Don’t Schedule Too Many Sessions Per Day
User research is very mentally taxing. As a day of research progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain your energy and focus. So avoid scheduling too many research sessions per day. For sixty-minute sessions, six participants should be the absolute maximum per day. Decrease the number of sessions per day as the session times get longer. For example, conduct four ninety-minute sessions or three two-hour sessions per day.
Take Breaks Between Sessions
Make sure you schedule enough time for breaks between sessions. Be sure these are real breaks, during which you can get away from the sessions and the observers to rest your mind, use the restroom, and eat or drink something. Some teams like to do debriefs with the researcher between sessions. That’s fine, but be sure that the debrief doesn’t take up the entire break. You still need time to get away from the research altogether to give your mind a break. Also, make sure that you take longer breaks for meals.
Get Away from the Research at Intervals
If you’re conducting multiple days of sessions, get away from the research at the end of each day. Don’t do any more work on your research, and try not to think about it. Especially when you don’t have much time for analysis, it’s tempting to begin typing up your notes, do some analysis, or make adjustments to your moderator guide. Instead, take a break. Do whatever is necessary to get your mind off the research and allow it to rest. See a movie, watch TV, read a book, or do anything that lets you relax and take your mind off the research until the next day’s sessions.
Break Up Large-Scale Research
For larger research projects, with many days of sessions, don’t schedule sessions every day. Instead, add a day when you’re not doing research between every two or three days of sessions. Not only do those days let you take a break from your user research, they’ll also let you review your findings, assess what you’ve learned so far, and make adjustments to the moderator guide. This provides a change of pace and lets you rest, but also gives you a chance to reassess your research. Perhaps you’ve already learned enough about certain topics. If so, you can add more tasks or questions to learn about new topics or dig further into interesting findings. Even though doing this adds days to a study, these days can give you a head start on your analysis, saving you time later in the process.
If You Don’t Have Enough Time, Adjust Your Effort
Other than moderating the research sessions themselves, the most difficult part of being a user researcher is a lack of time for analysis and reporting. User research typically produces a huge amount of data, which takes a lot of time to get through. But it seems that there’s never enough time for analysis or reporting on your findings. This can lead to long days and nights trying to meet your deliverable deadlines.
To prevent your having to rush through analysis and reporting, at the beginning of a project, make sure that the time a project team allocates for analysis and reporting is realistic. If there isn’t enough time—and you can’t the get the team to add more time—adjust your level of effort accordingly. It’s better to adjust your level of analysis and the scope of your report to fit the timeframe rather than exhausting yourself by trying to do extensive analysis and detailed reporting in too small an amount of time.
If you find that you’re continually working on projects with unrealistic deadlines, and you’re unable to adjust your level of effort, consider looking for another job. But a lack of time for analysis and reporting is a common problem among all user researchers. Although we all must sometimes work long hours, that shouldn’t be the norm.
Ensure Your Job Provides Enough Variety
Make sure you’re in a job that provides you with the amount of variety you need. Some researchers enjoy working with the same product team over the long term, so they can gain an in-depth understanding of the product and its users. Others need more variety.
I’ve always worked in UX consulting because I like the variety of working for different clients, on different types of projects, on different platforms, and with different types of participants. Every project is unique, with something new and different to learn and unique research and design problems to solve. If you’re someone who craves that kind of diversity in your work, but your job that doesn’t provide enough variety, you’ll be more susceptible to user-research fatigue. You might want to look for a new position at a UX consultancy or agency or take on freelance or contracting positions.
Continue to Learn
It’s easy to fall into a rut when you’re frequently conducting the same kind of research, using the same methods and techniques on every project. Everything can begin to seem routine.
A great way of breaking out of such a rut is by continuously learning about your field. No matter how much experience you have, there are inevitably new techniques, methods, technologies, and perspectives that you can learn. Read UX Web sites, magazines, and books. Listen to UX podcasts, watch videos, and attend Webinars. Attend local UX events, meetups, and conferences. The great thing about attending UX events and conferences is learning about how other UX professionals do things. I always leave such events feeling refreshed and invigorated, eager to try out the new techniques and practices I’ve learned.
However, don’t limit yourself to learning just about UX research. It’s always helpful and interesting to keep up with the latest in UX design, psychology, accessibility, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, conversational design, and technology in general.
Indulge Your Outside Interests
Although it’s great to keep up with what’s going on in the field of User Experience, at some point you’ll need to get away from everything to do with work. Develop and indulge in hobbies and outside interests, whatever they may be. For instance, when I first started in this field, I read a lot of UX design and research books in my spare time. Now, I have a hard time doing that. I really enjoy my work, but when I’m away from work, I need to do something completely different. So, a few years ago, I got interested in reading books about American history. Somehow I got on this kick of reading all the presidential biographies in order. While that might not sound like your thing, find your own interests and use them to forget about user research for a while.
Remember, You’re Making the World a Better Place
When you’re feeling a little harried and burnt out after a long day of user research sessions, it’s helpful to remember that you’re making the world a better place. You’re helping to make the world easier, more useful, and more satisfying for people. Even if you’re working on a project that doesn’t seem particularly significant—for example, an enterprise time-tracking application—you’re giving a voice to a group of long-neglected users and improving their lives in some small way. In this way, user research really