How to Safeguard Creative Teams and Dodge Burnout

Get a simple, scalable project tiering system to reimagine your project pipeline and protect your creatives from burnout, stress, and fatigue.

Read time: 9 min

Who this is for and why it matters

One of the biggest challenges creative leaders face is the constant threat of burnout. The very nature of creative work breeds demand for fresh ideas, always-on availability, and an enthusiastic "yes" to every request.

Add often unrealistic stakeholder expectations and unclear prioritization, and it's no wonder creative teams feel like they're constantly running on fumes.

Burnout is not just a personal struggle; it's a company-wide concern. Global burnout rates continue to climb, with 42% of employees reporting burnout—a record high since Future Forum began tracking this data in May 2021.

When left unchecked, burnout can:

  • Tank productivity
  • Compromise work quality
  • Strain internal/external relationships
  • Hurt your bottom line

Your best line of defense is implementing a concrete creative project tiering system.

Establish a simple, 3-tier system to categorize requests

This isn't new to creative leaders: Net new work is fundamentally unpredictable, and stakeholders underestimate the time and effort required. This is why a centralized system is needed to manage all project requests, including ones that are being handled without the creative leader's knowledge.

When requests come in from various channels and are not properly documented, it becomes nearly impossible to accurately assess your creative team's true workload.

You're probably experiencing it now: Delegating the most impactful projects versus the business-as-usual requests is difficult. This is a reactive approach, where your creatives constantly put out fires hour by hour.

Now, consider what a simple project tiering system could mean for the creative collaboration process. To start, stakeholders should easily track the progress of their requests, understand the reasoning behind prioritization decisions, and provide more meaningful feedback.

The challenge is to not overthink it. Let's break this framework down to build a solid project tiering system and stop endless fire drills.

How to Safeguard Creative Teams and Dodge Burnout TLDR Graphic

Step 1: Define clear categories for project prioritization

Not all projects are created equal, and it's crucial to recognize that when managing your creative team's workload.

Every stakeholder believes their request is the top priority, but you know better. You're juggling a dozen projects in progress, and there's a backlog of requests that haven't seen the light of day since last quarter.

The solution? Establish a clear set of criteria for categorizing projects based on their importance to the business, the complexity of the creative work involved, and the resources required. This is where a tiering system comes into play.

Brian Sherry, Head of Creative Ops at ClickUp, says a tiering system is necessary when there are more high-priority projects than the team can handle. Brian's team prioritizes projects based on how well they align with departmental or company-wide key performance indicators (KPIs).

After prioritizing, their team uses the ICE (Impact, Confidence, and Ease) model to focus on delivering the quickest and most impactful assets first.

Project Tiering System Graphic

Here's an example of a 3-tier system that can help you prioritize projects and allocate resources effectively:

Tier 1: High-impact, strategic projects

  • These projects are game-changers, directly supporting key business objectives and metrics
  • They require significant creative resources and time investment but have the potential to drive substantial results for the company

Tier 2: Medium-impact, tactical projects

  • These projects contribute to business goals but may not be directly tied to critical metrics
  • They require a balanced allocation of creative resources and have a more limited scope than Tier 1 projects

Tier 3: Low-impact, maintenance projects

  • These projects are necessary for maintaining brand consistency or supporting ongoing initiatives
  • They can be completed with minimal creative resources and have little direct impact on primary business objectives

Step 2: Write an evergreen, tiering-system SOP

You've got your tiering system in place. Now, it's time to create an SOP that will be your team's bible for project prioritization and execution.

This SOP should be the one-stop shop for everything related to your tiering process—from tier definitions to decision-making workflows, responsibilities to communication protocols—the complete works. Make it comprehensive but digestible, with clear language and visuals that make it easy to reference on the fly.

But after the hype slows down post-launch of the guidebook, it's key your creative team knows it inside and out. Host a kick-off session to walk them through it and answer any questions they have.

They use it daily, so their first-hand insights are better than a copy-pasted template. Then, keep it relevant by regularly updating its contents as the business evolves.

