Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How to Recognize Burnout Before You’re Burned Out (nytimes.com)
402 points by SREinSF on Sept 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 233 comments



I was planning to write under a throwaway, but I guess I don't care anymore.

When most people talk of burn out, they usually have spent years in the industry or probably have been probably working 12 hour days for a long period of time. For me on the other hand, I kind of managed to get burnt out (depressed) two years in the industry. I loved CS back in college, but my job felt like a punishment. The worst thing was I couldn't get myself to figure out what was wrong. The lack of a support structure for "emotionally exhausted" developers is surprising. But anyway once it got worse enough I just decided to quit, wasn't worth the toll on my health. Got back to the basics - started learning some ML and webdev. Built and shipped a side project. https://discoverdev.io - A daily list of interesting engineering blog posts.

Even now I have anxiety pangs, but at least I'm not depressed :) I realised I liked learning and building stuff in a collaborative atmosphere - it's something that just makes me happy. Currently I'm working on creating a platform for people like me - who just want to get together and make things.


> Currently I'm working on creating a platform for people like me - who just want to get together and make things.

Isn't this what hackerspaces are all about? Maybe it helps to visit (or found) one nearby you.


> (or found) one

That can lead to its own kind of burnout! ;)


Having been on the board of directors of a decently-sized hackerspace, I do not recommend it to folks looking to avoid burnout.


Still being on the board of a relatively small (sub-50 regulars) hackerspace, I second this comment. The perspective of spending all of your free time on paperwork and management tasks and no time whatsoever on actual hacking is not helping with burnout.


Not to mention being seen as responsible for interpersonal problems among the membership.


If the final goal is to socialize, founding a hackerspace makes more sense than creating a web platform. (And of course, joining an existing hackerspace makes even more sense.)

However, reading that comment again, maybe the phrases "collaborative atmosphere" and "get together" were not to be taken literally?


I think the issue is that founding the space replaces a lot of "collaborative building" time with "worrying about money and organization" and "being accountable to lots of people" time, which aren't exactly anti-burnout experiences.


Thanks for the link! DiscoverDev looks like a site that I'll visit a lot in the future.

P.S. I'll try not to go offtopic from the original topic too much, but my intuition was to click the hashtags in order to get list of posts that match that hashtag. Didn't work as expected.


Just wanted to chime in with a "thank you" for supporting RSS feeds. Glad to read you're feeling better now!


The first question that came to my mind is if burnout and depression are the same (your comment made me assume that you think they are the same). A quick google search surfaced this - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072470/

According to the article, they are different and have some overlapping symptoms which makes diagnosis difficult. The article seems to suggest that the path to recovery is different for both which makes it very important to be sure that the diagnosis is correct in the first place.


So basically, there were toxic relationships in your former job so you started a startup?


I wouldn't say toxic relations - it's just that.... I don't really know. I just want a "good fit" there! I felt very dissatisfied working there, felt like I'm not going anywhere professionally. The general feeling of being under-utilised. When I discussed this with my manager - his solution was more work :/ That didn't help at all. Used to have anxiety pangs and the like. So saved up enough to quit.

> you started a startup?

I wouldn't say it's a start up as such, more of a side project to recover from the burn out. It's hard to explain - at that point it was like I really wanted nothing to do with life. Now I feel a lot better. Hopefully in the next couple of months I'll have a decent product out the door! (Something else I'm currently working on)


Forgive me for asking, but, there's one aspect to your story that begs further explanation as it's not possible for many people:

How did you manage to save up enough money in 2 years to quit your job? Are you burning savings? Are you not paying for health insurance? Are you coasting on a trust fund?

It's a disservice to your fellow engineers suffering from burnout at a dead end job, to not explain the most crucial part of how you got out - money.


If he lives somewhere where you can get acceptable health insurance cheaper then in USA or from state and where housing is cheaper then San Francisco, then it is possible I would say.

Saving the difference between median salary and developer salary should be doable through less comfortable. The difference should give you at least a year of savings.


> If he lives somewhere where you can get acceptable health insurance cheaper then in USA or from state and where housing is cheaper then San Francisco, then it is possible I would say.

Sure, but I would also imagine he's making less than a San Francisco developer.

These are the kinds of details that are important, and are often left out when someone posts the classic "so I left my job!" post.

If people could just leave their jobs on a whim to save mental health, more would. So why leave out the details of the financial situation that enabled you to leave your job?


You are an inspiration. I hope you realize your dreams. Sounds like you deserve them.


Would love to hear more about how and with what you build that site.


My whole life I was a boredom-driven person.

This means that, for every productive action I'm taking, I have to "roll a morale check" and I fail that one more often than not, and stop doing whatever I wanted to accomplish. I consider myself talented but my output thus is inherently constrained.

It was very shocking for me to discover that many many people don't work like that: instead they need to roll a check to ever stop working, otherwise they don't, eventually burning out (but in process, earning e.g. good grades which was always unreachable to me).


