Dealing with Burnout as a Web Designer

Many people have written articles about burnout in recent years, especially in the web design world. Why is it so many web designers and developers become burnt out from doing work they love?

Update (17th October 2014)

Thank you to everyone who sent me messages on Twitter and thanks to everyone for the overwhelming amount of people reading this little article of mine, I really appreciate it. I’ve now enabled Disqus comments below.

What is Burnout?

You’ve probably heard the term and think you have a fair idea of what causes it, but here’s where you hopefully learn something new. Many people believe that burnout simply comes from working too much, however it’s not always the single cause. Sometimes it stems from not enjoying what you’re doing but there are a handful of other reasons as well. At the bottom of this post I’ve included a comprehensive list of links to other web professionals talking about burn out. I’ve read each article and all are worth your time if you’re feeling this way.

In this article I want to help my fellow web designers find the cause as to why they’re burning out. If you’re suffering from it, as we all do at some point, please get in touch via Twitter because I’d love to talk about it.

Think about a time when you worked really hard on something, got to that home stretch and powered through at near impossible speed. If that’s never happened then you’re most likely in the wrong line of work. Working on something you love is great…in fact it’s the best thing you can do with your time (working time that is).

Other times you do all the work, get to the home stretch and start slacking off. You don’t want to finish because you just don’t have the motivation. Instead of looking at the surface problem maybe it’s time to go deeper and figure out the real reason for all these unwanted feelings.

It’s hard to know where burnout ends and depression begins. There’s a blurred line between the two most of the time and knowing which you need help with is key to solving your problem.

Note: All of the advice below is from personal experience and has worked for me. Please let me know via email or Twitter what works or has worked for you.


3 Signs of Burnout

Cutting Corners

messy-wires

Ever felt a little run down, pretty tired and you just don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to finish what you’re working on, even if you’re nearly finished? This is your mind trying to tell you to stop.

You may want to carry on since you’re nearly finished but that’s the wrong thing to do. If you carry on you’ll only worsen the problem. In most cases it’s a relatively straight forward fix: Get away from your computer for a day or two.

How can you do that? I’m sure you have client work to do and emails to reply to but isn’t your mental health more important than designing a new landing page for X-Company? The answer is yes.

Let your client or boss know as early as possible that you’re unwell. I know it feels like pulling a sicky but trust me, it’s worth it. Go relax, take a nice walk, meet up with friends and family. The number one goal here is to do anything except work. Work was the problem, this is the solution.

If you try to power through you’ll eventually get to a point where cutting corners is just another part of your day. It’s time to take action before this happens otherwise it’ll have adverse affects on your work, life and family.

Feeling Overwhelmed

woman-overwhelmed

Things get on top of all of us. When dealing with burnout it feels like we’re being buried and getting out from underneath it all seems impossible.

If you’re feeling like this it’s a classic sign that you need to take a step back from everything and tackle one thing at a time. Go make take a lunch break, doesn’t matter if it’s 7pm, go have a break, come back and take things slow.

I have a trick where instead of being bombarded with my to-do list every morning I only allow up to five things a day. Sometimes I finish things within ten minutes of turning my computer on. Sometimes when I get down to only a couple of tasks left I add a few more, but I never go above five.

Try it, I bet you’ll find things much more manageable. Also please note that since I use only five to-dos, it doesn’t mean you have to. If you think you can handle it try eight or ten, it’s up to you. Just don’t go above bombardment level.

Low or Fluctuating Motivation

man-happy-sad

For me motivation is a funny thing when I’m just not getting work done. I find myself really motivated to start with but the second a problem arises that motivation disappears and I want to immediately stop.

There are usually two causes behind this. The first is a simple lack of will-power. Problems come up and we hide. We’ve all done it, none of us are proud of it, but it happens. Try sorting the problem from a different perspective. Don’t immediately reach for the door handle and walk away, take a breath and see if you can calmly fix the problem.

The second cause is the point of this post, burn out. If you find this scenario popping up more often than not it’s time to get away for a while. Go have a coffee or cup of tea then come back to the problem later. Last week I spent three hours trying to make some WordPress code work, I failed. I left it until the next day and solved it in fifteen minutes. Sometimes a break is all you need to refresh your brain.

Problems can cause you to focus on only one aspect of the solution. Focus on it too long and you risk burning out. Time away frees your mind and opens up other avenues for you to explore.


