7 Ways I Deal With Designer Burnout

By April 11, 2014 8 Comments

I got an email the other day from a vivacious designer named Julie who wrote me this:

“Hello Bianca,

I love, love your writing and your blog posts! Curious, have you ever written about creative people’s burnout? Entrepreneur / Author / Designer / CeO / Mom / Wife = I often burn out about once a month!!!”

Don’t you just love her title? I do!

Anyway, being that I am one that regularly burns the candle at both ends (then grabs a pallet of them to churn and burn some more), it got me thinking…. How often do I burnout? And what do I do about it when I do?

(BTW, thanks Julie, this one’s for you!)

Knowing the signs of burnout can be all it takes to avoid it

I’m no stranger to burnout. In fact I’d go as far as to say I’m quite the elite pro these days.

My biggest burnout was just last year when I spent 9 months solid working 80-100 hour weeks to bring my  ProPartner Program to life. I honestly felt like I gave birth to a 400-pound baby elephant after we launched but the hardest part was that I couldn’t take a break. I had to keep pushing on full throttle for another 3 months afterwards due to commitments we’d made to 50 of our very special partners.

So it wasn’t until October that I actually got to take a week off to recuperate and boy did I need it.

I was seriously burnt out with a capital ‘B’. Imagine running on empty for 12 months. Every day was all work and no play; late nights, no breaks, no exercise, no social time, no me time, nothing but work, work, and more work.

Man, it was draining.

It’s probably what your life sounds like at times. You’re building your design business…. and building…. and building and building. No rest, no play, just go, go, go to get to the next goal post?

You say to yourself “If I can just get this client job wrapped up, then I’ll a week off” but that day never comes.

Sound familiar? If so, stop now! Be aware of what’s looming around the corner.

In my case, my health took a big hit. I gained a lot of weight. I got bags under my eyes, my skin got worse, my stomach started to bloat, it was horrible. I started to not care about myself as much because I had no energy to care anymore. And I was seriously starting to resent the mammoth beast of a business I’d created.

Why did I let it grow so big so fast? Why did I push so hard? For what?

I was getting frustrated with my team, with Simon, my family, myself…. anything that moved pissed me off!

Something had to give. I took a big step back, took a good look inward and starting working on turning things around. I learnt a lot during that time which I hope can save you from some of the pain I went through figuring it out.

So before I share with you my methods for curing burnout, it’s good to first be aware of the signs…

Are you suffering from any of these symptoms?

  • You feel completely exhausted.
  • The very thought of writing emails to clients annoys you.
  • You’re creativity is waning. You can’t get any concepts to work the way you want.
  • You lack motivation.
  • You get increasingly frustrated, cynical and negative toward everyone around you.
  • You find it hard to focus and concentrate on anything.
  • You start to have conflicts with people at home and/or at work.
  • You withdraw from the world and start to tune out all the time.
  • You stop taking care of yourself (this was a big one for me!)
  • You stop getting enough sleep.
  • You wake up at 2am and lie in bed for hours thinking about work.
  • You’re consumed by work, even after hours and on weekends, it’s always on your mind.
  • You’re generally more dissatisfied with everything at work and at home.
  • You start to see problems arise with your health like digestive issues, depression and even weight gain.
  • And lastly (because unfortunately I’m guilty of this when I start to burn out) you drink alcohol more often to numb the pain, stop the mind from working so hard and try and sleepbetter. I was almost at the stage where I was having a few wines every night (which in most cases turned into a bottle every night!)

They can creep up on you, trust me. So here’s what I do…

Here are the top 7 ways I deal with burnout:

1. Get away and just unplug.

Everyone says this I know, but for good reason.

My all time favourite thing to do is go out on our boat for a weekend and just unplug… I mean completely detach from the world. I’m lucky enough that (a) we have a boat and (b) we live in the Whitsundays which has 74 of the most gorgeous islands in Australia.

After giving birth to my elephant last year, we packed our boat full of food, wine, our joggers, camelbacks and a few James Patterson books before we took off in our boat. (Sidenote: we only got 5km’s out before losing a motor but that didn’t deter us! LOL) I didn’t allow myself any technology at all. We turned our phones off, left our laptops and iPads at home and just switched off.

I can tell you that one week out on the water fishing (I love fishing!), hiking (islands not water), catching up on sleep (about 15 hours a day!) and taking long walks on the beach (yep, we did that too!) I felt like we’d been in Tahiti for 2 months! By day five I was itching to get back to work, and by day six we actually went home a day early because we were so reinvigorated and ready to go again. (I’m addicted to my business, what can I say!)

That particular recharge was a week long, but even when we go just for two days, it seriously feels like two weeks. It’s amazing how much easier it is to recharge simply by pulling the plug on work and technology. It’s not always as easy as it sounds but boy, is it worth it!

Here’s one of the sunsets from the back of our boat that trip…. pretty special eh? (And no, it’s not even Photoshopped!)

2. Meditate. Breathe. Take 10. Just stop.

For years I thought I couldn’t meditate because my mind never stopped racing but then I realised that even just stopping for 10 minutes, closing your eyes and focussing on your breathing is actually meditating. Duh!

I try to meditate every morning for 10-15 minutes as part of my Miracle Morning ritual as I find it really grounds me and gets me focussed for what I need to achieve in the day ahead. If I skip a few days for whatever reason I can notice the difference and burnout starts to creep in.

So even if it’s every few days, for 2 minutes, 10 minutes or an hour, give meditation a go. Guru Bianca says so. 😉

3. Get Active and stay active! Go for a ride, a hike, a walk… whatever!  

I’m still mastering this one myself as I admit, it’s a real struggle for me. I always seem to have an excuse as to why I can’t move my butt and it always revolves around work!  But hear me out…

You have to make exercise (AKA getting the hell away from your desk) a number one priority if you’re to avoid burnout. I know I’m the pot calling the kettle black but hey, you never fail until you stop trying huh?

