Burnout: A way out?

Posted in: 

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.

Personally

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.