We often don’t realize that we’re suffering from burnout until it’s too late. Here at 99u, we write a lot about burnout, a serious subject concerning many creative professionals. Recently, we discussed the 3 Kinds of Burnout as well as 11 Ways to Avoid Burnout. We also explored How Overachievers Stay Sane and briefly touched on How to Spot Burnout (and Recover).
The burnout process has been divided into 12 phases by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North. In a Scientific American Mind article, the stages are outlined as such:
- The Compulsion to Prove Oneself; demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
- Working Harder; an inability to switch off.
- Neglecting Their Needs; erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
- Displacement of Conflicts; problems are dismissed, we may feel threatened, panicky and jittery.
- Revision of Values; values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant, work is only focus.
- Denial of Emerging Problems; intolerance, perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined, social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
- Withdrawal; social life small or non-existent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
- Odd Behavioural Changes; changes in behaviour obvious, friends and family concerned.
- Depersonalization; seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceive own needs.
- Inner Emptiness; feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
- Depression; feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
- Burnout Syndrome; can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.
When we push our creativity and productivity to its limits, we can easily find ourselves teetering on brink of burnout. And there’s a fine line between being in the zone and falling down the slippery slope of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. Therefore it’s worth occasionally referring back to this list to self-diagnose.
Figure out what you stand for and what you believe in, and use that as your point of difference. In a crowd of designers, how will you stand apart? If you’re guilty of leading with what you do, start with why you do it and articulate that on your materials, website and social channels. Find out where your talents and values meet, and use that to leverage the power of your purpose.
Your “why” is a powerful driving force for your life and career. It provides a common goal that directs your actions and provides the dedication to get there. In addition, passion is contagious. Your excitement will excite others who will want to get involved in what you do. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
The sooner you share your ideas, the sooner you will find a solution that works for everyone. Try to collaborate with your clients during the design process instead of simply presenting to them at the end. That’s what digital strategist Michelle Campbell learned during the SXSW Interactive Festival:
At agencies, we’ve grown used to spending weeks on one idea only to have it thrown away at the last minute. If we opened up this process to more sharing — among ourselves and our clients — we’d have more time to build and evolve better ideas.
Your clients may not know much about design, but they are experts in their industries. Getting their feedback early on will prevent you from getting attached to an idea that isn’t going to work. Campbell reminds us:
… we often rely on people with the word “creative” in their title for ideas, but we forget that inspiration isn’t taught. It comes from real life, and anyone can bring that to the table.
A recent study found that the average worker loses approximately 80 hours per years as a result of disorganization. That’s nearly two weeks of vacation! When invoices, receipts, contracts. and drafts are piled up everywhere, you’re likely to waste hours shuffling papers from one pile to another.
Ann Gomez of Clear Concept Inc. emphasizes the touch it once principle:
Process each task the first time you touch it.
Triage effectively with Gomez’s one touch rule – as soon as you get it, act on it, delegate it, file it or throw it away. And don’t just stop at paper – this principle easily applies to phone calls, emails and social media notifications.
It’s a simple trick to help you batch your work into scheduled, focus blocks: you won’t open an email until you’re ready to give it your full attention, or you’ll decline to accept your coworker’s rough draft until later when you know you’ll have the time to sit down and do it.
There are two leading problems with the average brainstorming session, as researchers at the Kellogg School of Management explain :
- In a typical six- or eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking.
- Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation.
One of the researchers (as well as author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration), Professor Leigh Thompson, remarks that the dominant people don’t realize that they’re doing most of the talking. “In fact,” she says, “they vehemently argue that meetings are egalitarian.”
The solution to these lop-sided meetings is brainwriting, instead of brainstorming. Thompson describes brainwriting as “the simultaneous written generation of ideas.” She breaks it down the process as such:
Step 1: Write just one sentence each. For the first five or 10 minutes of your next idea-generation meeting, every team member writes down one good idea or one proposed solution on, say, each of a small stack of index cards.
Step 2: Consider the idea, not the source. When the timer goes off, all cards are submitted anonymously and taped or thumbtacked to a wall for the whole team’s consideration.
Step 3: Put it to a blind vote. Team members signal their interest in an idea by marking it with a sticker or a Post-it note. Everyone gets a limited number of stickers and, if done right, the best ideas emerge quickly.
In an interview with The Guardian, designer Tom Dixon comments on how counterculture has become mainstream, leaving no room for rebellion in design:
I’ve got a theory that it’s almost impossible now to be countercultural because everything is endorsed. Look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show on punk. There’s nothing that isn’t authorised. Everything in fashion and in furniture has become super-legitimised. By the time it’s out there and blogged, it’s over.
Instead designing for or against trends, Dixon strives for his work to have staying power. Products are created for a specific purpose or “as ideas suggested themselves.” Either way, it’s always on his own accord and not because of what others are doing.
Researchers have found that the best way to learn something is to teach as you learn. Over at PsyBlog, Jeremy Dean explains why:
People recall more and learn better when they expect to teach that information to another person, a new study finds…
The likely reason why this fairly simple trick works is that it tends to automatically activate more successful learning strategies, the kind routinely used by teachers…
The authors explain: “When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure. Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”
If you want to learn a new language, how to program, or anything else for that matter: find a friend to teach as you learn. You’ll retain more information, be better equipped to use it, and help someone else out too.