No Burn Out in Biscuit Land

We’re starting two weeks of research and development for a new show soon. It’s going to be called Burnt Out In Biscuit Land and in it we’ll be re-visiting the surreal world my tics create around me – the setting for our first stage show back in 2014.

I’m looking forward to creating something new and to working with Chopin again. We haven’t started making it yet, so we don’t know exactly what it’ll be about, but the title gives a hint.

A digital drawing by Jess of a landscape made on her iPad. In the bottom part of the drawing there is water followed by sand, a green vista with trees and a cloudy sky. The phrase ‘Making Space for Rest’ is overlaid on the drawing in clouds, hedges, sand and waves.

Burning out means ruining your health or wellbeing through overwork, and it’s widespread across the creative sector. Over the last few years we’ve been doing things differently to protect our team from burning out. I thought it might be useful to share a few of the things we’ve found helpful.

Breathing Weeks – These are scheduled in across the whole year, they happen quarterly and are like normal working weeks, but with one key difference: no external meetings or commitments are booked – so everyone in the team can catch up with their workload.

Wellbeing Days – I have a wellbeing day once a week during which I focus activities that improve my wellbeing. This can include things that support my physical health, like swimming, or work that supports my emotional wellbeing, like writing blog posts. My wellbeing days have helped me to keep working full time and they allow me to attend to things that might otherwise get overlooked. My wellbeing days are part of our commitment to taking a ‘socialist approach to energy’.

Protecting Lunch Breaks – The whole team stops for lunch at 1pm and we all shut our lap-tops during this time. Having a collective break from screens and all stopping at the same time means there’s less likelihood of doing ‘just one more thing’, or cutting the break short to get more done.

The Email Effect – As a team we’ve agreed to send emails only during regular working hours. This is because we recognise that even though we may try not to look at emails outside of work, if they do arrive it can be hard to ignore them, especially because most emails create the need for a reply. This doesn’t mean we can’t work flexibly, and at times that might suit us better, but we do all try to be thoughtful about when we press send.

Personal Assistants – I’ve had the support of a personal assistant (PA) at work for over a decade – this is someone who helps me do my job. My PA helps me move around at work, I dictate emails to them, and they take notes during meetings. They’re paid for by Access to Work, a scheme that provides the practical support disabled people need in order to do their jobs most effectively.

Job Aides – In 2019 while I was working with Disability Arts Online, co-presenting their Guide to Access to Work for the Arts and Cultural Sector, I learnt about job aides. A job aide is different from a PA because, rather than supporting me to do my job, they have the specialist skills needed to do an element of a job that I can’t do because of my impairment. For me, pain and fatigue mean I can’t lead on Touretteshero’s fundraising in the way I used to, so this year a job aide has been supporting me with this work. It’s allowed me to work in a way I thought I’d lost.

Wellbeing Clause – We have a wellbeing clause in all our contracts that explains that I have a fluctuating health condition. It asks partners to understand this and to agree that in the event I’m unable to complete a project due to ill health, we will still be paid. We are a close-knit team and if I was off a project but knew this was putting pressure on everyone else, I wouldn’t be able to recover properly. This gives us the safety net I need to feel secure about taking on new projects without worry. We’ve never had to use this clause but having it there is very helpful.

Access RidersAccess riders or access documents detail personal access requirements. This isn’t just about bare minimums, it defines what’s required for us to take part in a project in an equitable, safe, and healthy way. Our access riders include info on things like scheduling and marketing as well as physical set up, travel and transport.

Keeping Deadlines Light – we’re taking a ‘deadline light’ approach to work wherever possible so that if circumstances change unexpectedly work can move around without putting lots of extra pressure on any of us. Of course, there are always going to be some hard deadlines, but we try and identify these early on and schedule in a way that gives as much flexibility as possible.

These are things that work for us, and we regularly check in and review how we’re all doing. But there’s one other crucial thing: we now have a team with the capacity we’ve needed for a long time!

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