How to avoid burnout

Charles Dedman |

February 3, 2017

‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ or so the saying goes. While there is some truth in that, those of you are who are living the dream will also know that you’ve never worked so hard in your life. When you love what you do, the temptation to just keep working even when you’re exhausted is ever-present. Charles Dedman has experienced the perils of that approach first hand and now strives for a balance that is as good for his wellbeing as it is for his business. We asked him to share the secret…

Why do we sit in cold studios, send emails at 3am and munch on a discounted sandwich with one hand while turning a chair leg with the other? Because designing and making must be the most rewarding lifestyle going. We push ourselves physically and mentally for the love of our craft and the never-ending journey of discovering within our discipline.

I am a designer-maker from Hampshire beginning to make my way in the furniture industry. Although in its infancy, my company is already experiencing the perils of self employment and the daily grind of getting business in and product out.

It is very easy to say yes to every opportunity, hoping it will progress your career. Hopefully it will, but at what cost? On the Crafts Council Hothouse programme last year, the topic of health and wellbeing was a constant point of discussion. We all spread our time and energy across finance, design, making, promotion and business, all of which are key to our practices. It was fascinating speaking to the mentors about their established companies and heightened passion for them. They had found the perfect balance of work and play.

Here is my guide to avoiding the maker’s burnout:

1. Plan to plan:
Allow yourself time to plan your time. It sounds odd but scheduling in a few hours away from the studio can make the time in the studio much more efficient. Stepping back allows you to reflect on what’s coming and going and allocate your precious time effectively. Some people like a diary: a black Moleskine* in the back pocket is great for noting the day’s work, even after it’s over. I keep a note of the hours taken on a commission, that way I know at the end if it was viable and how much I should charge if I did it again. Large A1 wall calendars are also great – a very clear way to map out your year; shows, meetings, periods of saving and periods of spending etc.

2. Eat well:
I have strong memories of third year dissertation stresses, ordering delivered pizza from my desk because I couldn’t justify the time spent going to the shops and cooking a meal. Good in theory but a poor decision in terms of the resulting energy levels and motivation. It’s like the fuel you put into your car – so-called ‘brain foods’ like nuts, greens and protein are much more likely to help you to maintain concentration. And there is also a serious safety issue. Furniture workshops are dangerous places and so not a good idea if you are tired – too many sharp blades flying around! A few months ago I signed up for Hello Fresh*. This is a popular service whereby a box of fresh healthy ingredients and recipes are delivered to your home once a week, and you simply cook it. Sound lazy? Maybe but it saves me the time I hate at the supermarket and means I benefit from an energy-rich diet. Cooking has created a valuable respite after the workshop and before I start my admin, where I can detach myself from work matters.

3. Share the love:
Call it hippy or blame my country bumpkin approach but a walk in the fresh air and a beer with your mates on a weekend is just as important to your business as your Instagram account, probably more so. The last thing you want to do is resent the profession which you used to love. Give it a break and socialise. I was a sunflower farmer at weekends, which in fact was great for my creativity! Also don’t underestimate the power of friendship, I am constantly amazed by how generous my peers are in my times of need. Be it spell-checking, sanding, oiling or a much-needed drink down the pub – many hands make light work. Pay them in offcuts or a celebratory meal when the project is a success.

So to sum up, “Material things are renewable, but you aren’t”, a lovely quote from Hothouse speaker Karin Jordan. The most important part of your craft practice is you. If you are stressed and worn down, the company suffers and long hours at the bench may not be the solution. You can always go and buy another piece of oak and perhaps the customer will just have to wait for their commission.

[*Other brands are available – Ed!]

Charles Dedman

Charles Dedman strives to produce contemporary honest furniture, which takes an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to design, refining the form and function rather than trying to redefine a product. He feels responsible for the pieces he creates. Every decision from build quality to timber selection and workshop emissions are scrutinised against his practice values. He endeavours to take his clients and peers on a journey of discovery from tree to finished piece.

Alongside commissions, Charles is exploring an emerging field in the design-craft industry. He calls it Craft-Tech, the theme of updating traditional processes with modern tooling. This can be seen in his Zapotec Cabinet. This advance in tooling means Charles can evolve a design much faster and be more responsive. Traditional processes and finishing techniques are still used where appropiate.

Like all of his studio pieces, designed and made in-house to his own brief. Charles tries to make them production friendly and where possible outsource to local companies to drive down the retail price and increase his client base.

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