Deadlines, project management, chasing payments, being creative under pressure… it all adds up.
From my personal experience and that of managing other designers, I can state one simple fact. Stress is almost always completely self-induced and easily avoided by following a few simple ideas.
A lot of people start a company on their own and end up pulling out their own hair under stress within the first few months – it doesn’t have to be that way, though.
How to identify when you are stressed
It sounds obvious, but many people only realize they are stressed when they have already bitten off all their nails and are looking for the ejector seat button from work. A key step to overcoming work-based stress is to simply recognize when things are getting to you:
- Are you thinking about the project outside of working hours or when you are supposed to be working on another client’s project?
- Are you eating more / less? Drinking lots of coffee or nipping to the corner shop for far too many bars of chocolate? Or was your heart racing like you had already had two espresso shots before you even drank them?
- Does the thought of doing the work terrify you as much as the thought of it being delivered late?
Ticked any of the above? You are stressed. Take a deep breath. And another.
Now remember what happens when you are stressed and how you feel – this is your key to spotting it before it gets to the real panic stage. Remember, stress is a useful short-term reaction. It is there to let you know when you are about to panic and help you escape danger.
The trick is to do something about it ASAP before your real ‘fight or flight’ reactions kick in, which are counter-productive to the way we work today.
The first things to do when you feel stressed
As soon as you feel stressed you can regain control of the situation very easily, allowing you to solve whatever is causing it, by following these easy steps:
- Take a deep breath – this really works. Your body has made your breathing faster and shallower in case you need to run away from a predator. So, unless your stress is caused by a lion entering the office, you really ought to slow it down. This helps you to think clearly.
- Take a step back – if it helps, walk around the office or go get a cup of tea. Anything reassuring and easy to do which helps remove you emotionally from the work at hand just for a minute. Many people find a quick 5 minute walk in the fresh air helps a lot as well. If your deadlines are longer than the next few hours a quick swim in the gym or even a 10 minute shower can really help clear your mind and reset your stress levels.
- Make a plan…
Getting everything clearly laid out and attacking it sensibly
Planning the work will not only get everything out your head and onto paper (freeing up brain power for actually working productively) but help you assess the situation.
First, write down the key goals for the project. If it has multiple parts break them down chronologically in order of delivery. Break the goals down into each broad sub-point they have.
So your website design may have sub-points for each page template. This can show you that the 10 pages you need to design are actually only 4 pages templates and then 6 more pages which are the same with altered content. This lets you see how much work you really have. Next, identify which ones need to be done first and when they are due.
Decide if this is realistic. Be honest.
If it is realistic
Put the list of things you need to do right now in front of you. Put the rest of the list in a drawer. Work through the plan in the order laid out, ticking off each item as you go along. This helps prove to yourself that you’re making progress as well as keeping track of things.
Deliver the work on time, and breathe a sigh of relief.
If it is not realistic
Decide what you can do on time. If you said you would have 10 pages designed perhaps you could say you now have time for 5 key pages. If you said you could develop the whole site perhaps you can get the main framework up and key features only for the deadline. Pick a suitable amount of work you are sure you can deliver in the time and do well.
Contact the client as soon as possible. Let them know you are sorry and offer to deliver the new volume of work. Give a realistic deadline for the rest of the work as well.
Get cracking with your new lightened workload!
If you need an extension
Break down the project into milestones if possible, and put realistic deadlines on these.
Contact the client as soon as possible. Let them know you are sorry and offer the new project plan.
Get cracking and ensure you meet the new deadline if it is agreed. Apologise profusely and understand when you are beat. If you cannot get your extension, offer to help them find a company who can help, if you know anyone else you can recommend.
Bring in another pair of hands
Is the work something you can hire someone to help you with? Sometimes breaking even but keeping the client happy is worth paying someone else to help out. Break down which tasks you can bring in help on and if this alters how realistic the deadlines are. Remember to build in time to check the sub-contractors‘ work quality and give amends.
Just do it!
If the work is more grindstone and less creative inspiration – could you do it in the time? Is it worth cancelling a weekend or working extra hours? Remember, working overtime needs to be the exception rather than the rule for a good work life balance, is this one of those exceptions?
Move another project
If you are working on multiple projects – can anything else be moved to make room for this work?
Bex White is Senior Creative at Blink Design Studio