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Thread: Burnout

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Burnout

    Ok, I need some suggestions on dealing with burnout, because my attempts to avoid it have been insufficient. I don't think I failed at avoiding it, just that it was unavoidable under the circumstances.

    Here are the contributing factors:

    1) We're short-staffed. And I know we're not the only ones and the everyone it the department feels it, but it's particularly taking a strain on me since I'm basically filling in for two open positions in addition to my own heavy workload. And some of those responsibilities come with no training. I know this is a temporary situation (I hope), but it's going on two months now, and with a slow learning curve once we're back to full staff, it's hard to see the end of it.

    2) Frenetic pace. We've got a busy schedule of deadlines, which normally I'm able to handle, but with this expanded set of responsibilities and more "customers" than before, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to meet everyone's needs. Even with prioritizing just the "hottest" projects to the top of the list, my "hottest" list is almost more than I can handle.

    3) Minor stuff. So much stuff on my list is unimportant, or maybe it just seems that way compared to other things. I mean it must be important to somebody, but compared to other things on my "to do" list, it doesn't seem that way to me. Part of me wants to just dump all that stuff, but part of me feels bad for feeling that way because, as I said, it's important to somebody, so I should treat it with respect.

    4) Personal stuff. It's not all work. My personal life is putting a strain on my time and emotions as well.

    So, now that I've vented, I'm looking for ideas to help me cope. Got any??
    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Been there, will be there again. Check an article by Earl Finkler posted on APA's site at

    http://planning.org/info/burnout.htm

  3. #3

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    Based on personal experiences that I would rather not repeat, I can say a) that sometimes you just end up riding that downward spiral, but b) there are ways to cope. I think we planners think too much. Remembering that you have an animal existence is important. Stay hydrated, keep a bottle of water at your desk.Sip constantly. Many planning depts have the coffee on all the time. If you use it, caffeine DOES contribute to your stress. Work out 4-6 days each week. Honest sweat is probably best of all antidotes for stress. I can't explain it, but I find that weights help with stress more than running, aerobics, etc. although you obviously need to do both for a good fitness program. Eat right as often as you can: whole foods that are in balance with your personal needs. There is a book called Eat Right 4 Your Type you might want to get. Take your vacation. The work will still be there when you return. I guarantee that.
    If you do all this and can't recover there is one critical final step that you must take: QUIT.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian prana's avatar
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    Lee has hit the nail right on! Nothing better than physical exertion to de-stress. Simple lifting or running never did it for me though, because I was still able to think about everything else that I "should" be doing.

    My salvation has been 15 years of rock climbing. Work, money, relationships and everything else are guaranteed to be the furthest thing from your mind when you are hanging 150 feet above the ground on 1/4 inch holds!! And after climbing all day with good friends, a few pints recapping the days events and it's right to bed where it is absolutely uninterrupted sleep for 8 hours...and all of a sudden there was 24 hours of zero stress!
    "You can measure the health of a city by the vitality and energy of its streets and public open spaces.-- William H. Whyte..

  5. #5
         
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    Lee and PrAna nailed it (rock climbing works for me too). I find bicycling to and from work gives me a "runner's high," gives me an opportunity to think about my objectives for the day and puts things back into perspective. Plenty of sleep is a must. Three other things:

    1) Remember that it is futile to stress yourself out over things you can not control. There are so many outside variables in planning. We work in an advisory capacity - so do your best job to inform decision makers. If your council/commission ends up making a lousy decision after you've informed them, c'est la vie. I don't mean to sound too non-chalant about the work we do, but there are only so many things you can personally control.

    2) Remember that your job is not (or should not be) the most important aspect of your life. I recently sustained a spine injury and it really put some things into perspective for me. Some of my work-related issues became quite trivial when I stopped taking everyday things like walking for granted.

    3) We will probably always be overworked and underpaid. That is a given. However, I did not go into this field to make a lot of money. If you are not getting a significant level of personal satisfaction from your job, perhaps it is time to move on.

    Life is way too short to sweat the small stuff. When I recently decided to take a step back and seriously evaluate my employment situation, I realized all of my issues fell into the "small stuff" folder. Things could be a great deal worse.

    Best of luck to you.

  6. #6
    You know, I read Finkler's article about burnout and it is skewed to older more experienced planners. I understand that burnout is more likely to occur to a person who has worked at a job for a longer period of time, but I was hoping to see some comments and information on what burnout is like for those of us that are younger. I recently graduated with my masters degree in planning and I have been working for the past year at a private consulting firm. I tell you what, I certainly think that government planners have it easier than consultants. (I know I will probably get a response from that statement .) I am required by my company to work 45-75 hours a week. I spend a total of 6 hours a week with my family and I must commute to my job. Paying your dues really sucks and it gets very tiresome to hear from more experienced planners, wait your turn, it will come, work harder and put your nose to the grindstone,prove to us that you work hard. For me, I handle 5 different communities and 10 different counties comprehensive plans and regulations. My co-workers have the same amount combined together. I also work in grant administration and assist our engineers in getting projects. I do more than my co-workers which does not bother me, what bothers me is that experienced planners forget about positive reinforcement, training (without it being trial by fire), and overall understanding about how idealistic we young planners are. I would say the article is not beneficial for those of us that are younger because we don't have the opportunities more experienced planners have. We don't have the chance to just quit and find a job 6 weeks after that. We have to struggle with that. Burnout is something that occurs to all people and I hope that I am not alone. I certainly thought the planning world was different than how it is and I wish that the planning world would take some of my idealism and hope and apply that general attitude around. I know that experienced planners do get burnt out, but I would strongly suggest to all of these planners to take stock in themselves and see how they are presenting themselves to younger planners. Attitudes of experienced planners is poor where I am, no wonder I am already tired of hearing all of the "crap" from them.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian prana's avatar
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    To Midwest Burnout-

    Maybe I should have explained my position a little more. At the age of 30, I'm actually trying to get into the planning field, have my bachelor's and have been accepted to grad school, but haven't been able to find a job without the master's.

