Burn Out in Our Industry: Is it Coming for You?

Work-stressOur industry is really very stressful. I think families and friends think that the job is easy because we are in front of computers a lot, but as we all know this is not the case. So I am going to go over some common things that cause people in our particular industry to become overly stressed and end up in “Burn Out Mode”. Then I am going to explain some changes I made when I found myself in this mode recently.

Isolation

In reality I interact with more people in a day than most people do in a week, but the people I interact with are on social media sites. Talking and interacting with people is part of what I do, but the truth is talking with people via social is not the same as having real human interactions. There have been psychological studies that found some people that are on their computers for a significant amount of time on a long-term basis (games, coders etc.) are prone to depression due to isolation.

Our industry requires lots of research and analysis, reports, data entry, writing, creating, meetings and much more. Sometimes we are so focused on getting work done that we forget about having human interaction and this is not healthy for the mind. For those of you that work out of your home it is really important that you keep an eye on how much time you spend with your computer vs. how much time you spend with humans.

Working More Hours

Most of us do not work 9-5 with an hour lunch break. Most of us get up and check our email and social accounts via mobile just to make sure there are no emergencies or issues. This is something that is a constant throughout the day. We also work (think about all the duties this includes), read the latest articles related to our fields, maintain social accounts (which is part of the job), watch social streams all day and deal with clients/customers on a daily basis. Then when the work day is over how many of us check with work or do more work while we are supposed to be ‘not-working’? How many of us put work time in on the weekends?

The 8 hour work day is not something that most in our field have. If you keep track of everything you do in a day you may be shocked at how many hours you are really putting into your work day/week.

Managing it All

When you break down everything you do for work you realize that you manage a lot of things at one time. In the past 2 years when people see my computer screen they are like “Holy crap!”. I have multiple browsers with tons of tabs, multiple email addresses, Twitter running all day with pop-ups (for multiple accounts), Facebook monitoring and multiple programs running all the time to manage work tasks. Just because I have learned to manage it all at the same doesn’t mean it is good for me.

If your brain is always going and focusing on multiple things at the same time for 9-12 hours a day you are going to burn out eventually.

Habit

Sometimes when you work for many hours and manage everything at the same time, for a long period of time, your work becomes habit. You work and don’t even notice that it is too much because it is a habit now. I noticed this had happened to me when my time as editor of SEJ came to an end. I managed social accounts, 80+ writers, did all the scheduling, handled all the email, fact checked, edited and uploaded posts…it was a lot of work, that I loved, and when it ended it was like going into withdrawal.

I had modified my life to meet the needs of the job and it became habit. I didn’t notice how disconnected I had become to everything else until it ended and what I realized is that I really wasn’t happy (I just didn’t have the time before that to notice). It took about 30 days for me to get passed it.

So I Knew All of This And Got Burned Out Anyway

Burn-OutWork wise the last 8 months have been great. I have been working with Authority Labs since October 2012 and writing for Copypress weekly since August 2012. I also have clients of my own, but I wanted more. I started as an associate with Moz in January of this year and I wanted to do really great work for them. This was my primary goal.

I had also taken over Lisa Barone’s column at Small Biz Trends and I was so thrilled, but after a while I realized writing for SBT was the most stressful part of my week. I don’t know why, but it was taking me forever to write small articles when I am used to spitting out long ones in no time. I loved the audience, but I had to make a personal decision to do what was best for me, so I stepped away and my stress was reduced massively.

But I took on more. I took on consulting and research for some people in this industry that I have always looked up to and I had a solid 40 hour work week without the social component. I had plenty to maintain before I took on the project. Work, maintaining a home and family are tons of work.

But I took on one more project. I was offered a large project and the money was great, but it would require about 4 hours of work per day for 8 weeks. This meant adding 4 hours to my work day so you can probably see the direction this was going. My work week became about 60 hours weekly and I maintained this for 30 days. I loved all the work I was doing. It was perfect for me, but I lived in front of a computer from 8am-8pm at a minimum daily.

Burn Out

I was very tired and I guess Jennifer Lopez at Moz noticed because she IMed me and said she didn’t want me to get burned out and it hit me, “I am so burned out.” I wasn’t tired or just stressed; I was done. I didn’t want to look at my computer and I was unhappy. So I took that weekend and did nothing. Then I started feeling sick and realized something needed to change.

Fixing It

I decided to reduce my work load until the one large project is finished, which immediately took a lot of pressure off. Twitter is off, but I check in with it. I also try really hard to walk away from the computer at 5:30 daily (I try) and I take a 30 minute lunch break each day. I have dinner with my family and I hang out at nights and relax (I do check the phone all night, I admit it). My house isn’t perfectly clean, but it will be one day. Bottom line, I am happy to do work again and my days are positive, not draining.

The only person that can determine if burn out is coming is you.

You have to start paying attention to how you feel, you have to find ways to reduce the stress and the non-stop stimulation our industry brings. You have to care more about you than you do the work – even if you love the work and are excited to have it you have to watch for signs of potential burn out.

Last bit of advice, be honest.

