Burnout: A way out?

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After all the great feedback on the previous post on Burnout, and Randy Fay's excellent talk (video included) and blog posts.

A few things that I can say for sure:

  • I'm suffering from all three of Randy's signs of burnout: Exhaustion, Cynicism, and feelings of Ineffectiveness. This is partly due to external (to the community) influences, and partly because of a laundry list of things I think are wrong with the docs system and how hard they are to fix.
  • I have been managing this by completely scaling back my involvement for the last couple months to "take a break", but that is not sustainable. I either need to find a way to be effective and optimistic again (not to mention balance my own mental/physical health needs), or step down either temporarily or permanently.
  • There is change needed for the documentation and Docs Team to remain sustainable and prodcutive regardless of how long I maintain the role.

Signs of Burnout

When it comes to Exhaustion, I think that for me it comes from two things: 1) chronic health issues leading to legitimate energy constraints, and 2) also being burnt out on the combination of work and Drupal work. I don't feel like I have any energy left over for the things that recharge me like moderate exercise, socializing, and creative time. I don't feel like there's any way to further offload responsibilities to regain this energy without actually cutting more work hours or docs responsibilities.

I didn't really realize this until this week, but I am also feeling very high levels of Cynicism, especially related to what can potentially be accomplished, and whether anyone would want to help. This comes mostly from a feeling that not much has been accomplished since the D7 launch, and that the docs team is too transient and small at present to effectively engage or mentor people who could help.

With regards to Ineffectiveness, the lack of resources (people + time) makes it difficult if not impossible to delegate the tasks I'm currently responsible for, and also to make any overarching changes, for eg. to the infrastructure. In the meantime, my time is spent issue queue gardening, and making little headway on those pieces I feel are important (or writing, which is what I actually enjoy and no longer do).

What could change

Now, I don't just want to be one of those people who complains and doesn't propose anything to fix the situation (sidenote, is it possible to tax people an hour of docs work for each minute they complain about the docs?) Ahem. :) I've been thinking hard and discussing with others about what could help, and following are the main options that have come up to this point.


For my own personal concerns, I see a few options:

  1. Step down temporarily/permanently: Probably not the most appealing option to the community or myself, but a real one none the less. This would help by relieving any stress and time lost to management resulting from being in a "leadership" role, and free up time for me to actually do the work of writing/planning infra, and also fun stuff like patch reviews, research, etc.
  2. Further scale back paid work time: This would be a good way to make room for more Drupal work, but let's face it, income is important. Additionally, try and find a way to not do the exact same thing in Drupal as at work (ie. mostly managing issues, people, and QA) - it's too much of the same with no outlet.
  3. Figure out how to become effective again: The most useful option to the community, and the most difficult option for me to figure out. This would probably go a long way towards reducing cynicism, but may or may not alter exhaustion levels.

Docs (Team)

As far as general changes that I think could make the Docs Team and documentation function better, here are some options (some pie-in-the sky, some more realistic):

  1. Stop micromanaging: Make Docs Team (not Docs leads) responsible for day-to-day work in the issue queue. Rejig Docs lead role to focus only on larger goals/planning.
  2. Separate docs projects: I believe Randy originally suggested this - make each docs "guide" into a separate project, with its own issue queue so people can more easily work on specific guides (and even have per-guide coordinators). We currently just use issue tags to track different topics
  3. Improve infrastructure: This ranges from medium sized tasks like implementing node-reference fields and configuring blocks of related content, to an enormous overhaul of the structure of the docs into a system using XML or RDFa for example to make content reusable/structured.
  4. Turf the "handbook": Another idea presented to me recently was to move the existing documentation into a "community wiki" type area, and write a curated central guide from scratch which is then maintained by a small core group of Docs Team members.
  5. Recruit a TON more people: Through some kind of marketing (?) recruit and retain more and more active Docs Team members.

How to make this work

That is where this gets tricky, and where I need input. The personal side, of course is really up to me to decide and figure out. But on the documentation/Docs Team side, I'd really like feedback on what approaches could be useful and realistic to implement, and suggestions on how to make them happen. Once I have wrapped my brain further around these options (and we've discussed them Friday at the Docs Sprint), I'd like to post some ideas to groups.drupal.org more officially.


