September 19, 2016

Part of being a journalist is being on call, always aware of what’s happening.

“I think if that is your job, it is more important than ever to be incredibly strict with yourself when you are off that you recharge,” said WNYC’s Manoush Zomorodi.

Zomorodi is the host of WNYC’s podcast, “Note to Self.” In it, she takes on technology and its place in our lives.

Zomorodi is also featured in Poynter’s “40 Better Hours,” a week-long project from Katie Hawkins-Gaar and Ren LaForme devoted to making work better. They visited with Zomorodi in New York City earlier this year to talk about how to fight information overload.

They also shared transcripts of the full interview with Poynter’s editorial team, and we pulled some extra pieces up from the cutting room floor. In addition to ideas on avoiding information overload, Zomorodi shared tips for avoiding burnout.

Here are four of them:

1. Enjoy your time off work because it will help you be better when you’re back.

Zomorodi’s husband covers politics, and keeping up with that work in an election year is “about managing your energy,” she said.

The week before covering one of the conventions, he knew he wouldn’t be in a good headspace if he wasn’t shutting out work that weekend.

“He knows what he needs in order to be good on air.”

2. Recognize when your body’s telling you to cool it.

“Burnout can look different for different people,” said Zomorodi, who previously worked at the BBC. “For me, it was an eye twitch that wouldn’t go away.”

She also realized that when she wasn’t working, she had nothing else to do. One day, she was invited to a dinner party when she got a call from the foreign news desk in London asking her to cover a story in Belgrade.

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“I was like, ‘No… I have a dinner party. I’m going to make friends.’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, the Parliament is on fire, so could you skip the dinner party? And we need you to charter a jet.’ Most people would say, ‘Oh my god! Go charter a jet? That’s amazing!’ But I just wanted to have dinner with normal people.”

For some people, she said, signs of burnout are physical. For others, it’s seeing that you don’t have the life you want.

3. Learn to create your own solutions for burnout. Don’t expect them to come to you.

The best advice Zomorodi ever got was from the head of foreign news at the BBC.

“Never bring your boss a problem,” she said. “Bring them a solution. They don’t want to hear about a problem, just that you figured it out.”

At first, that advice made her angry. Now, she said, it’s the best advice possible.

“It is important that you make it work for you. Find out a way to split a shift, or do something,” she said. “There are ways we can be more creative about how we solve these things.”

4. When you are working, find a quiet spot to slow down and think clearly.

Newsrooms are loud and often cramped. They’re not spaces that allow much room for deeper thinking.

“If people can create silent workplaces in their own newsroom, even if it’s just an empty office, it might be good to help you take the time to craft things that are worthwhile,” Zomorodi said. “We lose track of those things as we move faster and more constantly.”

In Zomorodi’s silent work space, you can’t speak or eat or answer a call. She loves it.

“If you’re a journalist, you need that space, too.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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