Burn out...

Time for a rant (everyone else with a blog does it). I don't know about other people, but I've been feeling really burned out lately. Tired of keeping up -- I abandoned reading SIGIA-L a few months ago, although I still receive the mail. Here's what my SIGIA-L folder looks like in Entourage:

    sigia (2152)
Seriously. It's becoming an internal joke for me. Since I have it filtered, I never have to look at it, so it goes unread while I spend more time reading papers and articles. Where is this heading? I am getting tired of keeping up with IA at the moment. It's getting boring/tedious. Anyone else ever feel that way? It takes so much energy to investigate and try to understand things like computer science and what's happening with ontologies, topic maps, etc. This is the problem with being a generalist and trying to have your hand in so many things -- at least in trying to understand so many things.

Where I'm headed at the moment is taking a pragmatic approach to professional development. I was thinking of maybe taking a class in the fall to learn how to properly program in C (rather than just hacking Perl and PHP). Maybe focussing more on learning computer science aspects of information organization and retrieval and not spending so much time on learning more about creative design, interaction design, usabilty. Hell, I even entertained fantasies at one point before returning to Lucent of learning to become a woodworker -- something more tangible than dealing with computers, code and information. But I'm an information organizer by nature so I decided not to start over, but to focus on smaller pieces of the profession.

I think what is happening is that I'm getting intellectually fried. I have been working on a content inventory for a digital library collection, which we are now using to view the corpus of data we warehouse in order to conceptualize ways of providing access. It has been challenging and mind numbing and has left me wanting not to have to think about information organization at all.

So I don't know. Maybe it's just the NYC humidity softening my brain. I wish someone could give me something to inspire me to choose or not to choose a professional path. If it were possible, I think I'd do very well as a full-time stay-at-home-dad. :)

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I feel the same way

I am right there with you... tho, not on IA, more on web design in specific... I have been designing sites for over 8 years now... I run a news blog and a weekly ezine publication.. it really drains me... I get to points where I feel drained. It's typically from doing the same crap day after day.

at that point I take a break... I go on vacation... on some beach far far away from any computer or phone line... leave the laptop, pda and cellphone at home... be simply unrachable... enjoy the sun, water and sand. Sometimes simple things like this can do wonders for your tired brain.

- Nick Finck

Not alone..

I'm totally in the same boat. I have a couple thousand emails filtered from SIGIA, a few hundred in CHI-WEB, and a couple dozen in AIGA-ED.

One thing really good about stepping away is that I've found a new source of energy when I stepped away from all of it and dove into wine studies, a product management & marketing class, yoga, more track time with cart racing, connecting with husband and family/friends, and journaling. I never new I had the energy, but I got more in touch with myself and I think in a couple months I'll probably miss IA/UE again. Although I do miss interacting with many of you out there, really I do :)

no kidding

I have often wondered where you get the energy, Michael!! I know you're a dad, and that you have a full-time job, so holy cow!

Really, after a while I realized that there was no way to keep up with it all. I too keep getting a chill of panic when I think of all the great knowledge that's getting blogged, posted and published out there that I'm missing out on, but then I remember that I'll never keep up with it anyway.

Those of us who have been keeping up with IA for the last several years have seen it grow from a small, niche following to a huge topic that's getting written about in one way or another in hundreds of articles a week. So it's hard to let go of that feeling that "I'm staying on top of all the best stuff on the discipline." Truth is, we can't anymore.

Hey, I have to admit, I like it when somebody else is doing all the work for me and blogging it here at iaslash, but don't burn out. We need ya!!

As for the sig list, just pick a thread once a week, and dive in for a message or two. Ignore the rest. No guilt. No muss. No fuss.

andrew hinton :: www.memekitchen.com

Thanks guys for your comments.

I think accepting that it is is nearly impossible to keep up with it all in so many directions is a good thing. And maybe I've needed to take a long vacation for a long time. Having a child makes it hard to take much time out for yourself. But I hear you guys. It's a matter of managing priorities in a shiftable fashion I guess and definitely making time for yourself.

