How to Avoid Designer Burnout

By   |  Stashed in Webdesign

If you’ve been doing design for any amount of time you can probably relate to the feeling of being burned out. Most of the designer’s that I’ve spoke with consistently put in 60+ hour work weeks. It’s no wonder so many of us get so drained. Working that much can bring your productivity and creativity to a screeching halt. But don’t fear, here are some areas that you can focus on to help you avoid getting burned out.

Know Your Priorities

prioritiesDoing your work is important, but it shouldn’t be your sole focus. It’s important for you to leave time for other things that you love; your family, your faith, your hobbies, etc… The keyword in this equation is balance. Finding the right mixture, without doing too much of one thing, will help you avoid reaching a tipping point.


Schedule Your Work

scheduleIf you are a full time freelancer it can be quite easy to get so absorbed in a project that you work all day, and into the night without taking any sort of significant break. You’re best served to dedicate scheduled hours for work, and scheduled hours for non-work. It’s one thing to say that you’ll do that, and it’s quite another to actually follow through on those committed hours. However, by sticking to a schedule you’ll avoid over working yourself and zapping your creative drive.


Take Time For Vacation

vacationAlong those same lines, it’s very important to schedule vacation time. Sure, scheduling your work time is good, but sometimes you just need to completely unplug. Taking a week or two of vacation time away from the computer can go a long way toward re-energizing you. And it’s a great way to find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. After all, design is all around you, not just on a computer screen.


Learn Something New

booksThere’s nothing more draining to a creative individual than monotonous tasks; yet we often get stuck in a rut of creating only things that we are comfortable with. It’s important to your growth and your drive to consistently challenge yourself. So be willing to try a new color scheme, or learn a new technology. You will help yourself grow and avoid getting burned out.


Work On Your Communication

phonePoor communication can often lead to frustration for you and your client, and major redesigns. The tedious chore of starting a design over can easily burn out your creative flame. You can successfully avoid most of these issues by improving your listening and communication skills. The key is to make a conscious effort to understand what the client wants before jumping to conclusions about what you think they should want.


What Do Other Designer’s Do?

I reached out to the design community to find out how they avoid designer’s burnout. Their responses were spot on, check out what they had to say.

Tracey Gradey – Tracey Gradey Design

Burnout can happen when you have high levels of stress, long work hours (without adequate breaks) or monotonous, unchallenging work over an extended period of time. Ideally you want to avoid these, but depending on your work circumstances that’s not always easy to do. I think the best thing is to constantly keep your mind and your body stimulated. First of all, get up from the computer and get moving! Take a decent break in the middle of your work day and go for a walk; in addition, make some regular time during the week for exercise. Second, it helps if you have an interesting project you can focus some energy on; this could be some personal design work in your own time, maybe even something to update your portfolio. Or it could be something to look forward to, like a holiday (and make sure you’re taking enough of those, too). It’s all about keeping the grind in balance with the things that invigorate you.

Aaron Iriazarry – This Is Aaron’s Life

For me time away from the computer always helps. Depending on the situation… i think it is crucial to take time for me, work on special/fun projects of my own, or just getting away from the cpu all together by hanging out with my family or friends. Going to a show, going out for dinner, or to see a movie. Sometimes by experiencing someone else’s creativity I am also refreshed (movies, books, art shows, music). I guess maybe the key is to notice when the burnout is coming, and slow down and take inventory, find out why we are felling that way, then choose the appropriate “remedy”.

Liam McKay – Function

For me, finding something new to challenge yourself with is the key to avoiding a Burnout. Sometimes I find myself stuck, I feel that I’m not really pushing myself to try new things in a design, so I’ll go away and work on a personal project, either fictional or something real I’m working on and create something that I wouldn’t normally do. Include something in a design that I’d not normally think to do. Try a new style, new layout, new colour scheme, just anything to get me away from what I am used to. I’ve sort of promised myself to push to include something new in each one of my designs, rather than sticking to what I know, that way I can try and avoid the burnout striking while I’m half way through a project.

Jacob Cass – Just Creative Design

I avoid burnout by regularly going on holidays whether it be a short one week break or maybe a month or two, it is really refreshing and I highly recommend it!

Grant Friedman – Colorburned

I tend to get burned out whenever I take on a project that might be a bit over my head. I’ve found that the best way to avoid getting burned out in this situation is to surround myself with designers who’s skill sets compliment my own. That way I can work on the aspect of the project that compliments my strengths and they can do the same. I’ve found that under these circumstances that burnout is minimal while satisfaction with the final project is high.

AJ Troxell – Phire Design

Designers burnout I believe is a common problem that every designers has from time to time. And often it is caused by outside sources and not the design process itself. Such as worrying about bills, or something stressful at home, or an illness that you have recently acquired. Anything that can impede your design thought or your “flow”. Since more often than not, it is outside sources causing this block, I find that it is usually a good idea to use outside sources to prevent this possibility. Such as having a designated area of your home or office to do your brainstorming or your designs. Maintaining a relatively healthy lifestyle can give you the mental energy required to maintain your flow, as well as the physical energy to maintain your schedule. I also somehow manage to find time to do things that are “fun” but will also provide inspiration, such as going to the local park and taking some pictures or playing with my daughter outside with our dog. Burnout is often harder to get out of than it is to get in to, so my ultimate goal, is to never get in to it, by keeping my work/home like organized and knowing what my goals are for projects and/or clients.

