Everyone works their best on a different schedule, and that's what I love about being a freelancer. I know a morning designer that works from 7am - 3pm. I'm a night owl, so I tend to work 10:00am to 7:00pm and get all my household chores done in the morning (along with eating breakfast - the most important meal of the day!) before I start to work. Whether morning birds or night owls work 30 or 60 hours - there is one thing we have in common: what the 50th hour looks like. It's not pretty.
Before I could devote 100% of my time to freelance, I worked a full time job. I would work from 9-to-5 and then go home, eat a quick unhealthy dinner, and then work to midnight or later (essentially until I fell asleep at my desk). It was during this time that I did my worst work. My contracts weren't solid, I missed small mistakes, I could hardly keep up with my hours. My full-time job was also suffering: I was less personable, I missed so many small and easy things, and I found my work went from stellar to less-than. Working too much is not something to brag about - it's unhealthy.
What does this have to do with creativity?
When you were in school, did you ever get writer's block? Were you ever unable to write that 15 page essay after having 3 hours of other homework to do? Us too! But I call it "creativity block" and it happens whenever I've already exhausted about 30 hours of my creative mind. You may have read this article on finite willpower - and that works the same way for creativity. If I've spent 30 hours on a really creative project, a like designing a logo from complete scratch, I am exhausted at the end. The only thing I have energy for is maybe a business card, but certainly not a full branding package or even sourcing stock photos.
But didn't they debunk the willpower study?
You're right, they did - but I still see traces of "creativity block" in myself, and I've completely mastered taking time over the weekend to rejuvenate. Creatives need time to recover and refresh. When clients ask me for ASAP work at 7pm, or demand high levels of creativity after I've expended it doing three other drafts for them earlier, I start to feel my "creative cup" slowly empty. There's a reason I reserve Friday for invoicing & business work and most often cut out early: I'm exhausted.
Here's a chart that most accurately displays how drastically the creativity leaves my body:
Why do you feel so drained?
Creative work uses both hemispheres of your brain at the same time! If you have mindless tasks at work, such as inputting lots of information into an Excel document, sending 50 emails, or working with people - you're primarily using one side of your mind. This has nothing to do with how hard you work - because certainly writing 50 emails is no easy task. I'm talking about the energy expenditure from your brain. Some of you can put on music at work and actually listen to it! (When I put on music, I hear the first song and the rest is a blur.) When you're creative, your mind is actively piecing together puzzles every second. When I'm designing a logo, I'm testing every single way I can position your brand name and my mind has to react to each one. Move it to the left: does that look good? No, move it to the right, does that look good? Yes. This color? That color? This icon? That icon? Here's a great article on what your brain is doing while you're creative.
Okay okay, take the weekend!
Thanks, pal! I'm a firm believer in work/life balance. I am my most creative and successful on Tuesdays, and that's not a fluke - it's when I've already processed all of Monday's new projects and my gears are in motion! I am a vivid dreamer and I dream about my projects and logos often - which is why 'turning off' on weekends is essential. I don't touch my computer on weekends, I don't answer emails on weekends, and the only design work I do is for fun.
So clients, friends - don't think I'm ignoring you. I'm just refilling my creative cup so I can be my best self on Monday!
As usual, these are my personal theories. You might work 80 hours a week at full creative capacity. Cool!