Are you a designer feeling burned out by all the Slack, email, and a million other notifications you get daily?
Or that your dream job would quickly turn into a nightmare, which the darkest reaches of your subconscious couldn’t conjure.
You’re not alone in your newfound disaffection for your job.
With over 4.3 million Americans quitting their jobs in December of 2021, burnout is a pandemic.
Burnout is the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed to utter exhaustion. Burnout leaves us mentally tired, physically exhausted, and emotionally dehydrated. The feeling that despite your best efforts, you’re making little progress isn’t unique to any single profession.
Everyone from nurses, servers, teachers, and even UX designers feel the effects.
But like the coronavirus, the disease that brought on, if not compounded, burnout, we’ve developed effective means to mitigate the risk of catching and preventing burnout.
As a Design Coach, I’ve devised solutions and routines to target UX design burnout.
But before we understand the solution, let’s better understand the problem.
Burnout was here before the pandemic and will be here long after. In 2003, psychologists Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson conducted the most groundbreaking research on burnout.
Their research identified three symptoms that arise from workplace stress.
The best products are designed when an eclectic mix of individuals are given equal ownership of a product. It’s a collaborative process that requires teams that ostensibly have little to do with each other to work together, which takes time.
In modern high-tech, fast-paced, rapid-growth product design platforms, speed to launch is a competitive advantage, and a philosophy of done support is better than perfect.
Naturally, this attitude fuels tension between teams who don’t want to waste time collaborating with other groups. However, suppose they are not connecting; consequently, roles, ownership, and accountability become unclear. In that case, teams become less efficient, less coordinated, and less supportive of each other. This dynamic can lead to and perpetuate silos that cause individuals to feel “self-justified for bad behavior, like exaggerating other people’s faults or inflating their virtue.”
UX designers suffer when infighting, caused by a lack of alignment over product expectations, creates a toxic work environment. According to a Harvard Business Review study of leading corporations, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.
Working under constant tension and ambiguity can turn a talented, creative employee into an unhappy, unproductive, emotionally distanced one.
Do you know a highly detail-oriented, enthusiastic UX designer who stopped caring about the quality of their work because they were emotionally exhausted?
Have you met a design leader who fears meeting with senior business partners because they’ve been made to feel rejected and depersonalized and have given up believing they could influence product strategy among the senior leadership team?
Do you know a UX researcher who shares research findings selectively?
Why would they do that?
They feel they are personally ineffective because they’ve learned that qualitative insights won’t change product direction in a data-driven business.
It takes a fearless UX designer to ask to be included at the leadership table where the decision-makers sit. But getting a seat at the table is one thing; getting heard is another. I’ve earned a place at Meta’s, Yahoo’s, and 247. AI’s tables and have made my presence known. I know what it takes to be a fearless leader and can help you become one, too.
According to Herbert Freudenberger, there are three predictors of burnout:
They should be; they are all at the center of the design process in modern software design.
Fraudenberger found the three predictors to be shared amongst healthcare workers, teachers, and people in social services. If he’d studied the roles of UX design professionals, I’m sure he would have included them in his demographic. Here’s why:
UX designers must negotiate conflicting goals between cross-functional team leaders, often with competing agendas, to find solutions to optimize the product’s user experience.
While conflict helps validate and elaborate ideas on which the product development process is established, it forces designers to rationalize and justify every decision made in the design process to every team member. Ultimately, this makes work tedious and undermines the role they occupy on the team.
Suppose you are a UX designer, product design leader, researcher, or content strategist who impacts other disciplines’ workflow. In that case, you need to adapt your communication (not the design process), so they become co-creative partners, not critics of UX design.
Remember, people only care about their role and getting their needs met. An engineer wants design specs that are easy to work, perform well, and be reliable. A product manager wants design specs to fulfill market (business, technology, customer) needs and become an industry leader.
So when you waste meeting time rationalizing every design decision, at best, you will be ignored or accused of wasting time, and at worst, you may be charged with questioning management authority on decisions taken when you weren’t in the room.
While the prospect of investing time in building a rapport with colleagues in other departments and learning their needs can be daunting, waiting for colleagues to reach out and make introductions will only lead to more waiting.
