"and it burns burns burns...the ring of fire" - Johnny Cash
There’s this assumption sometimes that designers can just crank out design after design like an asembly line. Like there’s some sort of endless fountain of creativity we just tap into whenever needed. “I need a logo could you have that done in a day?” Deadlines and pressures to be insanely productive vs. extremely creative are always present as the mighty dollar speaks volume for business. But a burned out designer is going to be useless to your organization. and if they don’t have understanding or even encouragement of designers stepping away from the computer once in a while you might have a bigger problem on your hands. Recognize the signs of burnout before it takes hold
1. extreme fatigue
2. a general apathy of well pretty much everything
3. Low mood and energy
4. lack of motivation
5. lack of passion
6. decline in quality of work
I know these signs because I struggle with them I’m definitely a prime candidate to take my own advice ad I’m a workaholic, perfectionist, and insanely self critical. This has left to frequently pushing myself into frequent burnouts. But the good news is I’m taking steps to help myself and here’s some things I can recommend that not only a designer should do but anyone in the creative business take
1. Step away from the computer. Can’t seem to get any idea out at all. Go away from your computer, take a walk, go to the bookstore, go see a movie, play with the kids, visit an art museum. Just stop trying to rack your brain right now. The answer will come to you when your not thinking about it.
2. Get walking, get exercising!!! There’s a program on my computer called timeout I use that literally fades out my computer screen and forces me to take a 10 minute break ever hour or so (sometimes I have to hit snooze…ok a lot). I try to walk the stairs and take a trip around the parking lot and get that blood flowing. Without oxygen flowing to your brain you certainly aren’t going to get any inspiration.
3. Get talking. chat with others in the office, make a phone call, talk to a friend. Get a bit get their opinion or just talk a bit about what your working on. They could offer a valuable differing view on your problem. Voice to them your concerns about the unrealistic workloads or how you need some help or a break. Hopefully they’ll be understanding if not you maybe in a bad job situation to begin with and that’s a whole other problem. Also find other designers and chat with them. Get involved in community organizations and things that help you gain inspiration from others.
4. Have something else beside design work that you can do as a hobby. Wether writing or music playing or boat building. You need to have something that allows you to change gears and tap that creative parts of your brain in other ways. It stimulates other creative thinking approaches that may help you on future projects or current design problems. It gives your brain a rest. THE TV IS NOT one of these things. Read a book instead.
5. If you need to..then take time off!!! nobody is going to die if your not at work a day or two but you might shorten your own life if you don’t. This is design for goodness sake you’re not an air traffic controller at LAX. in fact those people need even more time off for as stressful and important as their job is. When was the last time you did something fun? Life is too short not to enjoy it. Spend time with your family, friends, go somewhere and do something new.
6. Take big jobs into small tasks and write them out or get them into a task list. Realize that with all that info floating around in your head it seems much bigger than it actually is. Here’s a good example of how something can expand it your mind. imagine a swirling line and try to image in ever ending…you can always make the swirl bigger in your head and continually zoom in. Our brain loves to blow things out of proportion because it’s pretty much endless what our thoughts can imagine things to be. Take some of the low hanging fruit…the simple tasks you can get out of the way easily before jumping into that big creative problem. Your brain may already come up with a solution while working on the small tasks.
7. Find an environment that inspires your creativity. If your surroundings are dull and lifeless then they are they’re going to affect your mood and motivation to one degree or another. change the scenery, put up artwork, surround your desk with fun toys, work from home, work from a coffee shop, work from a parking lot…whatever works to give you a fresh environment.
8. Sleep! Get some more! American’s are significantly sleep deprived. Some people claim get their best creative inspiration late at night. ( I’m definitely one of those.) but that doesn’t mean you have to wrap up that whole project that night. Get your thoughts down and attack it some more in the morning. Or if possible change your work schedule to allow you to have your best creative time and still get adequate sleep and get the job done.
9. What the heck are you eating?! garbage in garbage out. I can testify to the fact that poor eating will result in sluggish thinking. Caffeine might jump start you a few times but for the long haul you need to watch that sugar and fat intact and eat foods that give nutrition to your brain and body.
10. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Creatives have a tendancy to have all sorts of zanny ideas of things they want to try, or design,or produce. There’s no need to try to do them all at the same time. Don’t take on 5 freelance gigs, try to start a business, do your taxes, write a book, and cure cancer all in the same week. You’re not doing any of those projects any service and you’ll just ending hating doing them. Learn to delegate when you can as well to help on them over time.
So that about sums up everything I recommend to fight and avoid Creative burnout. I’m speaking from constantly struggling against the beast so this advice is just as much a checklist for myself as anyone else in the creative field. If you have other suggestions I’d love to hear them of what has worked for you.