Avoiding Design Burnout with Long Projects

While this topic comes up a lot in the spectrum of career-long cycles, an interesting perspective was brought up to me last evening.

Stay focused on the long road ahead.

After sharing with design students about lessons I’ve learned throughout my career so far, I opened up questions at the end. One was close to home for me, because I’ve felt this way a lot. The student mentioned a project that I spoke about. The project took a few months to complete, and the student related it to times when he’s worked on a design for a few weeks before feeling burned out on it.

I have been there. I tend to be such a curious type that I’m ready for the next new challenge fast, and I’ve seen that pattern in myself. I like to sprinkle in short term projects to help with this. I also have found some effective ways of staying focused and inspired. Additionally, these approaches ensure a more successful result for longer term projects.

  1. Find fresh inspiration. This is probably the most obvious point that many turn to, and it’s not without merit. The way to make this worth your time though, is by finding fresh sources. Try not to keep returning to the same ones that made you get stuck in the vacuum in the first place.
  2. Revisit the original requirements. 99% of the time I felt burned out, it was because I was still missing a piece of the puzzle, or lacking direction in some way. You need to take initiative to finding out what that is to keep moving. After you gain more experience, you will know how to gather everything up front earlier on.
  3. Revisit the reason for the project. Remind yourself what problem you’re trying to solve. Ask questions — are you using the right technique to product the best results? Have you tried to force a certain technique or method? Stepping back can give you a new perspective. If this means you need to meet in person with a customer who is experiencing the problem you are solving, do it. When you feel empathy once again, you will feel motivation bubble up.
  4. Don’t be afraid to change directions. It’s easy to get stuck going a certain direction for too long. For me, sometimes a change means pushing myself against the deadline a little more than I’m comfortable with (at that moment). Ultimately, it results in a better piece of work.

The longer the project, the more important it is to set milestones with reviews throughout your process. Often, this time gets spent reviewing how far a project has come. Spend some time making sure it aligns with business goals and original problems. Sometimes you may even find a new problem to solve and that’s ok.

Always ask “Why?”.

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