I once thought that burnout was really just laziness. Having gone through it once, I realized how visceral it is. It's almost a form of depression.

I found that I needed to completely change my circumstances: change jobs, take a break and go on vacation.

Personally, you need a revolution. It might not mean getting out of docs, but it needs to be something that won't let you slip back into your ruts once the initial elation of forced excitement wears off. I went through that step, too.

I couldn't agree more! I think it took me a looong time to realize that A) that was what was going on and B) it's pretty serious.

Not sure what the changes are yet, but I know that they are much needed, and definitely want to prevent "slipping back into the rut".

I've hit burnout a few times, and lately with everything going on between work, private life (and stressing over the 2011 Drupal Malaise) I feel I'm close to it again.

I've found that one of the single most important things to help deflect it is to have regular multi-day breaks *away* from everything Drupaly, mini-vacations of sorts. I know a lot of us put in lots of personal time working on Drupal things, I bet you especially do seeing as you work on documentation, so maybe taking a weekend-or-two off and disappearing to some secluded hideaway with Bruno would help clear your head?

Yep, this is something I have been doing plenty of all summer... but it's really not enough (in relative terms to the work I have been doing for the last couple years) to have any impact. It's clear much larger changes are needed.

Ariane, I can definitely empathize. Taking a break from the community work only makes you feel better in the short term, but long term, procedures, people and attitudes have to change.

Controversial thought: why is Drupal.org expected to maintain stellar documentation? There are lots of great how-to resources out there on personal blogs, organization sites etc. What if ... you only maintained the central guide and allowed the community to furnish links to their content? I know it's giving up control, but that's exactly what needs to happen anyway. Seems like a lot of would-be contributors are still not shy about contributing documentation to d.o. but they are perfectly happy to do so on their own site...

Maybe a Planet equivalent for Docs contributions? Hmm.... (of course, it's not easy to search / browse except by Google, but bottom line, current process is unsustainable).

I am totally happy to help recruit but I am still not sure the onboarding process is clear. I have plans for a single page that helps people find a way to contribute, based on their skills/interests:

Thanks Lisa - that is so true.

It seems like a strong theme that keeps coming up when discussing what to do... a small curated guide, and leave the rest up to the community on d.o (wiki) and on their own sites.

It's actually not impossible to link offsite documentation if there's a way to relate/index it - that would be far more scalable/sustainable. I don't even know if it's a control issue anymore, since despite there being a few people on the task, it's already totally out of control.

Re: onboarding, there's great info... but it's still hard to find!

Well that's a funny coincidence, I was just telling Ariane on Tuesday about a project idea I proposed to Kasabi.

Basically, there is a pretty easy way that we could turn Drupal Planet (or a docs version of it) into a database. We could create a custom field that people could attach to their blog post content types. This would autocomplete with project names from Drupal.org. People could then say which projects their tutorial is about.

We can then make this information accessible to processors using RDFa or microdata. Once we've done that, a tool like Kasabi can create a database out of it. It's a particular kind of database (called a SPARQL endpoint) that is accessible over the Web.

This means we can then use Views to run queries on the endpoint. So if I wanted to show all the tutorials from Drupal Planet that dealt with microdata, I could just create a View with a filter and they would be listed on my site.

We could create additional facets besides the project, like whether its Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced. I'm not sure what other facets would be helpful, but would be happy to hear from other people.

Thanks Lin - I wasn't sure how in-detail I should go, and you can obviously explain the idea a lot better than me!

It's a really interesting approach, and safe to say a lot more sustainable for maintenance!

Great idea here.

Doc teams are curator and editor, writing task should be minimal to necessary task.
And frankly, I think get rid of outdated and bloat docs is more fun, more fruitful than to write a new one now.

Replace them with those from Drupal planet, video(with automated scribe note), screen capture tutorials out there one by one, small part a time, is more hopeful!

(This is almost the whole math principle of mankind in one page.)

So, for Drupal one page to maintain is more than enough! It a waste of energy, use technology! Else, outsource them.


Sounds like a great solution. Once there's an issue in the d.o. docs queue here for the various bits of work that need doing, can you post it here?

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