As you draft your SOP, keep in mind the importance of providing clear direction and boundaries for your creative team. As author and creative consultant Todd Henry puts it:

Todd Henry Quote Graphic

SOPs can be a pain to develop if you're looking to revamp your creative intake process. Luckily, you don't have to start from a blank page.

We've got an SOP template to put all your content in one place. The document is organized into key sections, with clean tables to separate text and visuals for easy viewing. Check it out!

ClickUp SOP Template

Step 3: Dedicate a project manager to oversee the system

When your creative team is bombarded with low-value, misaligned, or poorly defined requests, they often get dragged into meetings to clarify project goals and deliverables. That's where a dedicated project manager comes in.

This person should be your steward, reviewing, approving, and prioritizing projects based on your tiering system. Your project manager's main responsibilities will include:

  • Approve or reject requests based on alignment with KPIs and resources
  • Guide stakeholders in providing specific, actionable, and timely feedback
  • Thoroughly review new requests for information gaps
  • Categorize projects into tiers based on criteria

But here's the thing: your project manager needs to be treated as more than a gatekeeper. Empower them to enforce the tiering system and make necessary adjustments as priorities shift and new requests come in.

That means having the authority to push back on untracked and incomplete requests that disrupt the creative system—and ultimately, prevent burnout amongst your team.

The 12 Stages of Burnout Graphic

Your project manager should be able to say, "I understand this is important to you, but it doesn't align with our current priorities. Let's discuss how we can better define the request and find a solution that works for you."

It's initially uncomfortable, but this simple statement could make all the difference in how your creatives feel supported to take on the next task.

Step 4: Use tier-determining questions in intake forms

When the project success goals are missing from the intake form, your creative team's output might not match what the business actually needs. Is the goal to drive ticket sales or solve user experience issues? The asset's title is not enough to flush out a creative brief.

To avoid this misalignment, you need to revamp your project intake form.

If you create a detailed creative brief at the beginning that spells out all the requirements, it gives the team clear instructions on what to do. Brian explains how this lets them focus their time and energy on the right areas and avoid unproductive tasks.

Brian Sherry ClickUp Quote

It boils down to one question the project requestor needs to provide on the form: How does this project contribute to our overall strategic initiatives, and what tangible results do you expect to see?

Define the specific metrics you'll use to gauge success, whether engagement rates, conversions, or something else entirely. For example, "Drive 1,000 clicks to the website from social media within the first month."

An issue-identifying form significantly helped Shopmonkey, an auto repair shop software company, reduce design request completion time by 33%. Rachel Gilstrap, Marketing Project Manager at Shopmonkey, explained how their form not only accelerated the intake of project requests but also safeguarded team members from requests outside key projects like product launches and thought leadership content.

“This has helped me keep an eye on projects and the team’s capacity and gain an understanding of top company priorities that marketing can support,” Rachel added.

If your team handles creative requests from cross-functional departments and teams, conditional logic on intake forms will be a game-changer. It's basically one dynamic form that adapts on the fly based on prior field selections to support a variety of use cases.

ClickUp Creative Request Intake Form Template Final

Try this free ClickUp Request Form Template to explore the possibilities and set up your intake process end-to-end. Getting started from this simple template will not only save you time, but ensure your creative team collects all critical information, documents, specs, and more—even faster.

Create a first line of defense with creative project tiering

We hope this mini workshop gave you a dose of what's possible when we get intentional with how we receive creative requests. Whether it's learning how to create the perfect SOP or in-take form, and connecting these documents to your greater team, we've got you covered.

We help thousands of creative teams collaborate more efficiently and stay productive while avoiding burnout. If you want to see the platform in action, you have to attend one of our stress-free events.

ClickUp Showcase Horizontal Dark Banner V2

You're most likely a visual learner, so we invite you to the ClickUp Showcase—a series of weekly sessions hosted by a team of experts.

It's a space for new and seasoned ClickUp users to get actionable insights on how to solve problems in their collaboration, workflows, and project execution.

Together with us and other teams in your position, you'll have the support and resources needed to dodge burnout. But more importantly, recapture the joy creative work brings us.

After all, isn't that why we're here?

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