I started doing HTML on a short-lived art site in 1995 and didn't quite know I would be doing websites until I was asked to design a tool for the museum I worked in while in an LIS program. It was shortly after that that I joined the Babble list (and later ALA in it's pre web stages) and really threw myself into web design. I think the excitement of the creative process has kept me excited by the web for such a long time. And then merging the experience as an information professional into my web development endeavours as an IA re-ignited that for me. But now I do feel like it's time to ease up a little.

Hmmm. Yoga, huh ML? I used to do Sivananda style Hatha Yoga prior to getting my first Mac in 1995. Have computers taken up that space I reserved for spiritual/mental well being prior to the web? Perhaps. Damned web. Anyway thanks guys for the supportive comments.

mac yoga

Did you get one of those little black & white Zen programs for your Mac that had a bubbling brook going through a Zen garden?

I had one. I doubt it was as effective as real meditation. But it was cool for 1995 :-)

andrew hinton :: www.drewspace.com


Ah you must mean be referring to either Forest or Relax. I've had Relax installed for a few years. Used it while I was writing papers in graduate school. The sound of babbling brooks doesn't quite relax me now though, when the horns are honking outside the window. Does provide nice white noise when my son is napping though :).


About the same here, though I've kept up with SIGIA-L a bit better than the other lists, which have dropped off my radar completely. Still hundreds of unread messages, though.

For one thing, I'm not feeling a strong sense of forward motion in the field right now. What I'm seeing on the blogs is more filling in details than breaking new ground, and the mailing lists generate far more heat than light.

Don't forget that the time we spend not working makes us better at our work, too.


I recognize the symtoms. I too have taken alternate roads from IA/UE. It relaxes my soul when I accept I can't keep up with it all. I agree with jjig that there is more filling in the details right now.

Take time away. Enjoy your family. If this is part of your blood, like I believe it to be, it won't go away. You'll come back refreshed and ready to investigate things you haven't considered before.

I have learned so much from iaslash.org. I thank you so much for all your efforts, beliefs, and feelings about this discipline and field.

much love to ya.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Wrote this long reply yesterday and the stupid server at work bombed on me. I won't be able to recapture my brilliant comments (she says, sarcastically). I've gone through major league burnout several times, but eventually I get over it and dig right back in. When I burn out, I unsub, set a subscription to "no mail," or delete the messages without reading them. Do what's best for you. If it means taking a break, by all means. Sometimes, we return in better shape. Even if we love what we do... doing it regularly can become too routine and all that's needed to cure it is a breather.


Be a T

Like you said, it helps to not only prioritize but filter too. There are many topics I'm interested in but I have to let some go so I can spend more quality time on the few that are important to me.

There was an article making the rounds recently on how IBM looks for "T-shaped people" - people with a broad understanding of a field along with one deep specialization. I don't believe in pure specializations - 'that's for insects' - so this is a healthy compromise.


Slight warming sensation

I can relate with the burnout. We all need each other to move forward and need each other to help get away. IA slash takes me away from the fires at work that distract from getting done what must get done. IA brings it back to focus. Studio id reminds me of the great things life has to offer, including the digital life.

Take a step away find the spark. Take the list lightly. I have been skimming subject until the last day or so and now it is time to step away again and just skim.

I spend much of my work day putting out fires, which leaves me drained by day's end. I then try and reply to mail for an hour or so when I get home then look for inspiration and things to get that spark back. I find I get some mentoring folks I work with daily.

I have been dreaming and aching for my week away at a very quite spot on the New Jersey shore. The only free metal space I have been getting of late has been the half hour on Saturday morning at the car wash. I get more writing and designing done in that half hour than in the two or three hours each night.

Thanks and peace.

Being on the hampster-wheel is tough

Nothing says you have to publish every day, keep with lists every day, etc.

As others suggested, it might be helpful to unplug for it a bit and/or pursue something unrelated that interests you for a while. The nice thing about being a generalist is that seemingly unrelated stuff has a way of turning out to be related later on. When you're ready, you can resume things at your own pace.

It's easier to be really interested in following stuff when you're job's less interesting. As you've said, when the job's intellectually challenging, it can leave less energy to deal with the same stuff outside work.

Plus, the bigger issue I think is that some of the lists have gotten a bit stagnant. Maybe it's the summer blahs, but this week's SIG-IA haggling over the meaning of the word "design" just seemed really navel-gazing to me. Especially when there are important issues -- like connecting our value into the larger business picture -- to be thought through.