I bought a vintage pushy in January just so I can feel like a kid again (and look cool, no mistaking that!) but I also love to go for a hike in the rainforest, a walk around the boardwalk or just dawdle around the markets on a Saturday. It just feels so good after you move and get sweaty.

My latest craze is doing Insanity high intensity workouts with Shaun T because I can take him with me when I travel and man, that is some crazy shit right there! But geez I feel so great afterwards and I have the BEST sleeps ever…. which helps prevent burnout…. which funnily enough, leads me to…..

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4. Get more shut-eye.

Fact: Designers need their beauty sleep to keep those creative juices flowing. It’s a tough gig staying creative all the time but our clients demand it, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The last few nights I’ve been working really late then on top of that, staying up past midnight doing a new online course I just signed up for. It’s only been three nights but already I’m heading down the burnout road. I woke up this morning with a big ulcer in my mouth, I felt like I was getting sick, I could barely keep my eyes open and you guessed it, I missed my incredibly insane Shaun T workout!

I also got to the office late this morning and I’m finding it hard to focus today. Not good.

It doesn’t take as long as we think to burn out. It can be as little as a week or as prolonged as a few years but just be aware that getting the shut-eye you need by being in bed before 10pm will help keep the big bad boy at bay. 😉

5. Do a fun project…. off your computer.

What creative guy or gal doesn’t love a good DIY project?! And with Pinterest as every designer’s new best friend, recuperating from burnout can be as easy as finding some fun projects on Pinterest.

I love sewing, painting, knitting etc and since we recently rented an apartment here in Melbourne, home decorating. When I start to feel ‘over it’ and start to get snarly with the world, I jump on Pinterest and find some fun projects to do.

In the past I’ve made wheat packs out of funky fabric for my family and friends, smelly things for their drawers, created handbags, cushions, skirts, knitted headbands, painted artwork, you name it. And every single project I did gave me the creative recharge I needed. Why not give it a try?

6. Get creative in the kitchen.

I can go weeks without cooking not realising why I’m feeling a little low on juice in my creative tank and then BAM, it hits me that I haven’t been in the kitchen for a while.

I love to cook as I find it a real form of art. I love experimenting with different spices, herbs and flavours and I like every meal to be something new. By putting a different spin on things, it makes me feel like I’m doing my creativity justice and keeping things interesting.

(If Simon had his way, he’d have steak, mashed potato, beans and corn every night of the week… it drives me mad!)

But in all seriousness, if I’ve had a big week and I’m feeling a bit frazzled, I’ll do a massive shop at the local markets and spend the whole weekend cooking up a storm. You should come over one day! 🙂

7. Start a herb garden.

There’s something really gratifying about having your own herb and/or vege garden. There’s nothing better than walking out the back door and picking a fresh bunch of coriander to go in your curry rather than racing to the shops to buy it.

Plus the time you spend nurturing your garden is so relaxing and rewarding.  It’s another way for us to express our creativity. (I like to make cute little signs for my herbs also BTW, check those out on Pinterest too!)

So if you find it’s difficult to pull yourself away from your computer, may I suggest starting your own garden? We, as designers, like pretty stuff and there ain’t nothing pretty about a shrivelled up garden so it’s kind of like forced relaxation time, and forced relaxation time means less burnout time!

Failing any of my above suggestions, if you’re burnt out right now and need to get away, you’re always welcome to come and visit me. We’ll take you out on our boat for a few days and you’ll feel reborn. I mean it! The invitation is there. It gets lonely up there sometimes… 😉

So there’s my top 7 ways to cope with burnout, how do you deal with it? What do you do?

What do you think? Share your comments below.


Author Bianca Board

After 20 years inspiring more than 10,000 designers and small business owners to take control of their business, Bianca is now spearheading Foxley, a brand spanking new SaaS platform for designers. She is deeply passionate about helping distil the complexities of running a web design business - to make it easier for all designers to make the leap from designer to design entrepreneur. She’s a translator of web jargon, a lead generation master, a champion for small businesses and you can Google her brain for endless strategies on how to transform your business.

More posts by Bianca Board
  • Oh wow I’ve been feeling much the same way at work lately, especially the emails bit! I would add to that symptoms list: “People around you keep telling you that you need a break”. I’ve set aside some time off to unplug in the next few weeks which I’m really looking forward to as well!

    • Tell me about it! I’ve got people (both professional and personally) who tell me to take a break more often. Thank god I have great family and friends who drag me away from the grind occasionally…. otherwise I’d never leave my Mac!

  • Julie M Holloway

    Love it!! 🙂 🙂

  • Paul Daniel Seliron | Cheap Fl

    “I’m no stranger to burnout. In fact I’d go as far as to say I’m quite the elite pro these days.” Wish you could help me in some ways 🙂 ♥

  • Simao

    Very good post, Bianca!

    Personally, I´ve had a stretch where I was working… well, too much – to put it nicely. I went through a stint of 5 years without having a break / holiday or stop. These came into play and got me through.

    2. Meditate. Breathe. Take 10. Just stop. – Every day, I did breathing exercises / creative visualization 2-3 times a day.

    3. Get Active and stay active! Go for a ride, a hike, a
    walk… whatever! – I played bball at the time, which meant 5-6 days a week of exercise + gym work

    4. Get more shut-eye – definitely a must, to rest properly.
    Not always easy to implement, but you have to fight your brain and just shut it

    I would add healthy nutrition as a staple to your list. It works wonders and it will keep you going through thick and thin.

    • Great tips Simao. Especially the one about getting more shut eye. I’m terrible… I’m so invested in my own business I stay up way to long working on my next project!

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