With the US population celebrating Labor Day today, I figured I would talk about one of the dangers of work, entrepreneurship and social media. The danger I speak of is “burnout” and the potential disaster it can cause. Burnout has always been a danger for people working in high stress environments, or those people working long hours. Stress is a harder topic to deal with, but long hours are something that a lot of people have dealt with. There is a ton of work being done in software development to avoid long hours for the developers. This is due to the fact that software development has a history of projects that require long hours. You may be asking what I mean by long hours, and generally I mean anything above 50 hours. If you search the internet, there are plenty of papers talking about the decline of productivity and health when people work long hours, but I will point to a great article by the IGDA. They quote 60 hours per week as a major point of decline even in the short term:

Productivity drops when working 60-hour weeks compared with 40-hour weeks. Initially, the extra 20 hours a week makes up for the lost productivity and total output increases. But the Business Roundtable study states that construction productivity starts to drop very quickly upon the transition to 60-hour weeks. The fall-off can be seen within days, is obvious within a week…and just keeps sliding from there. In about two months, the cumulative productivity loss has declined to the point where the project would actually be farther ahead if you’d just stuck to 40-hour weeks all along.

At the beginning of the year, I personally experienced one of these scenarios. I was on a project that went into “crunch mode” for various reasons. We worked about 75 hours per week for 3 months. Obviously the quality of the code suffered, but we actually made our deadline or something near it. There were several production defects that we fixed after launch as well. We were fixing various things for about 2 months after the initial launch. Obviously, crunch mode did not entirely help, and the team was thoroughly exhausted. In the workplace, it is fairly easy to see when burnout may occur, because you can see these projects occurring. But what about all of this new social media stuff?

As I have stated before, I have a full time job, and obviously I am a blogger. I am also trying to start a company with YackTrack. That means that even after my “day job”, I am working during the evenings on YackTrack and other social media. Many people involved in social media, spend several hours on sites like Twitter, FriendFeed or Facebook. Social media may be play time for some people, but for much of the early adopter set or those people using social media for business, social media is very much part of their work. So, you may be working a normal 40-hour work week, but spending 5 hours a night on social media means your “work week” now extends to about 65 hours. If you are looking at these sites, you will also see a few people who never seem to sleep and are likely “working” over 80 hours per week. The question is where do you draw the line?

As an early adopter, you may feel it is your job to find the newest, shiniest toy and spread the word about its awesomeness. Technically, that may be true, but do you need to find everything? You may feel like you need to keep pace with people like Robert Scoble or Louis Gray. Avoid that type of thinking as they have likely trained themselves to work this kind of schedule. Personally, I have scaled back my social media involvement a bit as I could not keep up that pace. I tend to be categorized as a hard worker, but I was logging too many hours in front of the PC. For better or worse, due to my existing conditions I am very aware when my health changes in the slightest and I noticed differences. Yes, I was flirting with burnout, but was able to avoid the consequences. For those of us with a salary from a job outside of social media, that becomes fairly important. Burnout from social media activity is still burnout, and everything will suffer from it. Your productivity from work can go down, and possibly cause dire consequences in terms of your employment.

So, in the spirit of Labor Day, take some time off from anything remotely work related and do something to recharge. For some people, that may be a round of golf, or some play time with their kids. Most importantly, make sure you avoid burnout as it can affect everything you do. What do you do to recharge and avoid burnout?

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