I have a perfectionist type of nature. I want to do everything perfect for everyone and I never want to let anyone down. What I have learned is most people are perfectly understanding about me being sick or me needing a break and even me becoming burned out. Perfection isn’t possible 100% of the time. Talking with Jen and seeing that they understood was a blessing to me. Tell people how you feel, including partners. You might be surprised at the support you receive; most people understand.

Image Credit Shutterstock: YanLev and auremar

 

About Melissa Fach

Melissa Fach is the owner of SEOAware, LLC that specializes in consulting and training businesses. She is also an associate on the community team at Moz, a writer at CopyPressed, the past Editor of Search Engine Journal and a big cat volunteer. You can find her on Twitter @SEOAware.

Comments

  1. Excellent post, Melissa and it’s great to see how you admitted and overcame being burned out. It’s a demanding industry we work in with work days and evenings continuously merging into one long work day/ week.

    Taking a break when you know you need one is key. And you’re right, be honest and people will understand you need to slow things down a little.

  2. Thanks, Steven. I agree with you completely :)

  3. Melissa,

    Your story reminds me of how I felt when I started work for ESPN in 2005. I was overwhelmed to the nth degree, and I was pissed off at myself for not knowing how to get out of the bind I was in. I’d bitten off more than i could chew with freelance work and totally underestimated the task at hand in managing a B2B publication full-time.

    I remember having to take a step back from all the other projects and being happy to hear my boss say “Ronell, you’re going to have to learn how to say no.”

    Mine is a personality that’s most at peace when I’m busiest, but no one benefits when I suffer mentally from being overloaded.

    Thanks for sharing.

    RS

  4. I’m happy I could help you realize you had taken on too much, and it was time to slow down. :) I love to hear that you’re spending time with your family in the evenings, that is so important! I’m guilty of checking my phone all the time as well, but I’m working hard at trying to be present, rather than always seeing what is going on with the internet.

    Thanks so much for this reminder, and keep on making us think! :) <3

  5. Melissa:

    Thank you for sharing this! It is hard to be honest about being overworked, especially when you are in control of the workload you take on. I share your tendency to take on more than I really should and it is hard to change that habit.

    Having a baby last year forced me to reprioritize, but I still find it hard to not want to take advantage of every opportunity. I do better some months than others.

    A friend once told me that you should try for balance every day, but be happy if you “achieve balance, on balance”. I find this philosophy liberating. I might not have the exact right balance every day, but I try hard to be in the zone I want as often as possible.

    Tech heavy jobs do want to take over your life. I hope we can all find ways to not let that happen! We will definitely be better consultants, family members, friends and people if we do.

    Best of luck in your ongoing efforts!

  6. Nice post, the thing is if you own your own business it is very hard to do a 9-5 style job any more. I notice this with myself currently as I can end up working some weeks up to 7 days. That involves work during the days and networking events at night to get new business because when you are a business operator you never can turn off. I agree I need to turn it back but that is when i will need to hire a few more employees to take care of business.

    • James, I totally get it and I have been there. As a business owner you will have crazy weeks and sometimes months, but if you have to find some time to give back to yourself when you can, something to refuel. About 4 years ago I started volunteering at a big cat habitat and I loved it so much I forced myself to find time to go. Two hours there would rejuvenate me for a week!

  7. Great post, Melissa.

    I know how you feel! I think that working a 9-5 becomes almost impossible within our industry because the nature of content marketing will be that you often work on an opportunity that has a small time-window for success. I’ve been making sure that I have a ‘disconnected hour’ each night between 7-8pm and it’s been making the world of difference. Even just checking my phone here and there means that I’m not actually disconnecting from what I’ve been doing all day so I found that my stress was a LOT less by doing this.

  8. I am going to share this at the next team meeting. We have a lot of hard working people that I would hate to loose because of being burn’t out.

  9. MELISSA!!! This is sooooo timely! I started reading posts on burn out last month. Reading your schedule stressed me out alone! I’m proud of you!

    I’m in a monthly challenge right now to break the “always-on” addiction. I immediately had the DTs when I turned off Facebook and Twitter notifications. I’m learning to say “no” – have to save my sanity. The result is that my brain is slowly rewiring, and I’m getting more sleep. I’m saying “yes” to getting together with friends more and am having fun again away from the computer!

    Thanks for encouraging others so we know we are not alone!

  10. I know I have asked you before how the heck you do all the stuff you do…and that was before you were doing all this other stuff!

    I love that this post is so honest and I have to think that many of us in the industry go through it. There’s always an opportunity to do more and be involved in something and it’s tough to say no. On top of that, I always tell people working on the internet is a blessing and curse – you can work from anywhere and anytime – which means you can also work anywhere, all the time. Taking a break is 100% necessary.

  11. Spook SEO says:

    Hey Melissa,

    Awesome post. I suggest using a pomodoro technique/timer to avoid getting burned-out. I used to have the same problem about getting burned out not until a close friend of mine (also a very successful marketer) introduced me to it.

    I hope everyone gets to try it.

    Thanks for sharing the post.