Anyway, do what you need to do to keep yourself sane. We'll be here for you.

burning in ...

Sing it brothers and sisters.

I've come out of a period of months where the load at work was withering. Co-workers lent a strong helping hand, but as the token IA where I work, I began to feel it was a losing battle trying to apply all the good things I learned at conferences and online to complex tech-heavy projects. I live what I call "the curse of the one" working sometimes at 110% for a management that won't hire a peer until I drop trying to reach 140%. In all fairness to my survival-minded employers, I can't argue the fact that it is good business to more than fully utilize an employee before hiring another, and I am happy to be working as an IA at all.

My goal this year is to connect more with IAs locally. Inspiration from accomplished IAs like Dan, Thomas, Meg, Stacy, Thom, Kari, and others is not far away. I think I will find from their stories that my situation is far from unique.

And next month's weeklong getaway to an island in Maine should significantly improve my outlook.

mike lee ~ www.curiouslee.com ~ baltimore

burnt to a crisp

Yeah. YEAH.

You know what else is ate up? (And I can say this here because I know I'm among friends.)

I think it was George Olsen who pointed out recently that the field suffers from a lack of experience at its top levels, and the whole time I'm reading his comments, I'm like...yes...yes...roger that...oh, roger that.

Do you know how much I DON'T know? And I'm the "senior" here, at a major shop! Hey, being a "T" sounds swell...I sure wish I had the time to be one. Do you know how much I WISH I could follow up on everything I feel like I should know, instead of reinventing the wheel every time a project kicks off? Do you know how I long to get closer to the machine, even as I hone my ability to understand human users?

Now, honestly, this isn't going to be a problem for all of you. Some of you are indeed the renaissance dudes and uberchicks you need to be. But speaking solely for myself, I am not.

Herein lies the rub: even if I did nothing but sift noisy SIGIA for the next three weeks, follow every link off B&A, and mainline Adaptive Path's seminar notes, I wouldn't get any better at my job. What I need is a year off, to read, undisturbed; to cross-reference; to follow up leads. What would be even better would be a year working under a genuine "senior" who was experientially and emotionally equipped to pass on some hard-won wisdom.

Of course, by that time, everything else being equal, the industry will have moved on a year and I'll be in no better shape than when I started. That "moving target" thing, don't you know...

I feel like these fourteen months here in Japan have done nothing but degraded my skills, put me further behind the eightball, and kept me from the sustaining concourse of people I could learn from. Worse, by and large I'm forced to burn finite energy on some of the most defensive, childish NONprofessionals I've ever encountered, or ever want to.

I miss your voices terribly, the Web is ironically enough not a particularly good substitute, and most days my dreams are "cut & run."

Despite all of this, all of it, I hear what you're saying, I'm glad you had a chance to rant, and I hope you get the inspiration you want and need, or at the very least some solid family time. Above all I'm grateful for the opportunity to vent a little of my Tokyo spleen into this thread.

And on that note: good night to all, and to all, a good night.

A year off

Heh, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it....

I say this as someone who spent six months this year woodshedding. It was valuable, but also stressful, and I was in an ideal situation, with a very supportive fiancee who makes a fair amount more money than I did and was willing to support me while I got back on my feet. I'm glad I had the time for myself, although I actually did almost as much work as I did when I had an employer, although I wasn't getting paid for any of it. I'm happy to have found a job when I did (one month ago tomorrow). As it turns out, I'll probably have more opportunity to flex my somewhat atrophied IA muscles in this fifteen person startup than I did in the last few years at my job with the ever-shrinking behemoth I worked for.

I was doing a good job keeping up with SIGIA-L until a few days ago when I got five or six digests in one day.... Jeez! I had more of a problem with CHI-WEB, but when I got laid off in December and lost my e-mail address, I never bothered to resubscribe. That helped a lot.

Michael, I'm glad to see in a later posting that you're taking quite a bit of time off. I hope that your being stressed is more related to information overload and less to the situation at Lucent. I worked for Lucent and AT&T for 15 years, and I know at least in my old department (CTIP), the last year or so I was there was incredibly stressful. I used to get a stomach ache every time I went into the office. Good thing for me I worked from home four days a week. :-) Time off does wonders, especially if you know you have something to go back to when its done. Good luck.


