Burnout in Software Development: How to Deal With it?
Coding is one of the most interesting things for programmers and software developers. You started doing it for fun, it was your hobby, it was your passion and later your passion becomes your job. In the early stage of your career, you might have enjoyed doing it a lot. You might have tried to stretch yourself as much as you can to prove yourself the best programmer among everyone. You might have also tried to do overtime (you might have worked for 60-70 hours a week). You continued doing it but after a couple of years, spending long hours and late nights in coding. Did you find that you are losing passion for coding? Did you find the spark of motivation is now missing somewhere for coding? Did you find that you are overloading yourself with so many tasks but you are not achieving anything due to so much stuff? There are so many tabs open in your browser but you can’t concentrate. Well, these all symptoms are the sign of burnout in programming.
Burnout is a very common and serious issue in the IT industry. Developers feel stuck working very hard for long periods on projects but it seems impossible to complete. If somebody doesn’t take action at the right time then later it can become too dangerous for developers and they can quit programming as well. They may fall deep into it and struggle to get out of its hideous embrace. We did some research and we are going to discuss this issue in detail, symptoms of burnout, causes, and certain actions that programmers need to take to recover from burnout. Some of the symptoms, causes, and solutions are basic and true for everyone working in any kind of job. Others are more specific to programmers.
Symptoms of Burnout
Burnout is the physical and mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. It slowly enters developers’ life and kills the passion for coding. We are going to mention some of the common symptoms of burnout but different developers get different symptoms. It manifests itself in different ways for different people.
- The most common symptom is a serious lack of motivation and passion for coding. If you enjoyed programming a lot but now if you start feeling that passion is going away then that can be a sign you start beginning to burnout. You open your text editor or IDE but you don’t get the feeling to code and it’s happening continuously for weeks.
- If you are feeling fatigued mentally and physically and if you have no energy or drive to code or even do other things in your life then you may burning out. You feel like your emotions are dull or numb.
- Feeling of isolation.
- Lack of accomplishment and ineffectiveness.
- Cynicism, sense of doubt, and indifference.
- Feeling of depression and anxiety for weeks around work and other things (mild to severe)
- You look tired all the time, mood swings and it can severely affect other parts of your life like your relationship.
- Insomnia, hopelessness, a sense of detachment, loss of enjoyment of things you used to enjoy, a general feeling of being disconnected.
Causes of Burnout
Burnout starts taking hold of any developer’s life and even the smartest coder can fall into a serious issue of burnout. It was also found that burnout seems to occur amongst the programmers more often than professionals in other fields but why it happens…let’s discuss some of its causes.
- Sitting on your desk in front of a computer for 8+ hours per day is not good for your health and it is one of the most common reasons for burnout. You stare at one spot for most of the day which drains your energy and you look tired most of the time. So many tasks and responsibilities push developers to do work for longer hours that really affects their physical health. In some organizations, managers think that more hours equal more output but that’s not true. In one of the studies of Harvard Business Review, managers couldn’t tell the difference between the total work accomplished by employees who had spent 50 hours and 80 hours per week. So overloading yourself with so many tasks is one of the main causes of burnout.
- Another issue of burnout developers face is mental health issues. Programming is a highly cognitively intensive and stressful job. Your brain has to think a lot to solve complex problems. Sometimes your mind is pushed to the limit for hours on end every day with no break and when it happens continuously for weeks the mental fatigue can take its toll. Compare your mind to a muscle when lifting weights. You can work for one to two hours continuously but then you feel really tired and you feel like you are unable to write the code. Your brain stops working in those cases and it’s just unable to lift any more weight.
- Doing the same type of work every day makes the job monotonous for programmers. Developer loves programming but when they have to write similar kinds of code or use the same technology every day it slowly stops the motivation or passion for programming. It makes them feel trapped or stuck in a job and they start getting the feeling that they will never gonna progress in their career. When it continues for longer weeks they start facing anxiety or insomnia problem.
- Being isolated from other people is also one of the causes of burnout.
