The Separation of Work and Study

A few weeks ago, Katelyn Sabelko’s post about Burnout and Library School caught my attention. Does working during your LIS studies contribute to higher rates of burnout? Like Katelyn, I’m working in a library while pursuing my graduate degree and I am feeling it. In the past quarter I’ve gone from feeling triumphant when I say “I’m halfway through!” to feeling despair. Don’t get me wrong—I am aware of how lucky I am to already be working full time for a library I love. My mission aligns with theirs, I am surrounded by supportive colleagues, and I’m doing the type of work that makes me feel fulfilled, but I’m still exhausted. School alone isn’t causing these symptoms, either. I’m a self-proclaimed learning nerd. The combination of working a stressful, salaried job and taking two grad courses per quarter, however, has been getting to me.

Ryan Dowd recently gave a webinar about “Burnout, Vicarious Trauma, and Compassion Fatigue.” In it, he mentioned that there is a ton of literature about the prevalence of burnout, but not nearly as much about preventing or reversing it. Of the articles that can be found online, most give similar advice for how individuals can prevent burnout, including phrases like “work/life balance” or “setting boundaries.” When you’re working all day and heading home to work on similar topics for the rest of the night, it’s nearly impossible to do that. As a first step, I decided to think about the types of boundaries I can set.

I found that when I was at work, I was thinking about how much work I needed to do for my classes. When at home, I was thinking about how little I accomplished that day at work. I was constantly stressing about something, and I stopped taking walks at work during my lunchbreak to work on homework instead. Clearly, something had to change. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on creating a barrier between work and school.

No more bringing a bag with my textbooks and notebooks into work each day. No more homework on my lunches. No more getting distracted while doing my readings at night by making notes on my current work project. As much as I can manage it, no more thinking about my other responsibilities when I should be focusing on another. I’m still not great at this, but I can tell that it is slowly helping. When I find my mind wandering, I take a few minutes to do a mindfulness exercise and bring my focus back to my current task. I keep a notebook on hand to write quick notes down about my other tasks as they occur to me, so I can let those thoughts go and revisit them when the time is right. If I do decide to bring homework into work so I can focus on it in my office at the end of the day, I stash my bag completely out of sight until I’ve finished my work tasks for the day. I’m finding that compartmentalizing my tasks is causing me less stress, less guilt, and less anxiety. It’s a constant battle, but I think it’s helping. The half hour of homework that I lose during my lunch is made up from the increased energy I get after forcing myself to take a walk. It won’t “cure” my burnout, but I’ll take any improvement I can get.

I should also note that this doesn’t always work. Last quarter, I was lucky enough to be able to connect my school projects and my work projects. In my web design course, we needed to make a website for an organization. My organization needed a new website, so I became the one to provide it. In my database course, I needed to build a database in Oracle. I’d been looking for a more efficient way to track and generate reports of attendance statistics, so the projects blended. In that case, I found that because my schoolwork was going towards an immediate and applicable end, I was a bit more able to blur those lines.

Are you in grad school while already working in a library or archive? Have you tried a similar technique? Does something else work better for you? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

Kerri is pursuing her MSI LIS online through Drexel University. She also serves as District Trainer for a library district in central Pennsylvania, creating curriculum and leading classes for library staff members. Like many others, she’s spending this month thinking of things she’s thankful for:  today’s joy is Trader Joe’s cashew-based fake queso dip. She occasionally tweets at @klmillik.

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