I like to work…a lot. One of the dangers of being so passionate about your work is that it’s very easy to get overly wrapped up in it and let it completely take over your life. This of course, leads to burnout. Now I would not have considered myself “burnt out”, but rather just on the edge of burnout…riding it dangerously close, but still maintaining control (at least at some level). Then I read Micah’s recent post about burnout and had to re-examine my current condition. According to him, here are some telling signs that you are experiencing burnout:

  • You are tired all the time. No matter how much you sleep, you cant seem to “catch up.”
  • You complain more than usual. Everyone is a moron. You are the only person that can get the job done.
  • You snap at friends and colleagues. Since they can’t understand the workload you are under, or how unfair that workload is, you snap. You withdraw.
  • You start thinking about quitting. It has to be the company. There is a better job with less stress out there. I just made a bad choice of jobs.
  • You take little “breaks.” Today, I am going to nothing that pertains to my job. I know its Tuesday, and we have a release coming up, but I can catch up tomorrow.
  • When do you get home, you dont take care of personal business. Dude, I just worked for 12 hours straight. Why should I pay bills?
  • You wish you can, or you start, working from home more. There are less distractions (and people). I can work at my pace and I do a better job!

Upon reading this list I found that I suffered from more of these symptoms than not and decided maybe it was time to rethink my current burn out status. Turns out I was burnt out…and had been running on empty for some time. So what to do?

Luckily I happened to be in the middle of some unexpected time off from work and had already planned a mini-getaway with my girlfriend Katie. The idea was that our Christmas present to each other would be that we’d both “turn off” work for 2 or 3 days and spend some time with each other doing some of the stuff that we always talked about doing, but never got around to doing. This might sound trivial, but the truth is that neither of us are usually capable of “turning off” work for even a day…often even a few hours at the end of the day, so this was really a pretty drastic change for both of us.

We took a small trip to get away from our bad habits of home and just spent the time together trying to avoid any mention (or thought) of work. We also spent some time doing some of the things we never seem to find time for in our normal schedules, but always talk about doing. It was a really great experience for both of us and I had a wonderful time. I truly had no idea how burnt out I really was until after this trip.

So to all of you who, like me, think that you’re running on the edge of burnout, but still maintaining control – I would encourage you to take a day or two off. Completely turn off whatever is normally burning you out and see how you feel. You might just find that you’re a little more burnt out than you realized. And while when in this state it is incredibly hard to force yourself to take a full day (or more) out of the norm to get a handle on this, it really is worth it in the end. Not only is it necessary for your health/sanity, but it will make you more productive when you get back and you might find you make up for the lost time much sooner than you’d think.

So I turn it to all of you. How do you prevent burnout? And just as importantly, how do you know when you are burnt out?

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15 Responses to Burnout

  1. Good ol' burnout :/

    Haven't quite figured out how to prevent it, I tend to just let it come and go. Like you mentioned earlier on IM, exercising seems to help it go away quicker.

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  3. Ben Atlas says:

    have a nice break.

  4. Karl Katzke says:

    Wow. Actually, I just did the same thing over the nearly two week break we get for Christmas.* I felt so burnt out on Zend Framework/PHP development that I went off and learned enough Python and Django to get the start of a Google Apps application running… and a very different sort of app than the kind I normally write. That, and I learned to sew, and made a bunch of things for my dogs.

  5. Karl Katzke says:

    Sorry, forgot the * — I work for a public university, and this year's calendar gave us about 13 days off for Christmas.

  6. jvq1549 says:

    Nice thing you did with ur girlfriend, Jon. What I did myself was play tennis…was still able to 2 straight games and then another one after the match that followed our second game. I've noticed after each game was that I felt relieved of my tensions. During the game, I was free to shout, run around the court, poke jokes at my tennis mates. Oh boy…what a healthy way to release my tensions!! …felt a year younger, too, hehehe…

  7. Bill Mosby says:

    Reading this reinforced my conclusion that my latest 4 month programming jag has left me burned out. Now I am actually thankful that my App is still "pending contract", encouraging me to get a bit of rest!

  8. Karl Katzke says:

    Yeah, actually, it helps a lot… but it has to be very mentally different. Python's syntax and structure is different enough from PHP's syntax that I get a refresh from it. The Google Apps datastore api is also different enough conceptually from SQL that it helps me relax and stop thinking along such traditional RDBMS-oriented lines.

    I also try to keep two different projects running at the same time that are totally different — one coding, and the other -has- to be working with my hands. Right now I'm sewing a crate cover and beds for my dogs. I just finished repainting a lot of the trim in the house. I'm starting to plan a garden for the spring and will be picking up the lumber and other supplies I need soon. The manual work and ability to pick between whichever one I'm least frustrated with at the moment definitely helps me to keep from getting burnt out on coding because there is an escape that results in tangible, visibly completed items.

  9. micah says:

    Wait? Someone actually read my post? And thought it was useful? Jon, as one of my favorite people, I am glad you realized that it was time to take a break and did so. You are one of the rare talents that would suck to lose to burnout.

  10. Be careful with burnout, it can takes its toll. Sometimes, you cannot turn back.