After reading Dealing with Developer Burnout by Jason Robey I felt compelled to share my thoughts, personal struggles, and outlook concerning Developer Burnout. This may sound strange, but this blog will also serve as a reference point for myself, a reminder to keep evaluating my stress levels, health and happiness. I’m not the authority on this matter by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do have some personal experience to draw from. In addition, there are a lot of great articles written on this topic which I will be referencing from time to time ( can be found in the reference section at bottom of post ). Snippets from those articles will be leveraged to provide a more well rounded picture of Developer Burnout.
It is very common for developers to do self skill assessments, training, and some goal setting BUT not health assessments. I implore every developer to take the time to evaluate their stress levels, health and happiness. Get to know yourself, your tendencies and formulate a plan to reduce stress or better manage stress. I hope this post is beneficial in kick starting that process, providing tips to identify the warning signs or help avoid Developer burnout altogether.
Time to take a journey, exploring Disposable Geek Mentality, Warning Signs, Avoiding, Recovering, Knowing Oneself, and taking Action. Open your mind for some personal reflection to improve health and work life balance.
What is Burnout?
There are many definitions on the topic, here is a dictionary and medical definition before discussing a more personal definition.
fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.
A medical definition on stress and stressors defined.
For me personally, Developer burnout can result from taking too much ownership, too many and too long intense cycles, boredom from not being challenged or too many monotonous tasks, skill-set stalemate, not being permitted to innovate and improve through new processes or technologies in day to day work. I like to refer to this, as being caught in the dark ages. In most cases, these can lead to Developer burnout in the form of fatigue, frustration, irrationality, anger and negativity. In certain scenarios a job change is necessary, but many cases personal reflection around tendencies, exercise, workload, projects, and management can lead to behavior changes; like workload adjustments reducing stress and improving work life balance.
Stop Disposable Geek Mentality
Disposable Geek Mentality is the theme developers can LIVE ONLY on code, endless amounts of our caffeine of choice, sleep four hours, even pull all nighters, and devote ever waking moment to mastering our craft. Loco! This unacceptable pressure and unsustainable pace is a reciepe for Developer Burnout!
STOP the disposable geek mentality! Do these stereotypes below sound familiar? Unfortunately to many of us this is our reality, pressure, and demand to get ahead or achieve. Stop the madness! Developers have families, hobbies, and responsibilities that have nothing to do with release cycles and deployment dates.
Developers are lone hackers working late into the night, the room illuminated only by their computer monitors. They subsist on delivery pizza and Mountain Dew. They rarely leave their posts when there's coding to be done, sometimes even spending Friday night on the old couch in the office.
It seems to me that we're reaching the stage where, in order to demonstrate their skill and dedication, a developer must have done more or less nothing else in their life except sit in darkened rooms, staring feverishly at a computer screen. ... As our current Geek of the Week Gail Shaw noted, we need to stop this cult of overwork. It is harmful and unsustainable.
It is very important for the developer community, including leads and management to understand some of the warning signs of developer burnout. Tech explains each of these in detail, Top 10 Symptoms of Developer Burnout If you are experiencing signs of depression please see your doctor immediately!
- Chronic Fatigue
- Anger and Irritability
- Self Criticism
- Weight Gain or Loss
- Feeling of Helplessness
- Increased Risk Taking
- You think You are Burnt Out
- Dreaming about work constantly
Diary of a Ninja provides
10 Tips to Help Avoid Developer Burnout, listed below. I would argue number ten is the last resort. To me, it is important to know oneself during this process and set boundaries and limits for work hours. Once this is done, find someone to help hold you to those limits.
- Give yourself time alone
- Find interest outside of IT
- Read things that aren’t IT related
- Eat healthy
- Exercise regularly
- Attempt to set and achieve goals
- Give something back to the community ( on-line or off-line )
- Take planned short breaks at work
- Take short breaks away from work
- Consider another job or career
Site down in a quite place, ask yourself the tough questions. Another approach is to collaborate with a respected peer, your manager, or another trusted individual to work through the tough questions and evaluation of your weaknesses, strengths and goals. Formulate a plan of action, setting realistic goals and milestones, ensuring these are SMART.
- What are my strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and goals? ( list them out )
- What are my stressors? How do I deal with them or ignore them?
- Am I the person who has to work on a task until it is complete?
If so, try breaking up tasks into smaller manageable tasks where the estimate is no longer than 2-3 hours. Plan out what tasks to work on for the day leaving yourself 1-2 hours of wiggle room to complete tasks that may run over.
- Are my estimates too optimistic?
Pad estimates by by 40-60%.
- Do I have a tendency to take on too much?
- Do I have a hard time saying no?
- Do I take on too much ownership?
- How is my delegation? Commit to educate yourself on delegation and put it into practice where it makes sense. I found a good place to start – Successful Delegation
It is important to find several methods to reduce stress then commit to do them often, even when it seems you can’t. Make these items more important then the code. Yes, we all struggle with this. Find someone to help hold yourself accountable.
- Take vacation, few days, week(s) and TOTALLY UNPLUG.
- Plan a trip.
- Find hobbies and interests outside of technology.
- Commit to a regular exercise.
- Reach out to friends.
- Start learning a new technology.
- Take short breaks throughout the day.
- Make yourself leave your desk for lunch.
- Read something not related to technology.
- Sleep an extra 1-2 hours each night
If we are honest with ourselves we have all struggled with topics mentioned, myself included. If you have not, then you are either lucky or already a master of many of the techniques. I’ve have committed to reevaluating my personal health and career three times a year adjusting as necessary. We all have the sharp spike in work hours just keep these spikes on a short leash. Work to live not live to work!
My medicine to date has been cycling, mountain biking, spending time with my kids outdoors discovering nature, vacation ( few days or week(s) at a time ), and not enough simple 10-30 minute distractions a few times a day on things I’m interested in.
To myself – follow your rhetoric and plans!
I implore YOU, the developer to take the time to evaluate your stress levels, health and happiness. Get to know yourself, your tendencies and formulate a plan to reduce stress or better manage stress. Ask yourself:
- How is my energy level, am I always tired and irritable?
- What are some of my stressors? Create a list.
- How stressors affect my day to day life, health, people around me?
- How am I dealing with these stresses?
- How can I reduce stress?
- Do you feel happy?
- Engage a friend or a family member about your demeanor, tone, approachability, and happiness?
- Do you dream about work?
If you feel burnt out, irritable, tired, or helpless please seek help! You might think about approaching a mentor, counselor, or your boss for help making changes to help reduce stress. I would highly recommend finding a mentor(s) for personal and professional development. Many companies sponsor mentoring programs. If you are experiencing signs of depression please see your doctor immediately!
I’m interested in your thoughts on Developer Burnout. What works for you?