    For the last 5 years, I have been managing the survey department of a civil firm with 12 crews, 45 mapping jobs and 30 construction jobs running simultaneously. Working 60/week is common and even harder to accept because it is far from what I want to be doing. My company has elevated my pay to such a level that I am above actual market value and way above an entry level planner, which sticks me and my family in a hard position. I feel your pain, but wish I was being over-worked in a planning job that gave me some inner satisfaction!
    "You can measure the health of a city by the vitality and energy of its streets and public open spaces.-- William H. Whyte..

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    I swear you sound just like me and my co-workers. In fact, you just might be one of them . I believe that our problems are universal but how we solve them is up to the indiviudal. I eat right (most of the time), exercise, and have a life outside of the office but it doesn't change the fact that I have to deal with a political structure that's destroying the very city I call my home and a Commission seemingly hell-bent on contributing to that destruction.

    While it's true that we work in an advisory capacity, you should never stop caring about what kind of decisions are being made by the powers that be. If you have to adopt a "c'est la vie" attitude in order to deal with that, then you should quit your job, because you are doing your profession, your community, and most importantly, yourself a disservice and you are no better than the decision-makers that you advise.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Well, my post resulted in quite a response.

    As an update, I am doing better. We're making offers on our two open positions. Hopefully if those persons accept, we'll be able to redistribute our responsibilities soon.

    As most of the posts have stated, one's physical health can either make your stress level higher or lower, and I certainly agree. But I think in my case the most important factor was my emotional health.

    Planners by nature are multi-taskers, dealing with multiple issues and multiple bosses. I think what bothered me the most was that I had too many. It became difficult to focus on any one thing, and felt like I couldn't do any on e thing right or give it the time it deserved because I had too many other things to do. It's particularly frustrating, at least to me.

    Anyways, I think I'm through the worst of it, and am now sure that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.

    Thanks to all for your comments.

  10. #10
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Burnout -- been there, done that.

    I've found that I tend to burn out faster when I'm engaged in repetitive tasks that involve little creativity. Development review, with little crossover, tight deadlines, and about 40 public contacts a day frazzled me. Given my personality type (ENFP) and some other personal traits, assembly-line development review isn't right for me. I didn't want to get our of planning, but I did know that I didn't want to spend the rest of my career counting parking spaces and shrubs.

    I'm in a small town now, in a "jack of all trades" position. Town planner (current and comp), acting parks director, acting Webmaster, with code enforcement and some building inspections to boot. There's a lot more work, but I don't feel as burned out. I'm learning a lot of new things. Free pop in the fridge (one of the town commissioners works for a major soft drink company), the sound of chickens crowing from my office, TDs (town dogs) ambling down the bike path, folks waving at me on the road despite my green out-of-state license plates -- life is good. The pay is less than what I'd be making pouring over plans in Denver, but I'm happier.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Dan,

    Don't worry, you can and will get burnout in a small town. But overall I agree with you. I have been with 'planners' who spend their entire career reviewing subdivisions. For me that would be death rather than burnout. The problem I perceive with the small town route is the parochialism of the leaders...but when talking with big city counterparts I learn that small thinking is not limited by population size.

  12. #12
    I have to agree with Burnout, IN GENERAL I think the consultant planners get crapped on alot more than gov't planners. 90% of the problem is work hours- at least if you are getting frazzled in gov't, you know that you can go home at 4:30 or 5. I made the switch from consulting to gov't, and I agree with Dan, the pay is less, but I'm so much happier.

  13. #13
         
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    Something that hasn't really been mentioned is that by nature planners are idealists. We like to think that world is just, that everyone is treated equitably and that decisions are made in the best way possible. I think sometimes we see ourselves as the bastion of that idealism; a reflection of it (sometimes the only reflection of the ideal in a decision making process). I don't know if I would call it burn out so much as dissillusionment. We hold the world to a higher standard and therefore can't help but become dissillusioned and downhearted.

    I think a little reality check isn't a bad thing. As other planners have said; focus on yourself and your outside relationships and realize that you can only express an opinion but have little control over the decision. Sorry guy, you are only human. The ideals of the world do not rest on your shoulders.

    I too worked in private enterprise as a planner. One week after working on a project 9 AM to 9 PM every day including Saturday, the boss gave us Sunday afternoon off (we still worked Sunday morning and were expected to come in as usual the next morning for another grueling week.) I was grateful. I was grateful!!! A few days later I realized that I was in a place where I viewed having a half day off on the weekend as a bonus. The resumes went out that week. I work in the public realm now. I have evening meetings and long hours sometimes but somehow I feel more in control of my life than I did in the private realm. Planning is never 9 to 5 so don't expect that. I find it goes in cycles; sometimes very busy, sometimes not.

    I also know of private firms that guard their employees weekends and don't want them to work it. They also allow their employees some flexibility in daily hours. So there are firms out there that do care and realize that their employees are their best resource. If a planner feels unappreciated and overworked then it might be a lemon employer and its time to look elsewhere.

  14. #14
    Cosmic-

    Amen, my friend! I, too, have figured out that the private sector isn't for me. It's not the work that I dislike; it's the hours, the commute, the travelling to the meetings, getting home late (like midnight) and then having to turn around again the next morning at 6am and start it again. When my boss' boss told me that a consultant isn't allowed a life and I need to be on-call 24/7 is the day that I started sending out my resume. I certainly don't make the money that a doctor does, so no, I don't need to be available 24 hours a day. I, obviously, have an employer who is a lemon. Hopefully, it won't be for too much longer!

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