Archive for August, 2020|Monthly archive page

Managing Burnout

Work on conventions can be intense and overwhelming at times. Schedule pressures, conflicts with others, and sometimes just the mismatch between what we aspire to and the real constraints we have can suck the joy out of our work.   If you feel like that, you wouldn’t be the first person to say “I’m just burnt out.”

Burn-out really is a risk of this work we do.    Yes, the occasional ups and downs can be managed by a weekend away from email or a chance to vent.  Sometimes going to another convention and just having fun there can give you new perspective.  But persistent indications like the following can do long term damage

  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism, either feeling that you no longer care about your work, or that no one else cares about the problems you are wrestling with. Cynicism can also express itself as despair, or a feeling that nothing will ever be better.
  • Declining ability to be proud of your work, especially for things you are good at and used to enjoy.
  • A compassion gap – losing your temper, lacking patience with others, and even feeling angry a good deal of the time.
  • Physical symptoms of stress, however your body expresses that.

Action is important.  Don’t ignore burn-out but do try to act on it. Here are some things you can do:

  • Get support from others. You’ll find that many of us have experienced these warning signs of burnout before. Knowing that you’re not alone can be helpful in itself.
  • Time box the work.  Make it clear when you are available for your volunteer work but preserve some time that is just yours or your family’s that is not consumed with the convention.
  • If you feel like you’re constantly trying to do the impossible, perhaps you are. Talk with others to drop, delegate, or defer tasks until the work in front of you is manageable again.
  • Meetings can be a helpful way to get work done and get information you need or they can be a drain on your resources.   Ask for agendas, and communicate your needs  in advance so that meetings can be as useful as possible.

There are also things you can do that support your colleagues and help manage burnout for others:

  • There is no ribbon for “Tiredest Staff Member “. Don’t turn “who can work hardest” or who is doing the most into a competition.
  • When people express feelings of stress or anxiety about their work, don’t minimize those feelings or brush them off.
  • When you are able, work with your team within their stated work hours and work style preferences.
  • Post agendas for meetings you are holding so people know whether the meeting will be valuable to them.

Invest in robust issue tracking and knowledge management. Knowing that tasks and important information won’t “slip between the cracks” allows our brains to rest.

Here are a few resources that help fight burnout.  It’s not a complete list but some things that have been repeatedly recommended to me.

  • HeadSpace or other sources of guided mindfulness meditation.
  • How To Recover From Burnout
    Internet quizzes are not a substitute for professional opinion but a good one can give you some idea of what you can be asking yourself.
  • You don’t have to use the methodology in David Allen’s classic  Getting Things Done but a task tracking method that works well for your brain and your habits can make progress visible in useful ways.

I wrote the first draft of this post many months ago.  Over the course of 2020, burn-out has become a fact of life for many of us, and mental health issues have risen rapidly.  If you are reading this, and think you are burned out, please act on it.  Burn-out is dangerous to your long term physical and mental health. 

If your burn-out is leading you to despair and thoughts of self-harm,  you are not alone, and help is available.   The  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.