“You can’t sit around waiting for that invitation – you need to reach across the table,” said Katie Dill, Head of Design at Stripe.
If engaging in healthy conflict is too scary, why not practice prior? Let’s role-play in a safe 1-on-1 environment where you can practice having tactful, constructive discussions with me, someone who has had these exact discussions before. I can provide real-time feedback and refine how you communicate with non-designers.
Managing ambiguity is what UX design professionals do. They take all the ingredients from user needs, business expectations, and technology standards and translate abstract ideas into concrete product experiences from the front end to the back end.
UX professionals rely on UX research and design processes to sort out the ambiguity inherent in their role, e.g., missing product requirements, product scope creep, competing priorities, missing resources, etc.
No single design process exists to deal with all the ambiguity across a product’s development life cycle, just as no single business strategy exists to deal with every step of its business development life cycle.
To overcome role ambiguity, designers must become strategists of both qualitative and quantitative business and development methods and articulate the ROI of their design work in a language accepted and understood by the business.
As a former chief design officer at 247.AI and product design director at Meta, I’ve learned the inside track on how to avoid ambiguity in UX design by speaking on the ROI of UX design in quantitative terms that business leaders value. If you’d like to learn to talk about the language of business for UX design leaders, set up a complimentary strategy call, and let’s chat.
Overload is part of being a UX design professional. UX design professionals work out all the difficulties on the back end, primarily by removing anticipated cognitive overload, so the user experience is a sleek front end that is desirable, viable, and feasible.
Designing complex dynamic systems, interaction patterns, user interface design across platforms, and meeting the needs of often competing stakeholder ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ is highly stressful.
The role inherently consists of too many responsibilities for one person to handle in a reasonable amount of time. When the demands of your work role exceed your personal resources, role overload can lead to burnout.
Just as the product you are designing needs to avoid cognitive overload for your user, you need to avoid any cognitive overload in your role.
By applying design thinking to avoid cognitive overload on yourself!
If you google “Stop Cognitive Overload From Killing Your UX,” you will get a list that includes things like:
Now, imagine if you applied the principles for reducing cognitive load on yourself. How powerful would it feel to eliminate unnecessary meetings, declutter your calendar, offload tasks, and free up more time?
What if you had a daily routine to look at the next day’s schedule and optimize it? You might ask yourself these four questions:
Get the idea? This powerful performance optimization routine takes the tools you already know and uses them to reduce overload and avoid burnout.
World events have created unprecedented stress, exhaustion, and mental fatigue. Are you yet another UX designer suffering from burnout?
How will you continue to work and support the team when you have reached your limits?
The truth is you can’t be productive or engaged when you’re burned out yourself. Negative emotions are contagious and hard to hide. Working from home made it easier to hide feelings from people, exacerbating burnout for so many people.
Burnout stops when you regain control over your anxiety – but how is that possible? What can you change if you can’t eliminate conflict, ambiguity, and overload?
You can change how you respond to conflict, ambiguity, and overload. Burnout symptoms can be minimized by how you react to them.
Being burned out is not a personal failing; it’s addressable, and the way you do this is with consistent self-care of your physical, mental, and emotional health to help you respond with detachment.
To become healthy, self-aware, and optimistic again, you must operate from a foundation of your creation, not someone else’s.
This means strengthening the connection between your mind, body, and spirit. It takes all three working together to improve your overall health and well-being.
A cornerstone of my coaching program teaches you simple routines that strengthen the connection between your mind, body, and spirit so you get your habits working for you.
An example of such a routine is to look at your calendar each week on your planning day (I prefer late on Friday afternoon looking at the week ahead) and color code where you are scheduled to spend your energy.
Amazingly, more people don’t use color in their calendar to see where their time and energy is going. To avoid burning out at work, you must spend some percentage of every day investing your time and energy in all four areas.
Where are you spending most of your time?
