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Learning to Swim With Project Management for Creatives

January 21, 2021 | Productivity

Modern society has a pervasive problem with how we view stress; people wear their sleepless nights and neverending workloads as a badge of honor. In this day and age, we’re almost expected to take on more than we can handle – but that doesn’t have to be the case. Healthy project management for creatives won’t just keep your head above water; it will help you swim to shore. 

And, when you’re able to conquer the stress caused by punishing workloads, you’re able to save yourself from drowning under the crushing weight of creative burnout. 

Creative Burnout

The term ‘burnout’ was first used by German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, but the phenomenon has existed since the dawn of modern work. By definition, burnout is a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion brought about by prolonged job stress, which manifests as cynicism and feelings of incompetence. 

Unfortunately, burnout is common in the creative industries (some may even say it’s rampant). Everyone has experienced periods of dissatisfaction with their work, but at what point does that cross into the realm of burnout? 

Burnout might seem synonymous with stress, but the two are quite different in effect. When someone is under a lot of stress, they may feel tightly-wound and overwhelmed by their work. In contrast, when someone is experiencing burnout, they are likely to feel emotionally numbed and disengaged from the work. Stress doesn’t always turn into burnout, but it can be an indicator that burnout is coming. 

Burnout can present itself in several ways, but some of the most common signs are physical tiredness, procrastination, dread, creative blocks, feeling stuck, and an inability to stop thinking about work.   

While burnout is possible in any situation, high-pressure jobs with unclear expectations and little recognition are a huge culprit. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to prevent (or reverse) creative burnout – the key is knowing yourself, what you’re capable of, and what your social and creative needs are. A great way to start is with project management for creatives.

Combat Burnout By Knowing Your Capacity

Plan your Life First

It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but the first step in planning your work capacity doesn’t have anything to do with the job itself – it has to do with what you need outside of work. The goal of employment is to provide us with the lifestyle we want, but without capacity planning, the work can squash any hopes of enjoying that lifestyle.

Before you know what you can commit to job-wise, you need to know how much room your schedule has. A great way to figure this out is to ask yourself a few questions:

  • How much time would you like to dedicate to hobbies or side projects?
  • Do you mind working after-hours or on weekends?
  • When would you like to start and end work each day?
  • What are your weekly social needs? 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, just a few ideas to get you started. Once you’ve mapped out what your realistic lifestyle needs are, you can plan work around them. Of course, most of us don’t have absolute authority over our schedules, but knowing what you can give is the first step towards building a life that works for you.   

Map Out Projects and Tasks

The next step is determining how much time your projects actually consume (hint: it’s usually more than we think). Say it takes you five hours to design a new logo for a client. Then factor in two hours for communication with the client, and another hour for when they don’t respond. Then maybe thirty minutes for exporting the file in the correct format and size, and another four hours for when the client hates it and makes you start over. This is just an example, but the little things we don’t think about can add up.

To get a more accurate picture of our work capacity, it can help to map out a project and its tasks from start to finish – taking note of anything and everything that eats your time. 

The Maker’s Schedule

Paul Graham first described the concept of a Maker’s schedule in his 2009 essay, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” In his essay, Graham outlines one of the biggest challenges creatives face: the world doesn’t run on our schedule. 

Creatives often work in different increments of time than the more cut-and-dry business types do. While an hour is plenty of time to update a spreadsheet or make a call, it’s not enough time for most people to get any meaningful work done on a design project – by the time you get into the groove of things, your hour is probably up.  

To capitalize on your time, take note of how long you like to work in one sitting. If you’re most efficient working longer increments, try and arrange meetings so that they don’t break up your day and interfere with a creative streak. Some people, including Graham, find it helpful to book all of their meetings at either the beginning or end of the day. That way, they can spend the rest of their time in uninterrupted design. 

To Commit or Not to Commit

Before agreeing to take on a new project, take an hour or two to investigate the details: how much time will the design take, how much time will the administration side of things take, what resources will it use, and what does the rest of your schedule look like during that time. After mapping out the project from start to finish, you should have a better idea of what you’re capable of delivering. Sometimes, you’ll see you can complete the project within the timeframe without batting an eye; other times, you’ll see that you need to say no to some elements; and occasionally, you’ll realize the project is not worth the time and effort at all. 

Turning down projects can be daunting, but everyone will be better off if you do now and then. Sure, clients would prefer that you say yes, but not if that means the work is subpar and two weeks late. If you have too much on your plate, save yourself the headache and just say no.

Prevent Burnout With Project Management Software

Poor handling of the business side of things is a massive contributor to burnout; of course, the work feels meaningless when all of your time is spent juggling assignments and waiting for clients to respond. While combating burnout is a multifaceted battle, the solution in this area is simple: leave the tedious tasks to project management software.  

Automating Client Feedback

Never waste another hour staring at your inbox waiting for client feedback – it isn’t necessary. With project management software, you can automate the entire feedback process. On Ashore, once a user sets up a proof, the rest is up to the approvers. Ashore offers instant notifications so that you are always up to date on a proof’s status, automatic reminders so no one misses a deadline, and contextual commenting to mitigate against miscommunications. 

Tracking Approvals

Another key feature to seek out to facilitate healthy project management for creatives is a way to track approvals. Trying to track down all of the necessary approvals on your own is time-consuming and, in all honesty, annoying. When a proof hits a roadblock on Ashore, you can see precisely who has approved and who hasn’t. If an approver likes the concept but is hesitant to give their seal of approval, they have the option to “approve with changes,” so you at least know what you need to do to move the project forward.

You can free up a great deal of mental energy when you don’t have to keep track of a project’s status on your own, meaning you can get back to what you do best: design. 

Providing Visibility To Better Manage Scope

One of the best ways to plan your time is by mapping out your work. You can do this yourself or streamline the process with project management for creatives. Ashore offers categorized organization tools to make visualizing a project’s status a breeze. Projects are color-coded to show how far along they are, and every version of your files is stored safely on our platform so you can come back to them at any point. If you see that you already have a few purple projects (meaning they are overdue), you can use that knowledge to quickly assess whether or not you have the capacity to take on more work. 

Keeping A Proof Timeline

Ashore provides a log of all activity and communications regarding each proof on a convenient proof timeline. You can use this to better understand how much goes into projects and how long projects take to complete. The best part? You can export the proof timeline for your own records, allowing you to refer back to it when planning your future projects.

Ashore: Creating Fulfilling Project Management For Creatives

When it comes to the unrelenting fight against burnout, project management for creatives will be your greatest ally. With a better understanding of how much time and energy a project actually entails, you can make better decisions around your capacity. Ashore has proven repeatedly that with the right software, project management for creatives doesn’t have to be a hassle. Ready to give Ashore a whirl? Sign up for free today!

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