Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Avoiding Burnout, or How My Cat Got Quality Lap Time Last Weekend

I took last weekend off from work. Let me explain: it's not that I was meant to be in the building and then switched shifts or called out. It's that I brought work home with me, committee work and the like, intending to do it over the weekend. On Saturday morning, when I booted up my computer to start working, my mind flashed to the 50+ hours I'd been on campus the previous week. That's when I decided it could all wait until Monday. So, instead of reading through new course proposals or through the materials for which the academic dean wanted feedback, I did stuff for me. I watched every episode of season five of Psych on Netflix. I ate Oreos. I did laundry and washed dishes. I spent a lot of time on my couch with my cat in my lap. I even took a nap on Sunday afternoon.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I did work on a presentation I'm giving at an upcoming conference, but that's also for me - not for work.) I did things I wanted to do, not things I had to do.

I'm not going to tell you that you should never do work at home, although that is ideal. For me, especially since I'm both a librarian and an adjunct professor at the same institution, getting everything done while on campus is impossible. Besides, if it's a choice between doing work while sitting on my couch, in my pajamas, or sitting at my desk, in my work clothes, I opt for the couch and the jammies. I can be a bit of a workaholic at times, but I have learned I need to take time for me on a regular basis.

If you aren't careful, stress can turn to burnout. I've been there. Back when I was a baby librarian, we had some rapid changes in personnel (all for good reasons) that left me the only instruction librarian for a semester. It was a small institution, and I had great coworkers who covered my desk hours without complaint, but by the end of it I was hurting. Things got better after that. We filled the open librarian position; I took some vacation; and I was finally able to breathe again. The story had a happy ending, but I never want to feel like that again.

As you move forward in your career (whether you're a denizen of Biblioterra or work in another field), I hope you can learn from my mistakes instead of making your own. As much as you might love your job, you need other things in your life. It could be a pet, a hobby, spending time with friends, or even a television show that makes you laugh. There will come a time when you'll need it.

How about you? What do you do to handle your stress?


  1. Jessica,

    Great work restoring balance to the universe with this post. All too often, I read posts and pages and missives to new and recent LIS grads that tell them to live, breathe, and die for their career. Although I believe one should be dedicated to what they do (and they should enjoy, it as well) and be willing to put some extra hours in from time to time, it's also important to remember to make time for oneself in life, too.

    The worst thing about burning out - about not finding that balance between work and play - is growing tired about work. If we love what we do (and most librarians do), then we should be careful to keep things running smoothly so that we will want to come to work every day and start and complete the great projects we do.

    p.s. The best way to handle stress, in my mind, is to take an hour-long lunch. *Leave the office*. Leave the building if you have to. So many of us work in libraries that are full of great materials! Pick up a text or a serial and take it with you to read outside in the sunshine. It makes a world of difference.

  2. I've only just started at the iSchool at University of Washington (MLIS) but I can see the burnout mode potential high. Luckily I've a number of interests and activities to keep me from losing it. My 40 hour a week job in Search Engine Marketing is one, my love for going to poetry readings and performance arts events is another. After that, life with my room mates, watering the plants, and cooking/baking are all things that can "make the pain go away" if need be. Thanks for writing on this!

  3. You already know how I fight stress - the Lazy Day! One is coming... Saturday! Ed will be at school and all I have to do is laundry. I am even going to *gasp* play World of Warcraft. I haven't done that since February.

    I'm glad you were able to get some time for you. You needed it!

  4. @Michael - hells yeah. I do whatever I can to take an actual lunch break. Even on days when I can't get out of the building, I try to do something fun during that period (like watch silly kitty videos on YouTube).

    @Gregory - I worked full time through both of my graduate degrees, so I know that making time for friends and the like is hugely important.

    @Cari - Yeah, I thought of you at one point on Saturday as I was sitting there with a purring cat on my lap.