Leila is a Senior UX design manager and a former UX design burnout. When she tried this simple routine of color-coding where her energy would be spent the next week, she saw the proof of her source of burnout. She was so busy working that her dreams (Yellow) were forgotten, she took her health (Green) for granted, and when she was with friends or family (Blue), she was thinking about work. She spent her entire day most of the evening ‘in the red’ zone.
How did this happen to Leila?
As her calendar filled up, the job she loved took over her life, and Leila was still saying yes to any project, meeting, interview, or project review that she was included in or copied on.
Her meetings began at 8:00 a.m. and continued in 30-minute increments, mostly back-to-back until 4:00 p.m. Lunch was an apple, coffee, mozzarella sticks, and yogurt grabbed from a vending machine.
She ran from meeting to meeting, interviewing people, receiving updates, giving presentations, holding 1:1s, and running product reviews.
On the hour and every half hour, she and her fellow employees would emerge from meeting rooms, their faces glued to their phone screens en route to their next meeting. Ask her on Wednesday what she had done on Monday, and she could not immediately tell you.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not how full your calendar leads to your success; it’s how you level up your relationships and expand your sphere of influence that leads to your success.
Leila’s story is not unique; every ambitious UX designer starts their career as an individual contributor and, over time, takes on more responsibilities and projects, leads teams, and expands their sphere of influence.
It reaches a point where the creative work you know and love is happening less and less, and relating to others you weren’t trained to do takes more time.
As the cycle escalates, it’s easy to burn out, or worse, get sick, be let go, quit, and job-hop every 18 months until you burn out again.
according to Albert Einstein, this is the definition of insanity:
“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Leila didn’t want to leave her company; she loved her team and enjoyed crafting great products. But she knew she couldn’t continue working this way. It was time for a change.
With my support, Leila learned strategic routines to optimize her time and devote her energy to every part of her life: wealth, health, relationships, and dreams.
For example, this routine helps her find places to take back time on her calendar to give her energy to all the essential parts of her life, not just working in the red zone.
These are some of the concrete changes that mitigated burnout and boosted her well-being:
Learning performance routines helped Leila optimize her life for outstanding balance. She is happy and doing well at her work again by implementing what she learned from our sessions together.
Routines are the actions you do regularly to bring order into your life. A key benefit of having routines for creative people is its calming constancy. Doing something you know you can do well is comforting in an unpredictable world; routines anchor predictability.
Having routines helps you manage your energy to achieve more, think more precisely, and focus on what matters. These are all tools to prevent UX design burnout.
“What you can do, or dream you can begin it; boldness has genius, power, and magic in It.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Managing your time and carving out time to pursue your passion daily helps you establish priorities and decide where to spend your time. It keeps projects percolating in the unconscious mind, which helps make better decisions.
And on days you don’t have the energy to do much at all, it builds forward momentum and limits procrastination.
If you’d like to learn more about leveraging routines to craft the life you want, not the one that leads to UX design burnout, set up a complimentary strategy call and see if coaching fits you.
Your work with me as your coach will change how you show up and others respond to you. You are inviting positive change at a fundamental level from the inside out.
Are you reading to redesign your life and stop suffering from burnout?
Have you ever been promoted, taken a new job, or started a business and felt like a fraud? This is called imposter syndrome.
Anyone can have it. The comedian Tina Fey said, “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re onto me! I’m a fraud!’”
Former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, revealed, “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
I experienced imposter syndrome while attending a daily stand-up meeting with an executive team from Yahoo! I felt like a fraud in front of this group of brilliant minds.
You know you have imposter syndrome when you discount or diminish your own abilities. It can feel debilitating when you doubt yourself. Under stress, your brain is trying to predict what action to take: flight or fight. You have to release your stress through exercise, relaxation, wellness practices, and sleep.
Left unchecked, stress will lead to impaired functioning, poor decision-making, black and white thinking, and isolation. Basically, you’ll stop doing all of the things you used to love.
No one likes to fail, to not have the answers, or feel unable to master something. Imposter syndrome is a productivity killer.
In her TED talk, Thinking Your Way Out of Imposter Syndrome, Valerie Young recommends reframing the negative conversations going on in our head by replacing unhelpful thoughts with more positive or adaptive ones. She encourages thinking like someone who is not feeling like an imposter; they know they can’t be brilliant at everything, and they are fine with that.
