12 tips for a less-stressful designer lifestyle

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stressed-designerWho would have ever thought that something you love so much (designing) could stress you out so much? There a lot of aspects of being a designer that can be stressful: harsh deadlines, difficult clients or art directors, a sharp learning curve, ever-changing technology and more. This article will address some of the best ways to deal with the stress you feel as a designer and also reduce your stress as much as possible.

1. Identify what is stressing you out

The first, and most important step in leading a less-stressful designer lifestyle is to identify what it is that is stressing you out. After identifying the problem, you can begin to take action. If client relationships are stressing you out, perhaps you should study articles on dealing with clients. If project management is stressing you out, find a better solution to manage your projects and time.
If you are overwhelmed with finding a goodhome-work balance, take some time to study good time management techniques.It’s important that you personally identify what causes you to be stressed and begin to make changes today that will ensure less stress in the future. Below you will find specific solutions to some of the most common stress-causers for designers. Please be sure to add your tips and advice as well.

2. Develop a Project Management system that works for you

There are as many ways to manage design projects as there are designers. Recently, Dan Howard described his new method of organizing his projects and to-do’s by using a giant glass wall and a whole lot of sticky notes. Whether you prefer to use a high-tech software, sticky-notes on the wall, a pad and paper, or your iPhone or iPad, finding your preferred method of project management is key to having a less stressful design career.

3. Outsource projects that are just too stressful

While outsourcing design projects has been a touchy subject here at GraphicDesignBlender.com, I continue to support the idea that if you simply don’t have the time, abilities, or patience to do a particular project, why not outsource the project to someone who does? You’d be surprised how much less stressful it can be to manage a project instead of take on the project head on. Try working with other designers, coders, programmers, etc to tackle your most stressful projects.

4. Learn common design mistakes and how to avoid them

Nothing is more stressful and frustrating than committing common mistakes over and over again. When designing, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you are having trouble with a certain technique or effect, chances are someone else has had the same problem. It’s also likely that these people have written tutorials or articles that can help you overcome these mistakes. Millo, for example, compiled a list of 22 Logo Design Mistakes you might be guilty of. Perhaps that’s an article worth checking out. As you learn to avoid common mistakes, you will be less stressed as a designer.

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5. Don’t treat your clients like they are a burden

It seems like more and more designers are publicly complaining about their design clients. While dealing with clients may not always be a walk in the park, you can avoid a lot of stress by not expecting your clients to be perfectly educated about design. They also shouldn’t necessarily give in to everything you say just because you are the designer. While I agree that the client is not always right, there are times when it’s just not worth the stress to create such a burden for yourself.

6. If you freelance, set office hours and stick to them

You always hear designers who have made the switch to freelance raving about how great it is to work from home. What you don’t frequently hear about are the 2am project deadlines, long weekends full of projects, 9pm client phone calls, etc. If you are a freelance designer, be sure to set office hours for yourself. This means you need to set a time when you will work, when clients can call you, when you will answer emails, etc. Likewise set times when these things can’t happen. Your life will be much less stressful as you learn to set aside time for serious design work and then live life during the remaining time.

7. Let others help you in areas where you are weak

Face it, you are a designer. You’re not a lawyer, you’re not an accountant, and you’re not a sales representative. And that’s okay! While you may work a little bit with the legal issues of your design business, the cash flow, or the sales tactics, designers who want to relieve a little stress will let other people help them with tasks they do not know how to do very well. In my experience, it is well worth the extra money to hire a lawyer, accountant, or sales person if your business is big enough to merit such an expense.

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8. Take time off

Sometimes you just have to get away. While you may love sitting at your computer and designing, everyone needs a break once and a while. Go ahead, plan your projects, notify your clients, schedule your blog posts, forward your calls to voicemail, and take a few days off. Your clients will understand.

9. Move away from the computer

Even if you don’t take a lot of time off every month or year to really get away, you should dedicate time each day to doing something besides being on the computer. Find a hobby that lets you build with your hands or get some much-needed exercise. There are a million great things you could learn to do on the internet, but take time each day to enjoy the non-web aspect of life. It will help you relieve some built-up stress.

10. Learn some basic time management skills

Along with project management, time management is a definite must for any designer. In order to avoid many of the pitfalls we have discussed already in this article, you should learn to manage your time and stick to the schedules you establish for yourself.

11. Don’t sweat the small stuff

There are ups and downs of being a perfectionist. I would never advocate the idea of doing a less-than-your-best job in any aspect of design. There are, however, certain things you can control and other things you simply cannot control. If you waste your time surfing the internet when you should be working and miss a deadline, that is something you can control. Feel free to sweat. But if you get sick or your internet goes out and you miss a deadline, probably not something you can control. Stop sweating.

