Rachel Waring is a creative marketing consultant who specialises in blending creativity with strategy to help small business owners show up and thrive in their careers. Here, she explores how you can find balance in business through input and output.
In the whirlwind of running a small business, it’s easy to get caught up in the constant cycle of doing. Of course, taking action and pushing your business goals forward are essential to growing a successful career, but there’s another side to this equation that often gets overlooked – balancing your output with your input.
So, what do I mean by input vs output? To me – output includes all of the “doing”. Creating content, putting yourself out there, taking action, making new offerings, etc. Whereas input energy is more reflective and includes things like reading, learning, researching, and developing your skills.
As a founder, I often oscillate between seasons of intense output and phases of much-needed input. These alternating rhythms are not just part of my business journey; they are essential to it, but I’ve not always found the right balance between the two.
Running on empty is sometimes glorified as if it’s heroic somehow, but in reality, it often leads to burnout, frustration, and creative block.
The era of output
Over the past few years, I’ve very much been in a season of output. I’ve created courses, workshops, podcasts, and all the content that goes into building an online community. But something I noticed towards the end of 2022 is an overwhelming feeling of running on empty.
If we think of creative energy as a well that needs to be replenished, I had been dipping into the well too often, without doing much to fill it back up. There wasn’t enough balance between input and output.
Running on empty is sometimes glorified as if it’s heroic somehow, but in reality, it often leads to burnout, frustration, and creative block. Also, constant creation and action (output), without enough learning, inspiration gathering and reflection (input), meant I felt like I was missing the opportunity to learn, grow, and deepen my expertise. I even chose the word “Deepen” as my word of the year for 2023, because I felt that urge for more input so strongly.
The bottleneck syndrome
After focusing this year on deepening my knowledge, skills and creative inspiration, I have definitely increased my input levels. I feel full of ideas, and new understandings about my business goals have surfaced this year that I never expected. But what’s super interesting about spending a year focused on input is I’m now faced with the opposite of an empty well – I have become a bit of a bottleneck. I think lots of us can relate to that feeling in business. The feeling of “having so many ideas, but so little time”. And, of course, time plays a role, but often there’s something else going on, and for me, that was not enough focus on output.
So, how can we find somewhere in the middle? This year I’ve learnt that balancing my input vs output equation is a bit like the weather. I need both the rain of inspiration and the sunshine of action to nurture my business goals. That’s the difference between having a business that is surviving versus thriving and evolving.
It’s easy to understand this concept in theory, but actually embodying it in your business is another challenge, so I’ve got a few tips for you for getting a healthy balance of both input and output into your life.
Balancing input and output in your business is vital for your creativity. It’s about recognising the seasonality in your business, and embracing it.
When you need more input:
If you feel like your creative well is running dry, then you likely need more input. This can look different for everyone, but for me, input can look like:
- Reading – both books in my niche and fiction books inspire me in unexpected ways.
- Learning – taking courses, workshops and working 1-1 with coaches and mentors has been a big part of my learning journey this year.
- Creative play – this is almost input and output combined, but what makes creativity more of an input exercise for me is creating without the pressure of sharing. Creating just for the sake of creativity. I’ve been working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron this Autumn, which has been a total game changer.
- Rest and self-care – if burnout is part of your creative block then this is essential before anything else.
Input mode is about rejuvenation, learning, and seeking inspiration. It’s about filling up your creative cup and deepening your expertise. It’s a deliberate effort to pause, reflect, and gather resources for your next burst of output.
When you need more output:
If you have all the ideas but none of the action, you likely need to focus on output energy. Here are a few ways I’m working to stop being the bottleneck in my business:
- Take imperfect action – I often need to remind myself to stop waiting for all the conditions to be perfect before I move forward with an idea.
- Put yourself on a temporary learning ban – if I feel overwhelmed with all the strategies and systems I should be working on, but I find myself not implementing them, I sometimes have to stop learning more things before I take action.
- Show up and practice in public – this is a more outward version of creative play – keep that lively energy, but apply it to the content, offerings, and ideas you’re putting out into the world.
- Break your to-do list down – if I’m procrastinating on a task, it’s often because it’s is too big and needs to be broken down into smaller steps.
Balancing input and output in your business is vital for your creativity. It’s about recognising the seasonality in your business, and embracing it. By doing that, you nurture growth and sustainability. So here’s to the art of balancing and to a business that thrives every season.