So here I am, publishing blog posts again after taking a year off from publishing on here. I’m starting up again with a post on taking a break and burnout.
Like my fellow web and tech industry colleagues, I rarely perform manual labour. Due to that fact, it seems that many people think individuals in our line of work don’t get tired because we “aren’t really working that hard” to begin with. Nothing could be further from the truth. Using your brain non-stop certainly wears one down and a similar exhaustion can ensue.
While it’s cliché, I must state that this past year really flew by. It was a very different one for me personally, some of which I may describe in a future article. Still, a lot happens very quickly in the tech world so just keeping up can be seen as a chore in addition to working with clients or producing the next social media or SEO conference presentation.
Your Brain as a Muscle
I’m sure many would agree that the better and more dedicated you are at your job, the more mentally drained you can become. Think of your brain as a muscle and the more you use it, the better it gets in the long run but the more tired it can be in the short-term.
After publishing my ebook SEO for 2012 (and making it available for free), I decided it was time to take a break. So I took the last year off (which was a longer period than I had originally anticipated but that’s a whole other story!). It occurred to me that that I needed a good segway into getting the blog post writing machine going again. This is it. Read on…
Although I wasn’t going through a typical overworked professional’s burnout, I do recognize that it may have been slowly creeping up on me. I have experienced burnout before but that was some 20 years ago in a very different line of work. It was brain intensive but not Internet work related.
I won’t be detailing the causes or explaining how to recognize the symptoms of burnout. You can find that elsewhere.
For my purposes, let me just make it clear that burnout is essentially being mentally drained coupled with a lack of motivation and interest in what you’re doing. So you come to work but you’re not really motivated to perform and look forward to doing something else. If this is going on for a prolonged period of time in your life, you may be burning out.
Monday Morning Dread
“Monday Morning Dread” is what I call that terrible feeling you get on Sunday night where you really don’t want to go to work and would rather be doing just about anything else. If you start to feel that every day of the week, it may be time for you to re-evaluate yourself.
That said, I will provide some tips for web professionals on overcoming burnout.
How Long Should You Take to Recover?
The length of time it takes to recover from burnout will vary by person and situation. I would break down the recovery period into 2 main components.
The first is the actual amount of time you get away from your work. I mean physically remove yourself from your office and daily work routine.
Given the first part, my second component is how much work you still do while you’re trying to get away from it. Being in the web industry where your world is in your pocket during the day and by your bedside at night, this may be more difficult than it sounds. You have to be honest with yourself about how much you can actually remove yourself from client distractions and such.
In my case, I decided to take a year off of blogging. I did do some writing, including some work on magazine articles, books, and ebooks that I plan to publish (eventually!) but for the most part, I took the time off. I stayed in the loop but you don’t have to.
For others, stepping far away from their web work might be needed. In that respect, taking an “out of sight, out of mind” approach can do wonders, even if it’s just for say, a 2-week period.
Freelancers Are Especially Susceptible
Most web professionals begin as a freelancer on some level. If you’re a web designer, for example, chances are you started making sites on your own and then moved on to work for a company when you realized you needed more experience, money and support.
I believe that freelancers who get very busy are among the most susceptible to burnout. The most disciplined freelancers work from home on a strick schedule away from TV and playing on Facebook. If there are a lot of projects in the queue, there’s a lot of pressure to produce and produce more. Eventually, you just don’t have it in you to generate more original work, not to mention the stresses of running a business.
Even if you don’t think you need a break, I strongly recommend that you re-evaluate from time to time. Life isn’t about making money. It’s about enjoying your time and being a happy person.
What You Can Do
Make it clear to clients that you will be away for a distinct amount of time. Far too many people seem to think it’s ok for clients to go away for weeks but that you, as a support/vendor, don’t get time off. As a freelancer suffering from burnout, think of it this way: If they paid more, you could afford to hire someone to replace you while you’re off. If you’re paid well, they should understand that the person who replaces you temporarily may not have all the answers.
Always remember that your life should not revolve around work. Work is just part of what defines you and your daily life. Knowing that helped me take a break. Sure some readers were left without some great blog posts during the year but that’s life!
Spend more “Me” time. That is, spend more time doing things you like to do. Read a comic book. Go dancing. Go skiiing. Go fishing. Sleep! Travel!
Some of the benefits:
- Your Brain Recharges. Just like when you sleep at night and your brain has a chance to process the day’s experiences, a longer term break will help you recover some or all of what you’re missing.
- Creativity: Taking a break will let you see things from a new perspective and help you be more creative. You might even get inspired by something you never noticed or realized before.
- Stress: It will decrease. I suggest exercise to help with this as well.
One of the cons of taking time off of publishing blog posts is that I had a few dozen articles that were in various states of being completed. Some of them are now dated, or worse, someone else may have had the opportunity to publish the idea first! I enjoy the “high” of being the first to put out great ideas but that’s just me.
Another negative is that you often come back to a boatload of work. It doesn’t have to be that bad but sometimes you can feel overwhelmed on that first day back.
You Can Always Take a Break
The good far outweighs the bad when it comes to taking a break so keep that in mind. Also remember that you can always take a break, no matter where you are in a project. In fact, I specifically add a section in my contracts which state that if something significant arises in my personal life, a project may be delayed. That’s just how life works. People get sick and can’t make it in to work. People die. People have familial responsibilities that may unexpectedly prevent them from completing work. And, people burn out. Clients will understand. If they don’t, you probably shouldn’t have been doing business with such an unethical or unrealistic client to begin with.
So take that break, relax, and get back to work when you’re ready. You can also return to work on a part-time basis until you’re ready to handle it full time again (if that’s your goal).