Conclusion and Final Thoughts

This post is in no way extensive and there are loads of other causes and solutions to burn out. Below are a few links I highly suggest you read so you can get different perspectives. Burn out is different for everyone, sometimes only slightly and other times a lot. Don’t let it take over, fight it and you’ll be just fine.

The hardest thing to do when feeling burnt out is any actual work. If it gets to the point where just sitting down at your computer is too much then you’re more than likely depressed, not burnt out. If this is the case, please don’t hold off talking to a doctor about how you feel. Doctors are best places to go because they have a plethora of resources to help you.

Like I said above, please get in touch via Twitter whether you’re burnt out or depressed. I’ve gone through both and neither are fun in any way, shape or form. I really want to help, so please, let me.



  • For me it’s already beyond burnout. It got to a point where I question it I really like design and if I’m really passionate about it. It’s hard to even get out of bed. Sometimes I just want to quit it all and run somewhere far, far away, and forget about all this.

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  • Hey Daniel, sorry you’re feeling this way in life right now. I hope you get through it ok. Just remember that your problems won’t be solved by running away, but maybe taking some time off for a week (or even a weekend) can help you clear your head a bit and hopefully leave you with a better idea about what you want to do next.

    Thanks Seb Kay for writing this article, dealing with burnout is seriously difficult. It’s good to know there are people out there that care about fighting back/preventing it.

  • Thanks for encouragement! I really appreciate it!

  • Soumya

    Just take a mini-sabbatical for sometime if possible. I had reached that state too. Usually it’s because there’s something else you want to ‘also’ do which is gaining more importance in your heart as time passes by, but you’re not able to do it because of current commitments and that causes the saturation / burnout. At least for me it was because of that. I wanted to work on my own products but I was overwhelmed by client work to the point where I simply didn’t feel like doing it anymore. So, I stopped, worked exclusively on my product for a few months and very happy with the progress. Now I’m working on client projects again without feeling saturated or wanting to run away. heee

  • Don’t mention it. I know what its like to feel overwhelmed and trapped. It sucks having something you love to do suddenly become the source of your stress, it can be hell. Just know that you’ve got a lot of colleagues out there who have gone through similar situations, and understand! 🙂

  • Indeed, that’s a very big reason also. I’ve been putting off my own projects for two years now and they are really necessary (like my own website for example). I do want to take a really big brake and not work for several months for clients, but the problem is that I’m broke and I don’t have enough money to sustain myself. I’ve had a lot of clients that took advantage of me and that didn’t paid me. I’m currently working on a project like that, in which I can’t be sure that I’ll get paid. Thanks for the advice!

  • It’s nice to know that. I should be a little more social, but it’s kind of hard for me, because I’m also an introvert and it drains my energy to constantly have to keep in touch with everyone. That’s also the reason for not getting out too much. Only recently I’ve discovered that there’s a nice community of designers and freelancers here in my country. Usually the people in this industry are very secretive here, so it’s really hard to talk to others.

  • Yeah I’ve run into that issue too because of a language barrier where I live, and also having to work 18 hour days leaves me with little to no time to socialize. That’s just another reason I love the internet, because I can pop on and connect with people when I do find bits of time here and there.

    Being an introvert is definitely a tough thing to overcome, but sometimes all you need is the right people around to really be yourself.

    As long as you know the door is there, that alone should help keep your spirits up until you find the right time and place to walk through it. 🙂

  • xuamox

    For me, one of the biggest reasons for burnout has been the clients themselves. The number of designs that have been compromised by a client changing things around, and that I can no longer feel proud of, are many. Can you imagine a client telling a dentist, or lawyer how to do their job? Sure you can try and manage a client, but only so much. The second biggest problem in our think a big problem in our industry is the sheer pace at which technology is constantly changing. It’s easy to keep up when you are young and single, and can spend countless nights tinkering and figuring things out, but throw in a wife, and a couple of kids and all of a sudden you don’t have the time to work and keep up. Add to that the number of skills that you have to be good at, and you can understand how someone can become overwhelmed. Some professions seem so much simpler. I have a friend that is a pilot. All he has to do is show up, take off, fly, land and then he is done. On top of that he only has to fly 70 or 80 hours in a month. Sure there is annual training, but things don’t change too much. He even admits how low stress it is. And lastly, if you are a freelancer, it can get incredibly lonely. Working at your computer all day and night, and if you are not careful, not interacting with many people. I think on some level, you slowly become emotionally affected by this, and you can even start to lose people skills. You have to work really hard at interacting and meeting with people in order to stay fresh. Anyhow, just some thoughts that I hope others find helpful.

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