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Mac Musings

Burnout

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- 23 March 1999 - Tip Jar

Computers have fascinated me since I read the first Radio Shack flyer about the TRS-80. And once I got my hands on a personal computer, I discovered my destiny.

I was born to be a computer geek. (See Geek Like Me for more on that topic.)

I've used personal computers since 1979, owned them since 1982, sold them from 1987 until 1992, and now oversee three networks totaling 90-100 Macs. The big one is at Baker Book House corporate headquarters in Ada (aka Amway), Michigan. That's about 80 Macs.

Our retail store has four Macs connected to the internet and our headquarters via a 56k modem and Vicom Internet Gateway.

My home network is growing slowly - mostly due to a lack of desks and monitors - but currently has seven Macs connected with ethernet, then tied to the internet with a 56k modem and IPNetRouter. (Ameritech will be installing ISDN on Friday!)

If you've perused Low End Mac, you've probably guessed that I just about eat, drink, and breathe Macintosh.

You'd be absolutely right - and I can't think of much I'd rather do for a living than work with computers, except maybe writing about them.

I put in about 50 hours a week at work, starting by 06.30 a.m. and leaving after 04.30 p.m. I try to make sure I get an hour for lunch and stress reduction. Still, that makes for long days.

In addition to the Monday through Friday schedule, I'm usually in Saturday morning to run Norton on our servers.

And when I go home at night, I usually sit down right after dinner for two or three hours of email and web work.

It's finally taken its toll.

Just over a week ago, I spent seven hours on Saturday setting up our file server. We upgraded to AppleShare 6, which has the great misfortune of not importing settings from AppleShare 5.

I could export users from 5, then import them into 6. But not passwords. Not user groups. Not folder access privileges.

Those all had to be recreated individually.

It was a tedious project, followed by emailing new passwords to 80-some users. My brain felt like mush by the time I left.

Alas, I came home to more computer problems. I discovered the IIfx didn't like the Megagraphics video card it has supported for months. And the 660av kept dialing out, even when we tried to disconnect so my wife could use the phone. And we couldn't (and still can't) find any way to put the accelerated Color Classic on ethernet.

Too much. Mental fatigue set in.

I went to work on Monday morning, only to have more problems crop up. For the first time ever, I told my boss I needed the afternoon off to crash. He understood. I left, taking lunch and visiting the local Apple dealer along the way. Then a few hours sleep.

I almost felt human on Tuesday. I made it through the day, but barely.

For most of the past week, I avoided the computer at home. I've hardly looked at my email, including the six busy Mac email lists I oversee. I'd look for the most pressing messages and leave the rest for later.

I did a little writing, which I usually find therapeutic, but even that takes a lot out of me right now.

I've achieved burnout. Not complete burnout, but burnout nonetheless.

What Is Burnout?

I've been there before, mostly in my retail days.

I'm a geek, so whatever I sell, I know my stuff. But I'm an introvert, so being surrounded by people tends to suck the life from me. There's a balance between personal time to recharge and what I can invest.

Christmas was always draining in retail. And even the best job would become tiresome after some years (or even months).

I know burnout. I've been there several times.

And I know the solution: a complete change of pace.

Which leads to another cause of burnout: not taking enough vacations.

I have workaholic tendencies, although I'd rather say I feel very responsible for my job.

I don't take many vacations, and they're rarely long. What I really need is a couple long vacations a year to simply forget about network administration, troubleshooting, and the latest Mac news.

Instead, I take a few short holidays during the year, some day trips, and one good long vacation every two years.

The last one was in July 1997.

All signs say I'm overdue. My mental health, if not my physical health, will suffer if I don't do something soon.

So instead of taking a few hours off on Friday for the ISDN installation, I'm taking the day off. It's not a huge thing, but every little bit helps.

Spring break should be coming soon for the boys. (Four, in three different schools.) Maybe we can visit the Indianapolis Children's Museum and Mammoth Cave - or just go to a Holiday Inn and relax in the pool, sauna, and hot tub.

I don't know if I've ever pushed myself to this point before. Or maybe I have, but it's getting harder to keep up as the years go by. (Nah!)

Mental health is important, more important than a few hours more overtime, getting caught up on email, or a lot of other things.

So before the burnout reaches the burnt over stage, I'm pulling back until I can really recharge my batteries. I'll still be running Low End Mac and the iMac channel, but probably writing a bit less for a while. I'll let the email slide.

I'll take more breaks from work. I'll veg out in front of the TV a bit more or spend more time reading books and comic books. I'll spend a night out with my wife (tonight: Discover Stars on Ice at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI).

I'll take care of myself so I can have the energy to take care of others.

Mac Webmasters

On a very related topic, I'm beginning to see why so many web sites don't last two years - or the webmaster passes responsibility on to someone else.

A timely website can be a harsh mistress. Almost every weekday there's some significant news you don't want to miss. You feel compelled to share the rumors, reviews, updates, and interesting opinions of others.

Besides, new links give visitors a reason to hit you home page every day.

You forget that there are dozens of Mac sites out there doing the same thing, each with a unique perspective on what's most important. You forget that you can take a week off and come back refreshed and not be abandoned by your readers. You forget that Mac Surfer and many other sites are also passing along the hot links of the day.

So, whose to be the master, me or the website? Despite the title webmaster, sometimes the site seems to be driving things. And that simply isn't healthy.

For some, the only solution is to break all ties to the HTML mistress, maybe to become an occasional guest columnist elsewhere.

But I'm having too much fun to abandon Low End Mac.

So I've got to keep things in perspective. It's only a web site. It's only email. It's only a job. It's only a computer problem. It's not life and death. If I take my time and do it right, everything will fall into place.

Boy, am I looking forward to it!

Further Reading

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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