Practice reframing the negative thoughts to positive ones, and over time you begin to believe your new thoughts. It’s much better to have an imposter moment than an imposter life!
Extraordinary leaders, like you, who shatter glass ceilings, don’t allow themselves to remain a hostage to imposter syndrome for very long. They recognize the pattern when it rears its head, and they use tools like reframing to work it out of their system.
Businesses depend on leaders to make decisions based on fact, not beliefs brought on by feeling like an imposter. If you’d like a free coaching session to discover if it’s a fit, please book a call below.
Illustration by Chris Do
The role of leaders today is to be responsible for the care of the people they lead. But how can you demonstrate care when you can’t take a new hire out for coffee or lunch to introduce them to colleagues? Here’s a couple of ideas.
I recall a time before COVID-19 when on my first day at a new company, my boss and CTO walked me around the open plan office and introduced me to everyone. He stopped at each person’s desk and said, “Ajay meet Sally. She’s our new VP of Product Design.
Sally, this is Ajay. He’s our Staff Engineer for Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI).”
That he knew everyone’s name and role showed me how invested he was in the people working at the company. Of course, I wanted to work for this person! Considerate and thoughtful, he instantly made me an ambassador for courteous leadership. Now, it was on me to follow up and develop working ties with the colleagues he had introduced me to. His job was done!
Between the global distribution of teams and COVID-19 restrictions, new hires may work with colleagues they will never meet in person. So, how do you help them get to know colleagues beyond organization charts, staff lists with photos, and a welcome email? What have you found to be effective ways to introduce them, make them feel welcome, and set them up for success right from the start?
A great alternative to walking by everyone’s desk is to have your new hire present themself to the company or department. To save time and effort, ask them to present a few key facts about themself using a standard presentation outline. That information might include their name, role, title, where they were born, where they live now, what they are proudest of professionally, who/what inspires them, and the name of the project and team they will be working on first.
Your new hire benefits from being connected to everyone they need to know to get started. Being the great hire you think they are, organizational chart in hand, they will spend the next week following up with teammates and begin building rapport.
The benefit for you is it’s a scalable system that takes only 10 minutes to present, and you can delegate the setup once the format is created.
The benefit to your team is that every employee has gone through the same presentation, so they will be engaged to see how the new hire measures up to the task! Plus, they will know who to go to about the project your new hire was brought in to work on.
As a former leader at Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo! building global product design teams, I’ve interviewed and hired many exceptional people with deep subject matter expertise and incredible leadership skills. For me, it’s the jewel of leadership to provide meaningful work for other people.
Your power and influence lies with your teams as much as it does managing up and across. If you set a new hire up for success and demonstrate genuine care by connecting them to the people they will be working with, you will be rewarded down the line with an engaged, productive, happy employee who feels trusted and empowered to do their best work.
If you’re feeling exhausted by the additional workload around hiring and onboarding remotely during a pandemic and would like to chat about what else is possible, DM me and we’ll set up a call and see if coaching is a fit.
Photo by Erda Estremera for Unsplash
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not how full your calendar is that leads to your success; it’s how you level up your relationships and expand your sphere of influence that leads to your success.
During my first six months working at a new company, my executive assistant, Anna, had complete control of my calendar. In no time, my calendar was full.
My meetings began at 7:30 a.m. and continued in 30-minute increments, mostly back-to-back, until 5:00 p.m. Lunch was an apple, coffee, mozzarella sticks, and yogurt grabbed from a vending machine.
I ran from meeting to meeting, interviewing people, receiving updates, giving presentations, holding 1:1s, and running product reviews.
On the hour and every half hour, employees would emerge from meeting rooms, their faces glued to their phone screens en route to their next meeting. Ask anyone on Friday what meetings they had on Monday, and no one could tell you.
I was used to working in fast-paced, rapid-growth companies, but this was a whole new level of calendaring craziness. My perfectionist, creative spirit was unhappy. With no time in the day for reflection and thinking, I felt behind the curve and my performance suffered.
