more things for when you’re in the middle of the project – kudos!

But what do you do instead? Schedule it for the week following your big project. Big mistake.

If at all possible, make your week following the project wrap-up either a stay at home vacation (if you’re self-employed), or at the very least take time off from everything beyond your job. Put a big green “Sabbatical” sign on your calendar, and whenever you’re tempted to schedule something in, remember that you need this week off.

Your body has done a tremendous job keeping up with your downright unreasonable demands, and now it’s time to reward her and give her everything she needs. This will probably mean a lot of sleep and sitting on the couch. Turn off the alarm clock for a week, take naps whenever you feel like it, and make sure to eat well.

Simply knowing that there’s a week ahead of you reserved for rest and relaxation will make all those stressful times much easier – you’ll have something to look forward to, a light at the end of the tunnel. (Psychology research found that we feel great while anticipating a vacation, not after it.)

Sometimes the effort you’ve put in your launch is so great that a week of rest won’t be enough, and that’s when we’re talking about burnout. Naturally, I have a lot to say on that topic as well, so I wrote a post Dealing with creative burnout.

I’d love to hear what some of your strategies to deal with launching are?

Or you might want to share a story of your recent project marathon and what you learned from it.

To your joy and sanity,

Nela
Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

I run a boutique design consultancy that helps creative businesses evolve into premium brands and connect with their dream clients, by crafting extraordinary visual experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...


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