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How I Survived My Crazy Good Year

2010 has been busy, hectic, crazy good year for me.

As January draws to a close, I'm in the mood this early Sunday morning to capture my thoughts and finish a post which started as a ramble back in December 2010.

Some 2010 Highlights

Rohdesign Studios LLC launched in January 2010, to handle side projects I'd been doing as a sole proprietor for a few years. It was better from a tax perspective, helped me think about my business and focused my thoughts on the work I'm most passionate about.

88 REWORK Illustrations created for the 37signals business book REWORK were released in March and have been a huge success. REWORK was a Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller and winner of 800 CEO READ's Business Book of 2010.

Illustration and Sketchnoting projects increased. I worked with 37signals, JESS3, Tribal DDB, Associations Now Magazine, PeepCode, and many others doing the sketchnote illustration work I'm known for and am passionate about creating.

SXSW Interactive 2010 featured Visual Note-Taking 101, a standing room only panel that was fun to present and encouraging to the large crowd on hand. 2010 marked the first Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash at the Cedar Door in Austin. I and a group of friends planned and pulled off a party with over 200 attendees on the last rainy day of SXSW Interactive 2010. Sketchnotes were a big part of SXSW too.

A new job with Gomoll Research + Design in Milwaukee, made GRD my professional home in June. As a user experience designer, I began working on challenging, user-centered UI and visual design projects. GRD's flexibility made it easy to work on the most interesting identity and sketchnote projects through Rohdesign Studios.

Speaking opportunities opened up in 2010, including a panel at SXSW Interactive 2010, a Pecha Kucha presentation, talks at DrawCamp, BarCampMilwaukee5, LikeMind and MKEUX. I also enjoyed presenting visual thinking and sketchnoting workshops with James Carlson at Marquette University and Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

It was a great year and I'm excited about what's coming in 2011.

The Downside of Being Crazy Busy

Being crazy busy is great — for a while. There are plenty of opportunities to do interesting work and earn money. But crazy busy-ness eventually caught up with me.

In October of 2009 we welcomed baby Linnea to our family. She's amazing. But babies have an ability to turn your life upside down.

Mix in lots of work opportunities, a job change, a flooded basement from a failed sump-pump and a year's worth of everyday life challenges: I had a recipe for burnout brewing.

Near the end of last year I felt pretty wiped out. I wasn't quite burned out, but was overloaded and was really feeling it. Burnout is a funny thing, because it sneaks up on you slowly, until one day you just don't feel the drive to crank work out any more.

Fortunately, read my friend Scott Bom's excellent article in ALA 284 titled Burnout and recalled it as I saw my own burnout flags on the horizon:

When you’re burned out, you know it. You can feel it and taste it, but in order to get past, it you have to acknowledge it and fight to restore your internal equilibrium. Stop, decompress, communicate, and focus. That process often begins with a look inward to learn what gives your life balance, such as family, friends, personal interests, and hobbies—the things that counterbalance your life on the web.

Scott, my friend, thank you.

Changing Gears

I slowed things down as much as I could and declined many new projects. I always spend evenings with my wife and kids until the kids go to bed, but the late nights were having too much impact, so I cut them back.

Instead of finding ways to fit more projects in, I reversed my approach. I picked the days and hours I wanted to work in a week (no weekends, no Friday nights) and settled on a reasonable number of hours I could work per week on Rohdesign Studios projects. Those are my hours and with them, I choose projects and clients.

I've become picky about projects I will work on and clients I will work for. Sketchnote illustration work and interesting identity challenges are my passion. Working with great people, while receiving what I'm worth for those projects is key. It's too easy to trade time for money, but time is priceless and money can't be converted back into time.

This new approach is a work in progress, but I feel good about these changes.

I hope my story and Scott's article will offer some encouragement, if you see and feeling burnout coming and aren't sure what to do about it.

Your life is short — live it well.


Burnout by Scott Boms, A List Apart 248.

Tim Shuman's Unstringing the Bow - Blog by Tim, who has experience with burnout in his own life and shares thoughts on the topic and sketching as therapy.

Reader Comments (3)

Good stuff Mike! It sounds like 2010 was a great year. I can definitely relate to the burnout thing. I came very close (if not there) in 2009. Working a day job, running a side business, wedding planning took it's toll. It took me about a year to get back into freelancing. Burnout is a scary thing. And funny that you mention the ALA article, because I quoted it in a blog post I wrote a few years ago when I started to feel worn out.

Good luck in 2011! I'm sure you'll make the most of it.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Phillips

Thanks John, I appreciate the kind words and encouragement. I think the more we are open about being overloaded, the more chance there is of helping others avoid it.

I feel fortunate to have been prepared with Scott's piece, so that when I felt things getting crazy I was able to act quickly and reverse things, to get on the road to balance again.

Here's to a great 2011 my friend!

January 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

Thanks for sharing your success and decision to become a bit more strategic in your choice of projects. It is so tempting to say yes to projects that sound interesting and fun, before figuring out how much time and energy they will actually require. Congratulations on the new job and new addition to your family. I hope that our paths will cross sometime in 2011 - I'd love to hear your thoughts on incorporating visual thinking practices in my teaching in the business school. Keep on doing your inspiring work!

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Jude Rathburn

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