Delaying burn out?

Subject: Delaying burn out?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Atek Writer'" <atekwriter30 -at- hotmail -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 08:41:12 -0400

Atek Writer has <<... been working as a technical writer, in the wonderful
world of contracting, for the past four years. Problem: I am burned out
(or very close to approaching it)... I'm no longer motivated to do the work
and... I am seeing more mistakes... there are several things that I am
lacking that are vital to me -- close contact with people during the work
day (I really love to help people -- face to face), a stable working
location with different projects (instead of what I have now -- different
locations but the same old manuals over and over again -- with different
covers and titles), and perhaps the thing I miss most -- creativity. (...I
have a pretty low tolerance for repetition although I've learned to adapt.)
I know that I will probably have to make a career change soon -- but I'm
hoping that you can help me in the short-term by suggesting strategies for
coping with burn out.>>

Sounds like you're working too hard, and not taking enough time to
decompress afterwards by changing the types of activities you do. When I was
going through work hell at a previous job, I recovered my sanity and
preserved my desire to work by exercising different muscles at the end of
each day and on weekends: time with family, friends, and at the gym or
playing hockey. (Plus a 45-minute walk home at -30C during the winter. <g>)
Exercise is a particularly good cure for what ails you, particularly if you
get involved in team sports to increase the level of human contact, and
sometimes fleeing to the big city (or the country if you're in the big city
already <g>) for one long weekend per month is enough of a change of pace
that you come back refreshed on Monday. You mentioned several specific
problems, so a few specific suggestions:

- Close contact with people during the work day: What's stopping you from
making these contacts during the day? Figure out the obstacles, and find a
way around them. Worst-case scenario: you'll still have to stop and have
lunch at some point, brew the office coffee pot in the morning, pick up mail
at the mail room, or join the rest of the crowd in the parking lot or at the
bus stop, and these are all good times to make those initial contacts. Once
you've made them, you can build on them at work until they become part of
your work life. (If you're contracting, and changing jobs annually, it's
harder to do this because you know that most of the relationships will be
short-term, but a good friendship never has to die just because you've moved
20 miles down the road.) One thing that works really well at FERIC is our
social committee: we have ping-pong and table hockey tournaments every year,
we go bowling or curling or hockeyplaying together, and we have occasional
picnicks or group lunches at the local tavern. Anything similar you could do
at work during lunch hours?

- Different projects (instead of what I have now -- different locations but
the same old manuals over and over again...): Since you're a contractor, you
never have to feel locked into the "same old same old", since you can change
jobs at the end of the contract whenever the old type of job starts getting
stale. Your long-term strategy should be to develop the skills you need to
branch out and do different types of manuals--or perhaps even training
materials, marketing bumf, online help, Web projects, or whatever else turns
your crank and gets you going. If you're doing software now, make sure your
next contract is hardware; if you're doing mass-market products this time,
aim for specialized stuff next time; if you're doing product support now, do
scientific communication or marketing next time. If you've never met a real
user of the products, figure out how you could meet one and begin doing
audience analysis and usability testing. Writing skills transfer
surprisingly well between domains (if you prepare yourself by reading up on
the new field and practicing any necessary new skills), and you've got the
option of doing so at the end of each contract.

- Creativity (...I have a pretty low tolerance for repetition although I've
learned to adapt.): Put that creativity to work elsewhere than in your
documentation--by finding out what kind of job you'd like to do most, and
plotting a course that will get you there. Have you considered selling your
skills to marketing or advertising firms? Depending on where you live, there
may be many small (or huge) studios that provide services to the software
and hardware industries, and if you can get yourself hooked up with them
(emphasize your expertise in the fields they're serving), you'll find
yourself in a job where the challenges change daily, and your creativity is
tested to its limits.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot; others transform a
yellow spot into the sun."- -Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

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