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After a recent bout of what I can describe as mild burnout, I polled the people around me – for whom communication and creativity are crucial – for advice. After listening to Hannah Donovan and others, I realized how widespread an issue it was – and how all we could benefit from talking about it.

My experience with burnout came late last year, when I was elbows-deep in writing an article about how our team rallied to redesign a template. I’d committed hundreds of words to a draft already, but then, couldn’t. A month or so later, I was still pushing back deadlines, with no intention of returning to the task. Thankfully, I had no lack of other duties to do, but my inability to knuckle down and write was well, becoming a bit of a blocker.

It’s a strange thing – burnout is almost something that we discuss like it’s the winter flu, and yet it can be absolutely crippling, like mental RSI. The people I’ve spoken to – designers, engineers, content creators – talk about how they can feel it coming on, like a telltale pinch in the hand. Then when left unattended, it happens.

Thankfully, I didn’t find myself alone – at Webstock last month, Hannah Donovan discussed the major wall she hit, immediately after relocating to Hong Kong for what should have seemed like a dream opportunity.
I found the talk both troubling and reassuring. Troubling, because if someone like Hannah who seemingly gets to work on exciting, high profile projects was getting worn out, then creative burnout was happening at every level. The reassuring part was that Hannah eventually found a workaround – in part, through drawing animals – that allowed her to re-frame and resume her work.

I liked the idea of stepping into a totally different creative discipline to overcome burnout, but thought I’d discuss this with my teammates. Here’s what they said:

Adham DannawayI know that creatives are often advised to do something “out of the ordinary” to cure creative block, but as a UI/UX Designer I often find the opposite approach to be more effective.

“Creativity” for a UI/UX Designer is all about problem solving, which requires thought and focus. When I’m struggling with a design problem, I don’t “knit a scarf”… Instead, I do the opposite and try to increase my focus and understanding of the problem.

I often look to others in the field for ideas, inspiration and feedback – whether that’s by bouncing ideas off the person sitting next to me, or simply by browsing online to see how others have solved similar design problems. The more ideas you’re exposed to, the greater chance you’ll have of breaking through… So next time you come up against a creative wall, resist the urge to “knit a scarf” and instead dig that little bit deeper.Adham, UI/UX Designer

Chris BowlerI find myself nodding my head to both lines of thinking. Adham raises a good thought – in our over-subscribed, distracted current work environments, it’s way too easy to stop working at the first sign of friction and start queueing up Buzzfeed and Devour. So I admire folks who can keep the brain focused on the problem at hand for a longer duration.

On the other side, I very much appreciate contrast. What Hannah is getting at, I think, is a shift in context and focus can help when you’re stuck to find the right solution. I’m thankful for necessity – I have a family and home to care for and those allow me to get away from the computer and work with my hands. All my best ideas come when I’m shoveling or chopping wood (or in the shower).

The best approach is a balance of the two. Chris, Support

Personally, I did a few things – both consciously and otherwise. I was vocal about how I was feeling about the aforementioned article (which was met with a lot of understanding) and a few weeks later, I attended a public speaking workshop. One of the talks there was on storytelling and the 3 Act Structure, which provided me with an amazing framework for future writing (I’ll cover this in a future post). It was an almost accidental experience, but revolutionary – and it happened only because I decided to try something different.

The other thing worth mentioning is the power of simply talking to other people. Cathy summed this up quite nicely in her advice:

Cathy LillCollaborate! Humans are awesome at taking an idea and building on it. I think it’s way more natural to alternate between phases of working alone and collaborating than to try and do everything perfectly by yourself. I find working through a problem with someone else totally kills that horrible, lonely “all my ideas suck” anxiety.

You can ask for open ended feedback (“How can we make this better?”), work through a problem together or even hand your work over to someone else to iterate on. Being open to ideas and discussion is really important – even feedback you don’t agree with can help crystallise your own ideas.Cathy, Developer

So, it seems our Anti-Burnout Workout sounds something like this – when faced with a block, be tenacious with the problem at hand, but don’t be afraid to visit other creative outlets for inspiration. Plus, there’s always value in approaching others for ideas and feedback – or to simply let them know how you feel.

While we’re on the topic of collaboration, I’d like to turn this over to you. How do you keep creative blocks at bay? Do you draw animals, dig deeper, or turn to others for help? Let us know in the comments below.

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