In three months, I’d gathered information about the operational and organizational status of the teams I led. Organizationally, we took a back seat to product management and engineering who made the decisions that mattered about the products my teams designed. Excluding product designers and their partners from content design and user research was an organizational oversight I needed to correct.
I knew that if I was going to get product design included early in the decision-making process, I’d need to level up my relationships with cross-functional peers and their leaders. How could I do this if my calendar was already full?
I needed to find another eight hours in my week. By taking an inventory of who I was currently meeting, Anna and I could see the bigger picture. To devote time to meeting with other executives and cross-functional partners we reworked my calendar to:
Having found the eight hours I needed, I began having lunch or coffee with my cross-functional peers. I kept the meetings informal and used them to learn about the challenges, opportunities, and goals they were facing.
In making the focus of our conversations about them, not about me, it showed that I valued them for who they are, not what they could do for me. In time, these cross-department loose ties contributed toward more positive work behaviour. Seeing the benefit of including me in decisions about product direction early on was a win for everyone.
Very successful people’s calendars change constantly. It allows them, in real time, to level up their relationships and expand their influence. Business relies on leaders being willing to reach out, pull in, listen, and speak to the client, advisor, coach, lawyer, employee, and investor to advance the best interests of the company.
Is it time you leveled up your relationships and expanded your sphere of influence? If so, start by taking a look at your calendar and ask yourself:
Are you spending time with the right people?
What’s on your calendar that you can cancel?
Which meetings will you delegate and empower someone else to lead?
Who are you avoiding meeting with?
Are you staying busy so you can ignore a difficult conversation?
If you’d like to change your relationship to how you manage your time, please book a complimentary coaching consultation below.
Photo by Nico Jacobs for Unsplash
Confidence – it’s that feeling of self-assurance that says, “I’ve got this!” It’s the work you do with a good attitude that leaves you feeling happy, powerful, and effective.
National workplace expert Lynn Taylor says, “If you know your subject and stance, believe in yourself, and speak with poise and conviction, you will naturally exude confidence.”
Lacking confidence leads to beating yourself up over mistakes or shortcomings and/or obsessing about future risks. Stress and unhappiness inhibit your effectiveness.
Being pushed by negative feelings of anxiety, blame, guilt, or shame is a slow and difficult way to learn how to be effective and confident.
However, when you’re pulled by positive feelings of curiosity, compassion, creativity, and love for yourself and others you will become effective and confident much quicker, according to Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence.
1. Focus on Yourself
Regardless of what’s going on around you, needy people, petty politics, a distracting work environment, when you focus on the things you are accountable for, you’ll cut through the noise and prevail. Focusing on your own needs will build your confidence.
In Still Me by Jo Jo Moyes, when Mrs. Clark’s daughters leave home and her father passes away, she is left without a ‘why.’ With no one to care for, she has nothing to focus on and is unable to see that it’s time she looks after herself.
It’s not selfish to focus on getting your own needs met. Dr. Sanjay Gupta says, “When you take care of yourself, you take care of everyone.”
2. Lead with your Strengths
When you lead from your strengths, you feel engaged and energized. I sense this comes from the external challenge appealing to your internal creativity. Ask yourself:
What are the things that you do better than anyone else?
What activities energize you?
Does your current work allow you to play to your strengths?
Take an inventory of the things you do better than anyone else, and ask yourself how you can use those strengths to do your job.
Someone I coach confided in me, “Now I understand why people look to me as a thought leader. It’s because I’m the only one in the room whose read everything on the topic we’re discussing.”
A lifelong passion for reading and researching her subject matter has led to her being recognized as a thought leader in her field and attracted a great offer from an amazing company she is confident about working with.
3. Prioritize your Superpowers
I hear from many leaders how the work they loved most, developing and nurturing world class teams, has been changed by the pandemic. Gone are the days of taking the team out for lunch, hosting an offsite, a beer bust, a summer picnic, having a bring your child to work day.
You can’t bring back what you lost, but you can rediscover your natural strengths – the ones you ignored when being an empathic, influencer leader was easy and available!