Thanks, Ralph. Yes, Lucent is not a fun place these days, but my burn out is more due to information overload and boredom. I've always found it amazing how much effort it takes to work around the politics, bureaucracy, and conservativism that exists in this behemoth of a corporation. But I get to do interesting, intellectually challenging work and get to work from home, so that makes up for it. I was in no way wishing for time off from work, just wishing for time away from blogging and reading about IA. -m

I think we've all been there, or are going there...

Sounds like you simply need a break. I just got back from vacation and it did wonders just to calm me down. I find the important part is just stepping back from your computer during off work hours at least 3 days a week. No one person can learn it all, read it all, practice it all.

Toss out the backlog, go play some B-ball. Kiss the loved ones. When your ready climb back on... If you did the relaxing part right. I tend to think you'll find which saddle suites you best.

Contented sigh. Thanks for the therapy eveyone.

Once in a while I get overwhelmed with how the Internet (email and web) allows people to connect. The response on this thread and via email has been great. I'm glad to know that a lot of people frequently feel the need to retreat and power up again. Thanks everyone for all the great advice.

I don't feel the need to blog here everyday, it just ends up being a nearly daily (week-day daily) thing because I get a lot of SDI's (email alerts) from Factiva, DJI, Forrester, etc. on topics that are relevant to my job. Easy to create too many of these when you work in an R&D library/information systems environment. But, frankly, all the reading is getting boring and the work I do is broader than just IA and interaction design -- I do a good deal of code -- so I think I've been feel limited by the "IA" in the title of this thing. Sometimes I just want to learn about/write about CSS. Sometimes I just want to explore, play and make art with my 1 1/2 year old and write about in my other journal. Sometimes I don't want to blog anything at all.

So am not sure how much I'm going to taper my blogging off yet. I am sure that I'm going to be taking a C programming class in the fall. Before then, I hope to try to take a vacation. Maybe there will more interesting things to write about after August. Since this weblog has turned out to be the journal of "The education of jibbajabba...", maybe a new class will help change the direction of what I read and write in the next year. Here's hoping.

bored too...

I actually did post the other day about being bored of the web...and it made me synthesize a few things about mywhine :) If anything my horizons have expanded as well. It's ok, go enjoy it. You don't need to have IA in your title or your name to be part of the crowd :)

@name: Madonnalisa G. Chan
@label: Information Architect

Burnout solution

I suffered from the same feelings and I found that the simplest solution was to quit bringing my work home with me. I stopped working on weekends (unless absolutely necessary) and quite working on "hobby" projects that were similar to my actual work. Is it still a hobby if it is identical to what you do in the office?

I started pursuing some hobbies that I had let slide when I started becoming interested in web development and I've been much happier in the last few months.

IA Overkill

Michael, you're not alone.

I think I hit the IA wall a few months ago. Not because I've been working on a complex CV or faceted classification or etc. -- I've been busy doing interaction design for a suite of financial applications -- but because I too am tired of trying to have my hands in all of the pots in the kitchen. I'm NOT a library science practitioner. I get it to a tangible degree, but I don't have the patience or the time to continue developing my skillset. And you know what? I don't care to. I decided a few months ago that I'm going to concentrate on interaction design and only smooth out my hardcore IA skills as necessary.

That choice was like taking the red pill in the Matrix.

I now have a hard time reading the SIGIA-L, especially when it comes down to semantic discussions about terms like "design" and "creative." I'm either overwhelmed by information or underwhelmed by discussion threads and have become both bored and jaded. I'm approaching the last days of being a serious lurker, and the whole experience has turned me off to the profession that I dove into with reckless abandon 4 years ago.

Thing must be going bad for me; Ziya now comes off as a voice of reason (albeit way too often).

The IA discussions have becoming redundant and with the impending release of 5 new IA books (based primarily on the feedback from list members) it's only going to get worse. How much more refined can the process or deliverables get?

Don't diss the dream of woodworking. I can remember the days when I wanted to be an illustrator and life was much simpler.

Sean Patrick Coon

Goodnight Irene

you guys remind me of Alan Lomax instigating the assault against Bob Dylan's sound system at Newport in '65 -- because it had no need of mediation by 'experts' like himself -- ho ho ho

Derek R