- Lack of exercise, sleep, or not eating healthy food affects very badly a programmer. Their mental and physical energy started draining and that becomes a cause of burnout.
- Weak programming culture is another reason for burnout. When senior developers or company doesn’t train their junior developers well to manage the task or to take care of the future cost of the present work then later it becomes the responsibility of senior developers to avoid those technical debts. Eventually, they need to stay twice as late to fix those issues. So the whole weak programming culture is also one of the causes of burnout.
How to Avoid Burnout?
It’s very hard to fix once you’ve been deep in burnout for weeks or months. You should try to choose a lifestyle and maintain your work in a way so that you can prevent yourself from it. Understand that if you burn out your productivity goes down to almost zero and your life becomes miserable. Burnout is like a tunnel that just keeps going so it’s better to avoid it before the situation becomes worse for you. We are going to discuss some tips to avoid it.
- Look at the number of tasks you have and decide which one is not important to finish first. Set the ranking for each task. Check the amount of impact and efforts for each task. Get rid of that stuff that is not impactful and takes a lot of effort. Focus on those things first which have a huge impact and don’t take much effort. When you are working block social media sites and notifications on your browser.
- Always keep things fresh and keep that passion. If you work with the same old technology every day then things become worse and your job becomes monotonous. Of course, you may have a job where your responsibility doesn’t allow you to try multiple technologies or changing things up but you can do things on your own. Dedicate 20% of your time learning new technology or building your own project. Try new libraries, freelance, contribute to open source, and venture beyond your comfort zone. It won’t help you instantly but it can pay off in the long run. This strategy will help you to get a better job or promotion in the future.
- Take regular breaks throughout the day. Sitting 8-10 hours in front of the computer without any break won’t help you in being productive. It scientifically has proven that productivity decreases sharply after 4 hours of focused work. So stretch every hour, take a walk or eat something. Talk to colleagues, ask them if they need a code-review or help with their unit-tests. Taking a regular break can do wonders in coding especially when you are indulged in debugging the project. You can follow the Pomodoro Technique while working on any project.
- Don’t just code. Take a break from coding every few months and go on vacation. That’s one of the most refreshing things you can do. Spend some time with your family and friends. Spend some time reading books, attending meetups or conferences, listen to industry podcasts, or write your own technical blogs.
- Exercise and get enough sleep. Try to do exercise at least 2-3 times a week or do swimming. Include healthy food, veggies, nuts, and fruits in your diet. Get enough sleep and use a noise machine. Below are some suggestions to optimize your sleep:
- Limit caffeine after 2 pm
- Reduce blue light (Mac users, turn on night shift, Windows users, night light)
- Lower the temperature in your bedroom (65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal)
- Install blackout curtains or use an eye mask
- Always follow an iterative development process on large projects. Develop some modules and compile and test them. Develop some more modules. Do not code an entire massive program, without ever compiling or debugging any of it, and then try to get it to work. This is a quick path to frustration.
What if You Are Already Burned Out?
Most people when they first start working – especially if they enjoy that work – tend to hit the ground running with a lot of intensity but slowly they don’t realize that they are getting into the trap of burnout. Recovery from burnout is not easy for the developer when they fall deeper into it. Firstly you need to accept that even if you say “you are ok” deep inside you know very well that you aren’t. We are going to discuss some tips that will help you to recover from burnout.
- Start with doing nothing. Take some time off and find a new hobby. Length can vary dramatically for everyone. It can be for one week, two weeks or if things are too worse you can extend it to six months to one year. Also start doing meditation, it clears your mind puts things on the right track. It makes your priorities simple and very clear.
- Do not overwork. Learn to say no in your job when you are assigned multiple tasks. It’s good to focus on 2-3 tasks at a time instead of overloading yourself with multiple tasks without concentration on any one of them.
- When you do come back make sure that you start off slow. Don’t repeat the same mistake and jump into again 8-10 hours a day.
- Try a different language/stack and work with other databases or tools.
- Change your coding environment. You can change your room and you can code outside your laptop. If you are a Windows guy, move to Mac or Linux. Use a different text editor. Learning new things will help you to get your passion back.