Posted on July 7, 2011.
Jennifer Peacock, M.L.I.S. – a research assistant and solo librarian in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a Rocky Mountain Chapter member - tapped into the experiences of fellow SLA members and wrote up what what she learned about burnout. She writes,
Recently, I was frantically working through a pile of work at my desk. I suddenly stopped and sat back in my chair, wide eyed, exhausted, and working to suppress a tension headache. I thought, “I just need to step away from this for a minute.” So I went for a brief walk down the hall. As I walked I whispered to myself, “I’m so bored.” In a second, the contradiction hit me, “Wait a minute, I’m frantically overwhelmed and working as hard and as fast as I can, but I’m also bored? Is that even possible?”
As a member of the Special Library Association (SLA) I can make use of an email discussion group of colleagues. I posed the question to other members and asked for tips on what to do when such feelings encroach on us. The response I got was amazing. People immediately responded with tips and encouragement, on and off the list. It sparked a conversation that went on for several days. Many of the tips were very helpful.
Listed below is a summary of my follow SLA members’ tips for avoiding/working with burnout. I hope others will find their advice as useful as I did. Thanks to the SLA Solo Division and Rocky Mountain Chapter for the great advice and encouragement on and off list!
“Coping with Burnout”
~Courtesy of My SLA Colleagues
1. “Burn out” is hopefully a temporary condition, so count your blessings and plow forward.
2. Create or revaluate your to-do list.
a. Overwhelming task lists can be paralyzing. Revaluate what needs doing, and what can reasonably be done.
b. Task lists get cluttered with monotonous and trivial tasks. While some diversionary tasks are good for variety, be sure not to saturate your time with them.
c. Don’t avoid daunting or boring tasks. Just get it done.
d. Make sure you have a good balance of the everyday and sometimes boring tasks that have to get done, challenging tasks, and rewarding tasks.
e. Look for tasks that can be streamlined.
f. Drop redundant tasks (you know the kind: left over from your predecessor but no longer serves a justifiable purpose, or the ones that the OCD imp on your should won’t let you drop). Drop them or at least reduce their frequency and priority.
g. Look for other work that needs doing that isn’t getting done. Services not being rendered? Marketing to a new group of clients? Improving an existing service? Is it time to add such task to your list, or raise their priority level?
3. Have a reward to look forward to. This may be completing a big task, having a candy bar, or taking a holiday.
4. Create meaningful/rewarding variety in your work and personal life.
a. Live in the moment. Find joy in what you are doing right now.
b. Don’t rely on work for all your satisfaction or fulfillment.
5. Don’t let feelings of under-appreciation affect your work ethic.
a. Be productive and you will feel better about yourself.
b. Whether you’re looking for a new job or not, don’t work like you’re getting ready to leave and don’t care anymore. Work to impress as if you were looking for a glowing recommendation from your current boss.
c. Work as if this is the job you really want, not as if this is the job you’re stuck with. I think this goes hand in hand with the idea: dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
6. Take a break. Walk away for a minute. Go outside. Switch tasks. Maybe use a timer to help break up tasks into manageable chucks. Then work hard at the task until the timer goes off, and then allow yourself to walk away or switch tasks for a few minutes.
7. Balance your work with personal or professional interaction (seems to be a common problem for solo librarians). Can you take a moment to talk to colleagues about either professional or non-professional matters without negatively affecting your job performance? Or are you spending too much time interacting with peers and not getting enough work done, thus compounding feelings of being overwhelmed?
8. Find ways to make your tasks or environment more enjoyable. Can you listen to music, a podcast, or a good audio book while you work, without affecting your job performance?
9. Write articles.
a. Get involved with professional organizations. Volunteer for SLA and the like.
b. Volunteer outside of work.
11. Watch out for depression. Are those feelings of being overwhelmed or bored just not going away? Maybe they are part of a deeper rooted problem and professional consultation is needed.
12. Is it time to change jobs? Is it time to move on to a new challenge?
Jennifer Peacock, M.L.I.S., is a Research Assistant/Solo Librarian for a small research group at the LDS Church in Salt Lake City. Her job requires her to research many different areas, but social trends and humanitarian efforts are a main area of specialty. Starting out as an assistant archivist and eventually an E.A.D. (Encoded Archival Description) specialist for the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, she discovered her passion for information science and was encouraged to pursue an M.L.I.S. from the University of North Texas. She lives in West Jordan, Utah with her husband. Her favorite pastimes include skiing, reading, writing, and video games. You can follow other thoughts from Jennifer on her blog at libhat.wordpress.com or on Twitter @libhat.