Matt Cronin – Spoonfed Design

Designer burnout is something that is bound to happen, even if you enjoy your work. The best possible solution to this is stepping away from your work. You may think that by doing so you will be losing valuable time, but stepping away periodically will help you to be more productive when you are in fact working. To take this a step further, get away from the computer and get outside to exercise. Fresh air, sunlight, and exercise all help your body by releasing different chemicals that will in turn make you more happy, and overall more productive. On the topic of health, a good night sleep and healthy eating will help you feel better. In a nutshell, staying healthy is the easiest way to avoid designer burnout.

Your Turn

Join the discussion. What do you do to avoid getting burned out?

About the Author

Andrew is a primary contributer for MyInkBlog. He is a full time web developer for Niagara University. When he's not working there, he's a blogger, twitter'er, wordpress'er, silverstripe advocate, blessed father and husband.

More posts by


  • Josiah Jost | Siah Design

    Excellent article. I totally agree with all the points but especially the first three.

    Keeping a schedule or to do list has really helped me stay focused and efficient with my work. It also helps avoid the ‘overwhelming’ feeling when you know you have a lot of jobs on the go.

    Josiah Jost | Siah Design´s last post was… Interviewed on

  • Aaron Irizarry

    Thanks for the chance to give my input, great read!

  • Antonea Nabors

    Great read Andrew!

    It is so important for a designer to make limits opposed to knowing their limits! I could sit and work from 8am to 12am and be so spent, but happy that I finished my work. This is poor practice and leaves me exhausted for the following work day. My limits are endless thats why I make it a habit to cut off anything work related by the latest 8pm. The most useful information I can give to any designer (especially freelance designers) is to schedule your work around your life, and not your life around your work.

    I have written an article about staying motivated while freelancing that has some very useful comments attached to it on ways and tips to stay refreshed on the while on the job.


    Antonea Nabors´s last post was… Banks and Business Cards

  • Andrew Houle

    @Josiah – Gotta love the to-do lists. I get a little crazy with the posties!

    @Aaron – Thanks, so glad you shared your perspective.

    @Antonea – Thanks for sharing your post. It was a very good read, it seems we are very much on the same page here.

  • Danh ba web 2.0
  • Seikensy

    Really good read. Thanks for pointers…. For me getting away and surfing seems to provide the balance. That goes in the getting away from the cpu category.

  • David Bolton

    Excellent article!

    You may well have written that for me! I am a keen web developer and designer that suffers with the dreaded ‘block’. Some of these tips are now going to be placed firmly into my arsenal.


  • Manda Szewczyk

    This is a fantastic post, and advice that I need to follow. As a new business owner, it is my nature to say yes to everything and work all hours of the day and night to try to please my clients. I’m hoping that I will find a balance eventually.

    I’m not to the point yet where I can afford to take holidays, so I try to break up my day by taking my dogs for a walk, calling a friend on the phone, or watching an episode of The Office.

    I’m also surprised to find that Twitter has been a great help in my quest to stay creatively charged. When I feel a lull coming on, I jump on Twitter and start checking out what awesome links have been floating around. After looking at a few good blog posts, I’m usually motivated to get back to work.

    Manda Szewczyk´s last post was… 8 Common Graphic Design Myths Revealed

  • Nick

    Great post.

    I always seem to find myself only really advancing my style when I want to redesign my website or portfolio, and not on clients work, and on my own time.

    It’s usually random too.

    Getting outside is the biggest thing for me…if I’m in my house all day, my eyes start to hurt and I feel like I’m detached from the rest of the world.

    Nick´s last post was… WordPress: Customize the_content(); to Generate Your Own HTML/CSS Image & “More” Link

  • s

    nice post. good , and thank you for allowing my design to show in your flickr account, i opena new site. where my friends post there work for free. see it, its just a beginnging iam an animation student.

    s´s last post was… Maya Works: Amit Sangwan

  • Justin

    Whoa… this site is pretty awesome :) your layout is really well designed, and your blogs are (judging from what i’ve read) very interesting. heehee… consider yourself favorited. :-P

  • Andrew Houle

    @Justin – Glad to hear you like the site. btw, nice gravatar :)

  • Mariusz

    Interesting post, describing most things I do. One thing I’d like to add from my side though is – change your environment. As a creative, it’s very easy to burn out if you’re working in a static environment like office or home. Go crazy, work from pub, take few days out of town to work etc. That’s what I often do, that’s why I decided to be employed as a 9-to-5 designer only for 75% contract, not 100% – I have Fridays off, which lets me take my fiancee and drop out of town, not only to admire views, but also work in the evenings. Often I do most work on trips like that just because changing environment lets me recharge my creativity batteries.
    .-= Mariusz´s last blog ..Should we still optimize for 1024×768? =-.

  • Ken

    Some excellent advice that also can relate to many other aspects of your life as well. Good things to know.