12. Get some sleep

Lastly, make sure to set aside enough time to recharge your body. I’ve tried the schedule where you work late and get up early to work some more. It isn’t very fun. Lately, I have been going to bed a little earlier than usual and waking up early as well. I find I am most productive in the

morning and by eleven or noon I have already accomplished a lot for the day.

Of course, you have to learn when you work best. If you are a late-night worker, perhaps you should work later and sleep in a little more. Lots of sleep will help reduce the stress you may feel as a designer.

What else would you add?

There are lots of great ways to cut down on the stress you might feel as a designer. What other tips can you share with us on the subject?

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

Leave a Comment



  1. Hey Preston,

    It is pretty incredible exactly how much things can stress you out when you let them get out of hand, even with something you love. The list of tips you provided is really great.

    What’s been working really well for me recently is making lists of things to do. I read in some book to have 2 to-do lists… a long one you can choose from, and a daily one that includes 6 items on it. These 6 items should take about an hour each, and while you’re doing them you’re supposed to only stay focused on them and nothing else (no email checking, nothing)…It’s been a bit difficult to be so focused all the time, but I’ve been extremely productive using this method. Every day you select 6 new items from the long list, and eventually there is no long list!

    I also like the morning best. It’s been taking me a really long time to get over being a night owl though.


  2. Preston,
    I think that you have identified some good tips here and I really agree with you about not treating clients like they are so bothersome. I see it daily and have been guilty of it often, but it has been a goal of mine to scale it back. We have to remember that they are our livelihood. That is something I mentioned in my article for Millo last month, treat them with respect and they will probably treat you the same way.

    I think keeping your workspace tranquil could be another good tip. I work in the basement of a hospital and its tough to keep it appealing as a cellar dweller, but with a little decorating (inspirational design work, picture of the wife, etc) and some decent organizing, you can probably lower your blood pressure.

    Looking forward to everyone’s tip, nice article.

    – Joe

  3. Go for a walk, preferably an unknown route. You’ll probably find both relaxation and inspiration along the way.

    And also; Learn how to use the word “No”.

    • @Pontus Ekman,
      Two extremely great additions to the list, Pontus. It is a great day when a designer gains enough self respect to turn down a job he knows he does not need and will not enjoy.

      How did you get to the point where you could turn down work? Any tips for us on “saying no”?

  4. Great tips here, Preston! These are great reminders of what we really can do to keep from stressing out. I would say in the majority of stressful situations it’s the client relationship becoming more (or less) than what was originally agreed upon. For #3 I would have stated that to outsourcing those things we hate doing (i.e., bookkeeping), but you covered that with point #7. Along with Pontus’ point of learning the art of saying “no”, I would add that, for some of us, coaching and educating our families on what exactly we do may help relieve some of the stress, particularly in situations with small children still at home; this along with your tip of sticking to certain office hours should definitely help! Thanks!

    • @Lisa Raymond,
      That’s a great point concerning educating your family. Could you expound on that? How do you best handle the work/family situation?

      • @Preston D Lee, What we try to do is remind the kids of my working hours, and show them a little of what I do. Sometimes it’s easy for them to think, “oh look, Mom’s home,” and they forget that sometimes I have a project needing attention. You made an excellent point in #6 and #10: by managing my time and sticking to a schedule, it will also be easier for my kids/family to recognize when Mom’s working and not.

        One method that works well for our 8-year-old is drawing pictures on the calendar to show him when Mom’s working and when Mom’s done working. He can easily relate and knows when he can tell me “time to be done!” Our 5-year-old does well with pictures as well as scheduling time to sit and read, or watch his favorite TV program. The teens do realize the importance of my schedule and do their best to help with their younger brothers as much as possible.

        Recently I met with a client at night — a first for me! I reminded my family each night when my client meeting would be, what time I would be back, and stuck to it. It was very different but manageable, and easier for them to say “good luck!” when it was time for me to leave because they were included in the scheduling and planning. That drew a lot of support from my husband; since the kids knew and understood, he didn’t have to do a lot of hand-holding or arguing when I left, and I still helped tuck them in when I got back.

        No matter what method works best for your family style, keep everyone in the loop — it doesn’t matter how young they are, everyone likes to feel included. When the family feels included in your plans, they’ll be happy to help out.

        • @Lisa Raymond, Great points Lisa. I tend to exclude my family from the process and it always backfires at me. It is really essential to share your plans and achievements with your partner and kids, especially if you work from home.

  5. Great article! It’s always good to see that other designers struggle with the same thing that I do. Keep up the good posts.

  6. Great tips here!
    Inspiration is important to me!
    I find that through music!


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