Here’s how to avoid burnout when the flow of copy needing your immediate attention appears endless.
By Christina Folz
Now that the Internet has transformed monthly and weekly deadlines into daily and hourly ones, the idea that you could ever really put your publication "to bed" no longer seems to apply. (To the extent that it does, I think a lot of editors can relate to the new children's-book-for-parents, Go the F*ck to Sleep.) So how can you avoid burnout when the flow of copy requiring your care and feeding appears endless? Well, you can't—at least not entirely. No matter how high-tech our tools, at the end of the day we're all still human. Nevertheless, here are some tips for managing burnout and minimizing its frequency.
Regroup. If you're in a slump, forgive yourself and move on. I've gone through many of them in my career, and while they're not fun, they also don't last forever. For most of us, creativity comes in fits and starts, not as one continuous flow. So you can't expect every idea, article, and blog post to light the world on fire.
One of the hardest adjustments I had to make in my career was evolving my publication from a print publication to a print-plus-web-plus-social-media brand. I was quite comfortable with the way things had worked before, thank you very much. But a couple years ago, it started to sink in that the world was changing, with or without me. If I wanted to remain professionally relevant, I had no choice but to adapt.
To ease my transition, I set up an anonymous blog, in which I worked out some of the frustration I felt as I struggled to learn basic HTML, content management, and how to engage with readers online who had previously been unknown to me. The exercise helped me to learn blog software in a nonthreatening way, and it also served the therapeutic purpose of allowing me to acknowledge my resistance to change, grieve for what I had lost, and move forward with a new openness to learning.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. It's also liberating to realize that content doesn't always need to be new in order to be useful. At the June 2011 Association Media and Publishing Annual Meeting, the team from HemAware—a website and publication for hemophilia sufferers—described how they periodically repost important information about how to travel with hemophilia medication (which can be tricky due to airline security measures) during times of the year when people are known to travel a lot, including summer and the holidays.
Think strategically. I liked learning about how the Newspaper Association of America was adopting a sane twist on the Orwellian mantra: "Do more with less." NAA decided instead to do "less with less" in their media strategy, as Cheryl Sadowski, vice president of communications at NAA explained at a recent Association Media and Publishing Lunch and Learn. Meaning: The team acknowledged that it had finite resources and thus made the conscious decision to provide only offerings that had proven useful. They cut blogs getting little to no traffic, for example, and redirected their energy toward improving the ones that were working for their audience.
Taking breaks. It might seem like working nonstop is the best way to make headway on your to-do list, but career consultants say that taking lunch breaks or other short periods away from your desk actually improves productivity and creativity. Incorporating relaxing rituals into your day, such as doing a few quick stretches or taking a 5- to 10-minute walk, can also help reduce the stress associated with constant deadlines.
Setting limits. When too much is being asked of you--from your board, your boss, or your members--it's important to set boundaries. You know your job better than anyone, so it should be intuitively clear when you need to push back and say no. Also know that it is OK, and even healthy, to set aside periods of time during the day when you are unplugged from technology and able to focus your attention more deeply on one or two tasks. Arrange your vacation so that it is a true time away--not one in which you are answering e-mails from your beach chair.
Only connect. Do a group lunch or happy hour once in awhile, and take time to celebrate your accomplishments rather than always focusing on what must be done. Attend networking events and conferences so you can chat—and commiserate—with your peers while picking up helpful resources. Listservs and discussion groups are also good outlets for learning and connection.
Christina Folz is the editor and content director for Optics & Photonics News at the Optical Society of America. She is also a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.