If you have been working in the Web Industry for a while you would have been burnt out to some degree at one time or another. If you haven’t you’re kidding yourself. It has been my experience, over the years that the industry tends to promote a very dangerous lifestyle of an overwork ethic. You know the score, working long hours, working endlessly week in week out. This can lead to isolation (more on this later), depression and burnout.
Burnout is dreaded within the design community. Burnout is that horrible time when the ideas don’t flow any more. We all personally know of at least a few people that have even left the industry altogether due to burnout. Which is extremely sad; if not a massive loss of skill and talent?
Are we the cause of the burnout?
You know the routine; you have a mountain of work. It seems endless, not that you are complaining. The boss / clients are on your back. You can’t see the end of the tunnel. Sound familiar?
Then suddenly the ideas will not come, when you need them most! You just can’t find the spark for the next design; the muse has died. What to do? Panic, quit, and just churn out some old reworked design.
The question really is what is causing the burnout in the first place:
- Is the work environment not encouraging creativity is there a work ethic of just get the job done and out the door with no really regards to design professionalism?
- Are you stagnating, are you all out of ideas. Are you doing the same thing week in week out to the point that the design that is being worked on seems immaterial and the same as the one that was done last week (when its not).
- Are you coping with the workload? Are the major projects getting done or are you spending all your time on the little jobs?
- Are you living at the office, or working from home, and spending very little time away from a work environment?
Its human nature to want to produce the best you can, but are you forcing this issue personally. Considering the hours of work and professional development time required in the web industry. Is the web industry itself to blame, are we burning people out? Are we expecting too much from people, especially new graduates. Jennifer Senior at the New York Magazine tends to think so.
I know that there is a range of web design firms, ranging from the people destroying sweatshops to the ones that are considering that people are more important that the work they are doing. As in any industry we have the entire gambit. But the real concern is the underlying ethic or degree of professionalism that causes people to want to finish the application or design at any personal cost. Is the industry to blame for this or the individual?
What can be done?
So if we are being burnout out what can we do about it? A lot of it I have found comes down to stress, anxiety and professional stagnation. So let’s try and reduce those:
Look around you. Turn the computer off
We all work long hours at our computers, but really you can get a lot of inspiration from your environment (outside of the office). Go for a walk, notice the natural patterns in things, (take photos of them for future reference), visit you local library, grab a bunch of old magazines (theses are great for design ideas) or go to a bookshop and buy a few books, look for design mediums outside the one you are working in. Listen to music, not just the usual tracks; expand your music tastes try something new.
Tell people you are over loaded.
If you have too much work on; tell your boss, tell clients. In general people understand. Clients have come to use your services, from you or your firm. They are usually willing to wait. You can get overstressed on the project list and think only about the workload and not on the project / design at hand.
Look at the way you deal with the work.
Sometimes burnout is because you are wasting time or not spending enough time doing the task. Have a close look at what you are doing and how you are doing it; this is what you need to manage not your time.
Don’t get isolated
Talk to peers, talk to mentors; get direct face to face contact with people, don’t get into the habit of working without people contact for long period of time. Don’t just IM people or ringing a client on skype. This gives you the chance to see new things, talk about non work related topics and be generally exposed to a different environment.
Get some exercise
Creativity comes from a healthy sharp mind and that comes easily if the body supporting the mind is healthy too. Go for a walk, go to the gym, take up a sport, just get active and get the blood flowing, it will clear your head and again expose you to new senses.
Get some sleep
Don’t work 18 hours days, don’t work till you drop asleep at the computer. Yes we all do it from time to time. I’m guilty of that too. But do not make a habit of it. Three times a week is a habit. Your body needs to sleep, it needs to recover from the stresses you have put on it. Sleep is the natural way to recharge you mental creative batteries too.
The more rested the brain generally the better the creativity. Anyway you know that you’re almost non productive after a certain hour of night. If you work beyond this hour you usually have to rework that night’s effort in the morning. Isn’t this double the effort? Wouldn’t it be easier to just do it in the morning in most cases?
Mind you if you are sleeping too much, that’s another problem, frankly you are avoiding life.
Take a break short or long
Your mind can become too focused on the task at hand that you can’t see the solution in front of you. Hence you need to recharge. During the day at least once an hour, refocus; take a break for 5 minutes, recharge, get up out of the seat and walk around.
Take holidays, or at least take time off when your clients are quiet. Use the long weekends, get away from the Internet and your mobile phone, and go discover that there is a life outside of the web. Socialise with people face to face. Have a weekend, chill out and calm down, and don’t turn the computer on.
Do something new
Stagnation is a big creativity killer. It’s easy to just keep on pushing out the same jobs and same way. Why not change them slightly, implement some new ideas, learn something new, and expand your knowledge base. Challenge yourself.
If you don’t do it professionally, then take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, and take up a new sport.
Fire the client or move jobs
Well after all this, you still can’t get rid of the burnout blues, consider it maybe you need to move on to a different firm or the client needs to move on.
The secret with all this is be doing all of the above constantly. It’s a well rounded lifestyle that with protect you from the burnout blues. You need to get your life back. If you do the burnout time to recovery should be shorter. Burnout will still happen, but as I have found it will be shorter in duration.