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Nicole’s Burnout Blues

Nicole, over on “What I learned today,” wonders if she’s burned out. Just because she’s working, blogging, presenting, and trying to sell a house at the same time?

What I say here is nothing new, really… which is partly why I’m blogging it: because I’ve got so much happening this week that even Gormania can’t get me prolix; this is just a blurp from the brain. But perhaps there’s an angle here that’s new to you.

1. Cherry-pick your opportunities. You don’t have to accept every talk/opportunity that comes your way. You don’t have to blog on every topic. You don’t have to go to every conference. You don’t have to try every new social software. Just as libraries should think about what they’re jumping into (today we’re doing trading cards… no, wait, blogs… no wait, wikis, or did we mean Second Life?), you should be selective with your own opportunities. Do a few things well, not many things spread thin.

2. Scope out your project deliverables. This is related to #3 (estimating time/effort), but it’s worth underscoring that for any project (even personal projects, like selling a house!) it’s worth parsing out what exactly is involved. I just spent hours on a draft proposal for a project, and I’m glad I did, because it made me realize things I hadn’t factored in the equation, equipment I needed, caveats to bring up.

3. When you’re asked to give a presentation (or do any special project), to figure out what you should charge and how much it will absorb your attention, add up all the time you will spend — planning, preparation, travel, presenting, catching up on things you couldn’t get done because you were doing all of the above — and then double it.

4. Take breaks, and not just daily/weekly breaks (doing what YOU find restful), though these are extremely restful, but deliberate chunks of weeks or months where you are not doing “extra,” traveling, preparing, etc. This requires that when someone runs into you somewhere and asks if you can do a talk, you say “maybe, sounds interesting,” then you sit down with your calendar and really ask yourself if you want your one month with free time broken up by several days of planning and travel. Not too long ago in my own life, I had some time off that was eroded by a family visit that was not exactly restful, several activities related to a future job that I felt I should attend, and a presentation trip. In the end, I cheated myself out of intentional quality time “off the grid.”

5. Use a little tough love. In the past couple of years I have practiced tough love several times. Once, I had agreed to write the introduction to a book, provided, I made it extremely clear, that the chapters were available no later than a certain date. The deadlines slipped and slipped; I sent out several warnings. Six months later, I was “reminded” of this task while I was preparing a household move. I told them no, I was available when I said I was available, and this was just no longer possible. I’ve also regretfully turned down whuffies (free presentations) because I am self-employed and my talks put food on my table.

6. Accept some situational pressure. For ALA, I’m feeling a lot of pressure because there are several things that landed on my platter within the last three weeks, just as paid work came my way. One committee, after six months of silence, sent me a fat Word document last Friday for review by Tuesday… another is planning details now that could have been done last month… and so forth. Oh, and did I agree, like a lunatic, to do a screencast on preservation and social software? People, they’re so… human!

Meanwhile, I am either trying to produce work-for-pay or develop intelligent contracts for the same, while I try to meet an overdue writing-workshop deadline and help the church get its new site up. The cure? ALA will come, and then it will be the summer. Sometimes you just ride the wave… just like you’ll get your house sold and amazingly, you’ll have a life again. Figure out what you can cast off, and let it go for a while… then be sure to think big-picture the next time you get the urge to do something new.

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