Designing Under Pressure

Four Tips For Busting Stress

Everyone goes through bouts of stress. Whether it‘s finances, physical health, tight work deadlines, picking up your kids from school, or simply choosing the right “stressful” examples for your blog post, we all experience it on a daily basis. Stress can be very relative too; what might be majorly stressful to you might be insignificant to someone else. These pressures can also be a surprisingly positive force. In fact, the right amount of stress makes us more productive and can improve our cognitive abilities while completing a task.

Then why are some things more complicated to do when tensions are running high? Personally, I have difficulty doing graphic design work when I’m filled with anxiety. It can be hard for me to push the boundaries and try something bold and exciting if I have deadlines looming, and I’m wondering how a sick family member is doing, for example. I assume this logic applies to any creative process, where, unfortunately, we can’t just simply add “two plus two” and call it a day.

So how do you cope with innovative work while life is happening? Here are a few things that help me design while dealing with the burden of being human.

Speak up.

The start of a new custom learning project can be an exciting time. Maybe it’s a new client, in a new field, with a fresh set of personalities to work with. Maybe you’re exploring a new presentation method or using new software. Regardless, team and client expectations are high, and you’re eager to please. But what if you realize you may need more time to master the new software? Or that the client has expectations that don’t align with the scope of the project? It’s an important time to speak up. Letting potential pain points and concerns go unacknowledged is stressful! And in the end, they’ll have to be dealt with anyway. It’s a vulnerable thing to say, “I can’t do this, because…”, but suggesting a more realistic expectation up front will spare everyone future headaches.

Step away from the device!

Sometimes it’s best to simply walk away. Even if it’s just for five minutes, it can be a revelatory experience upon your return. At Innovative Learning Group, Mary Wilbur, our wellness advocate, refers to these as “brain breaks.” She even set up a puzzle to work on during these breaks, and it truly does clear your mind. (It’s also a fantastic team building exercise!).

Slow and steady wins the…

No one does their best work while rushing. Mistakes get made, errors become more frequent, causing even more stress… it compounds! Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply slow down and be more mindful of what you’re doing, one task at a time. For example, is there a more efficient way to do this task? Should you contact the team and let them know it might take longer than expected? Should you ask a coworker who’s done this before for some guidance? Always take the time to make sure you’re being your most effective, even if that means slowing your pace.

Have a little perspective.

We naturally jump to the worst case scenario when we’re under duress, but it’s crucial to understand the reality of the situation. Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it’s always probable. For example, I was recently working on a custom e-learning course for a med tech client. I was running up against the deadline and unsatisfied with the results. Immediately, the “worst case scenario” kicked in. Did I mess up the project for everyone involved? Are we going to lose the client? The answer turned out to be “no.” Simply communicating with my project manager, and in turn the client, made everyone aware of what the situation was and how we needed to proceed moving forward. (The course turned out amazing by the way!).

Communication is essential to alleviating all of life’s stressors. The more we talk to others about what is bothering us and why, the more we discover we’re not alone in our experiences and feelings. And it’s also important to listen and be empathetic to others, as a means of support. We all go through tough times and understanding that can offer a bit of relief in itself.

I hope you find some of these tips useful in your daily life, and please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments for others too! 

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