How can we reduce burnout and improve productivity for university students while promoting work-life balance, recognizing that their well-being profoundly shapes their future success and fulfillment?
Burnout is a state of extreme exhaustion and reduced motivation caused by prolonged, intense stress, often related to work or demanding responsibilities. The American Psychological Association’s Work and Well-being Survey reported that nearly 3 in 5 employees in 2021 reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, and energy (Abramson, 2022). According to the Harvard Business Review, workplace stress “costs the global workforce an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity each year” (Moss, 2021).
In our daily routines, listing tasks is usually the least demanding part, while the real challenges come in crafting schedules that balance task completion with mindful consideration of mental well-being and avoiding burnout. Determining one's limits before reaching the brink of burnout can be a complex endeavor. Currently, numerous calendar and wellness tools are available, but they often fall short in terms of personalization, customizability, and user-centric design.
User Pain Points
Utilizing surveys and user interviews with 35 participants, we identified 6 categories of prospective user pain points:
- Academic Overload: Users often face burnout during periods of intense academic workload, such as midterms, assignments, and continuous study without breaks.
- Emotional Impact: Burnout resulted in feelings of apathy, low energy, irritation, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion, negatively affecting overall well-being and mood.
- Physical Health Decline: Physical health suffered, with disrupted eating and exercise routines, lack of nutrition, and body pain due to stress.
- Coping Challenges: Coping strategies, including scheduling, time management, and self-care, were challenging to maintain during peak workload, leading to a continuous cycle of catching up.
- Time Management Struggles: Users expressed difficulties in managing time effectively, often neglecting personal well-being and self-care activities.
- Desire for Improved Well-being: Participants consistently expressed a desire for better time management, balanced schedules, and the integration of well-being practices into their routines.
The research findings provided valuable insights into users' preferences and challenges, shaping the development of Ava. Supporting statistics can be found below:
- High Adoption of Planning Apps: The survey highlights that 87.5% of respondents actively use personal planning apps like Google Calendar and Notion, showcasing a clear demand for organizational tools. This indicates users are seeking solutions to enhance their scheduling and well-being management.
- Organizational Prioritization: The majority of participants prioritize organization when choosing resources, emphasizing the significance of tools that contribute to maintaining an organized and structured approach to daily tasks and well-being practices.
- Challenges in Work-Life Balance: A substantial 68.8% of respondents identify a lack of balance between work and personal life as a significant challenge. This underscores the struggle users face in juggling multiple responsibilities and the importance of a solution that addresses this common pain point.
- Time Management Struggles: The survey indicates that time management is a considerable challenge for participants, leading to burnout. This aligns with user pain points from interviews, reinforcing the need for a tool that aids in effective time allocation and task prioritization.
- Limited Time for Self-Care: Nearly half of the participants dedicate less than 15 minutes to self-care and relaxation activities. This data underscores the challenge users encounter in allocating time for personal well-being, highlighting the need for a solution that seamlessly integrates self-care into their schedules.
- High Openness to Personalized Tools: The overwhelming openness (93.8%) to using a tool providing personalized recommendations and progress tracking aligns with the user's desire for customization. This data supports the idea that users are seeking tailored solutions to meet their unique needs and mitigate burnout.
Preliminary user research to validate this problem with undergraduate students in North America found that:
- All respondents experienced burnout during or following a period of high academic workload, such as midterms, assignments, and a lack of breaks.
- Common signs of burnout include feelings of apathy, low energy, irritability, and a lack of motivation.
- The impact of burnout on physical health, emotional well-being, and overall performance was negative, including disrupted eating and exercise routines, emotional exhaustion, and poor academic performance.
- Coping strategies employed by interviewees included scheduling and time management tools, accountability through peers or team activities, and physical activities such as playing sports or going to the gym.
- All respondents expressed a desire to have better time management and more balanced schedules.
- Each respondent mentioned the importance of prioritizing self-care, personal well-being, and mindfulness to prevent future burnout.
Landing on the Solution
Ava aims to proactively address burnout, enhance productivity, and promote work-life balance for university students, fostering a positive academic environment. By prioritizing mental and physical well-being, improving productivity, and supporting a healthy balance between academic and personal life, Ava seeks to contribute to reduced stress and burnout, improved academic success, and the development of essential life skills. The ultimate goal is to prepare students for future challenges and responsibilities, creating a resilient workforce that can navigate professional demands while maintaining a balanced and sustainable lifestyle.
Explanation of Solution
After carefully analyzing our users' pain points, we prioritized features aligning with Ava's goals to create a solution tailored to address their unique challenges. The following features directly contribute to fulfilling the overarching objectives of Ava:
- Personalized Wellness Suggestions:
- Gather information about the user's health preferences and goals.
- Suggest quick and manageable exercises suitable for the user's schedule.
- Recommend mindfulness practices tailored to the user's preferences.
- Provide nutritional tips based on the user's dietary preferences and goals.
- Integration with Academic Calendar:
- Seamlessly integrate with the user's university calendar.
- Prioritize tasks based on academic deadlines.
- Provide proactive suggestions for wellness breaks during busy academic periods.
- Adapt to user preferences for peak productivity times and reminders.
- Burnout Bar:
- Utilize user data to assess and visualize the user's current stress and burnout levels.
- Implement a burnout bar within the app, providing a real-time indicator of the user's well-being status.
- Offer personalized recommendations and interventions when the burnout bar indicates elevated stress, encouraging users to prioritize self-care and adjust their schedules accordingly.
These features collectively address key user pain points, ensuring Ava provides a comprehensive solution to reduce burnout, improve productivity, and enhance work-life balance for university students.
Below is a preliminary mockup of the web application for Ava:
In reflecting on the Ava product sprint, a key takeaway was the importance of resisting the urge to hastily jump into solutions, especially when personally connected to the identified problem. Recognizing my initial bias as a university student who had experienced burnout, I initially focused on schedule management as the primary source of stress. However, the guidance of my mentor prompted a crucial question: is schedule management the sole contributor to burnout? This query led to a pivot in my approach. To gain a comprehensive understanding, I conducted user interviews and surveys, unveiling diverse sources of stress among users. This experience highlighted the necessity of thorough exploration before settling on solutions and underscored the multifaceted nature of burnout, influencing a more inclusive and user-centric perspective in shaping Ava's future iterations.
Looking ahead, the program has encouraged me to delve deeper into additional problem areas, such as financial stress, social isolation, and mental health stigma, while also considering an extended scope beyond university students to cater to the needs of a broader audience, including working professionals.
Product Manager Learnings:
Engaging in Co.Lab was quite an eye-opener for me, especially as an engineering student who's used to diving straight into solutions. The program pushed me to look at things differently, making me realize the importance of really getting to the core of problems from a broader perspective. Product thinking became a game-changer, teaching me to resist the urge to rush into solutions and instead, to dig into the intricacies of the problem space. This shift has allowed me to come up with solutions that truly cater to users, making a real impact. Co.Lab's emphasis on product thinking has reshaped how I approach problem-solving, giving me a deeper understanding of user needs and challenges.