Creative thinkers – try taking Markus Buckingham’s Standout 2.0 – Assess Your Strengths, Find Your Edge, Win At Work
Extraordinary Leaders – try taking Gallup Strengths Based Leadership Assessment Finder.
You are welcome to share your assessment report with me, and we can discuss how you can use the findings to build your confidence by playing to all your strengths.
4. Be a Role Model of Positive Attitude
When you’re hostage to your inner critics, for example, having a competing commitment, having an axe to grind, a personal agenda, or an emotional wound that won’t be healed, it keeps you separate from other people. Isolation and unhappiness are the cost of being unwilling or unable to feel safe assuming a positive attitude at work.
Being positive doesn’t always mean being “happy.” It’s not an Instagram moment. Being positive means being resilient. Inner work is needed to build a positive attitude, and this requires ongoing work on personal well-being, vigilance, and self-awareness.
In practical terms, “Focus on how you can provide solutions rather than spend a lot of time discussing the problem,” writes Lynn Taylor. “Workers are drawn to those with an upbeat attitude, especially when challenges emerge, and it can start with you. It’s contagious, even with your boss, and it will project confidence as you make this part of your ‘personal brand.’”
A healthy level of confidence is important because it will lead you to engage in challenging but manageable projects. Becoming and staying positive gets you outside your comfort zone. It’s a valued characteristic of successful people and allows you to attain new goals.
Dr. Katharine Brooks says that with a positive attitude “Employers will know that they can trust you with a project and that you are likely going to be good at motivating others as well.”
Are you ready to step into the next level of leadership with greater confidence? Are you willing to work with me to:
If you are, you may be a fit for my 1:1 coaching program. Please set up a free discovery call below and see if coaching is a fit.
Photo by Mike Saowne for Unsplash
As a product design leader I loved to create teams and products. I had never considered designing how I wanted to be around the people I worked with. The idea of “designing my relationships” was introduced to me at coaching school.
As a hiring manager you may be onboarding someone who has had a rotten experience with their last boss. As a response, they may have built up a layer of armor to protect themselves.
Or perhaps you have a junior person with great subject matter expertise but little or no experience with being managed.
Whatever the scenario, learning to design the working relationship you want to have with your new hire is a pro move for setting you both up for a smooth and successful working collaboration.
The benefit of designing your relationships up front is that you establish a foundation and set up the conditions for a working relationship built on mutual respect that enables people to feel safe, trusted, respected, and valued.
I recommend using the first meeting with your new hire to design your alliance and lay the groundwork for how you want to work together. But don’t stop there; continue to iterate your working relationship over time.
It’s a candid 1:1 conversation with your new hire centered on a few open ended questions that will help you explore what’s really important to you both about working together. You need to ask these questions with genuine curiosity and openness to hearing feedback. If you hurry, or use it as a check mark on your to do list, it could backfire on you.
Take the time to set the context for your conversation. You don’t get to do over onboarding a new hire, so use this precious time to create a relationship and design how best to work together.
They may already have some ideas about how they want to be in this new role, but there may be some places they are not yet sure about. Make them feel comfortable by communicating that this is just the start of what you hope will be a long and rewarding working relationship. Ask them how this sounds to them.
All great researchers know that asking open-ended questions that start with the words “what” or “how” encourage rich and meaningful conversations. To get to know your new hire, here are some suggested open-ended questions you can use to get to know them better.
Putting in the time now to design how you want to work together will prevent misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and performance issues later on.
Remember, it’s possible no one has ever spoken to them this way before. Think back to the interactions you’ve had with leaders you’ve worked with, and you know this is true. It’s not a sign of weakness as a leader to be curious about the real lives of the members of your team.
The truth is your professional future lies more with your team than with your boss. Their success is your success.
When you set new hires up for success they will be a trusted, honest, reliable source who has your and their project’s best interests at heart.
As a former leader at Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo! building global product design teams, I’ve interviewed and hired many exceptional people with deep subject matter expertise and incredible leadership skills.
If you’re exhausted by the increased workload brought on by COVID-19 and would like to chat about what else is possible, put some time on my calendar below.
Photo by Kevin Turcios for Unsplash