Most stress in a business based on
creative services comes from trying
to balance conflicting needs, especially
on client projects. It’s a familiar
quandary: You have to meet the
client’s needs and you want to be creative. You need
to dedicate yourself to your business and you want
to spend time with your family.
Sound familiar? You could probably write a
long list of personal and professional stressful situations
other than client projects. Fortunately, all the
techniques here apply equally well to stress on the
job and at home. The first thing to accept: Stress is
normal. Distress—such as family illness or natural
disasters—isn’t, and can’t be managed like stress can.
If you have determined that you are dealing with
stress and not distress, keep these points in mind.
1. You’ll never be caught up. Stop trying. There
will always be a neverending succession of business
and marketing tasks in addition to your projects.
Stop waiting to find the bottom of your in-basket or
the top of your desk. Stop dreaming about feeling
caught up. Design projects are like the ongoing rush
and flow of a river, not a calm, still body of water.
Besides, if you ever do get caught up, you’ll have no
work—and that’s bad. To deal with this stress, have
a good time management system in place (see my
column in the April/May 2005 issue, V10N2). Rid
your life of the stress of playing catch-up.
2. You’ll never make everyone happy. You can only
do your best to please your clients and run a profitable
business. There will always be clients that want
you to behave differently (especially with approvals,
changes, and pricing) so they can be happy. In this
stressful situation, stop and differentiate between subjective
and objective happiness. “Subjective” implies
someone’s opinion is involved; “objective” is based on
accountable and measurable design goals. You must
make clients happy on an objective level … but it’s
unrealistic to always expect them to be happy on a
subjective level. They will have opinions you don’t
like. Stop and ask yourself if you need to do anything
other than register and acknowledge those opinions.
Recognizing someone’s opinion without needing to
agree with it will go far toward smoothing over a
stressful situation. If you have met all the measurable
design objectives, maybe you should not be asking
“How high?” if no one has asked you to jump.
3. Get it off your chest. Worry is a great producer of
stress. The best technique is to let it out. Have pen
and paper handy so you can write down any particular
concern. Put your writing aside to be considered
later (i.e., sleep on it). By the time you return to your
list, chances are at least some of your worries will
have resolved themselves or are no longer overwhelming.
You’ll wonder what you were so worried about!
Motivational seminar leader and one of the authors
of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Mark Victor
Hansen, calls this type of stress “stewing without
doing.” You can waste a lot of time worrying.
4. Practice the art of saying no. Stress is often created
in a situation where you say yes when your
mind, body, and soul are telling you to say no. Say
a client wants to make a change to a deadline or pricing
request, and you know that an unqualified “Yes,
fine, no problem” will cause stress and reduce your
profit. Instead of caving, try one of these approaches:
- “No, but here’s what we can do ... .” (Name some
- “Yes, and that’ll cost ... .” (Name a specific cost.)
- Simply say, “Let me get back to you.”
In each case, you have presented considerations that
will reduce the stress of saying yes when you mean
no. This is a valuable technique to learn because
it shares with the client the stress and the cost of
changes she wants to make.
5. Explore the concept of hidden costs. When managing
project stress, it’s important to understand that
costs are not just about money. The hidden costs
of managing and completing a project can be time,
energy, attention, prestige, and self-esteem. When
you talk with a client about stressful project changes,
try this: “Yes, we can do that, and this is what it
will take.” Name specifics the client will need to do
involving his own time or attention. Identifying the
hidden costs of making changes will go a long way in
helping you manage stress, clients, and projects.
The Business of
Graphic Design: A
by Ed Gold, $32.50,
How to Grow as a
by Catharine Fishel,
$15.95, Allworth Press
Creating the Perfect
Design Brief, by Peter
L. Phillips, $15.95,
The Power of Full
Jim Loehr and
$26, Free Press