So I'm 31, and I've had what you describe on-and-off for a long time. However, I don't have it for things I actually enjoy doing (e.g. solving some puzzle, playing a video game, helping a person, articulating how political systems would need to change to drive progress)

For myself, I always blamed the system. The fact is, I don't think it's fair to take a primate, put it in front of a screen all day, and expect it to want to type constantly and drag jira tickets. At least not this primate.

A lot of the time my job has felt like defusing my manager's daddy issues rather than improving the world. And I think surrendering to the idea that that was inevitable was crushing to me. So I quit.

Once I realized the world wouldn't collapse if I broke out of the system (e.g. you could quit, you could move to malaysia and coast, etc etc) I realized this was prison was entirely in my head. I realized most rich people I knew weren't really happy, and most jobs are dysfunctional wealth-making machines for those at the top.

Right now, I'm researching whether there is a possible connection between environmental chemicals and the skyrocketing illnesses (ADD, allergies, asthma, etc) for a youtube channel. Will I go back to work? Not sure.

But I've decided, if push comes to shove, I'd rather be poor than surrender to feeling like a pawn in a system I do not respect.


Thank you for describing it better than I could put into words.

And while it seems great at first "oh people like this don't burn out, don't stress out, they're fine !", the actual truth is that when you look back you see plenty of things you could have done that would have been awesome, or made you ton of money, or been unique, ... But you didn't. And you didn't do anything else instead. You just ... kind of go along.

I believe being above average talented is actually a detriment to getting better on that front, as it means you can cruise through life without much pressure of work and money.


It's a problem when you are "gifted" in your early age.

I never had to work at all during school to have good grades. So I didn't.

When reality finally checked in, I didn't have working routines or techniques.

I still miss some of them, and there's not a day than I look back at my career thinking I could have done muuuuch better.


I can 100% relate.

And sadly getting the people around you to understand is not easy at all.

How do you tell the people around you that telling you you're good/talented/gifted, and acting like you are by default, is hurting you. That when there is any kind of challenge to do, "yeah it's hard but I'm sure nolok can do it" being the go to expected comment has long term effects.

Even in my current adult situation, my friends answer when we talk about it goes something like "oh yeah poor you, not having to kill yourself working all week because you can do it in a few hours, and then being forced to relax and not do work stuff for days ! I would cry for you, if I didn't have to go back to work for my daily 6 hours shift for half your salary."

And I can't even say I don't get why they don't understand it, I totally do, but it hurts nonetheless. The only ones who truly know how much it gets to me are my girlfriend and close family (parents, brother, ...), and after a while you feel like you're complaining about nothing while others have real issues.


> after a while you feel like you're complaining about nothing while others have real issues

That's probably why I tend to vent out here instead of to my family.

We're not rich. One of my siblings is finishing their medical studies, and struggling with the fact that in our area, it's mostly a thankless job for shit pay. The other one is on a path that probably won't bring much riches either. My SO works twice as hard as I do for half the pay. I just can't talk about my job to those closest to me, because from the point of view of general society, I'm the lucky one who has a well-paying job sitting in front of computer all day, with plenty of time to goof around.

I try to help them all as much as I can, both materially and in terms of finding access to education and better opportunities. But it doesn't make me feel any less guilty that I happened to luck into a good job by the virtue of my teenage hobby turning out to be a great career choice.

Here, at least, there are other people who can relate. The jobs I've experienced are boring and soul-suckingly pointless. It's hard to find a meaningful one, when most of the industry is just about making rich people richer. Also, I suspect that learning how to program in my teenage years hurt me in terms of job satisfaction as well - the novelty of making computers do things has long worn off, so (unlike some people I work with) I don't get happy and excited that I can use the new bloated framework X and finally get to use generic types like a boss, or whatevs.

Except I suppose the same is true for most people in most other jobs. But they are too busy making ends meet to complain about the job being bullshit.


Feeling guilt over a sense of complaining about nothing has been a recurring theme for me. It is almost impossible to get people to understand problems that don't impede traditional 'success'.


I didnt know I had this problem until I read you. Thanks for putting into words something I felt but I didnt know how to describe it. Thanks. Any advice on how to solve it or feel better or anything?


I think there are a lot of different reasons someone might feel that way, but for me learning about proper studying techniques helped a lot. I'm fine with people having high expectations of me, I think it's when I feel that I can't live up to them that there's pressure that others will "shrug" off as if it's easy. With real tangible study techniques and not just vague general cleverness I feel like I can meet those challenges head on, like I have an actual plan to stand on. The Learning How To Learn course is a good start on this, but I've found a lot of different things on youtube. https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

Another thing was I felt like people were shrugging off my hard work because I made it look easy and there's 3 things for that -- A.) realize people are focused on their own life, they aren't going to understand everything going on in yours and B.) Stop being silent about your hard work. Even if it's just to some of your close friends, having some people realize you work hard too is nice. C.) Talk to people (like here on HN) with the same problem as you. I'm in some entrepreneur groups on Facebook and it is SO nice to have like minded people with similar problems to talk to or read about.


It is very interesting to find discussion on this. We have actually a group of friends who are all kinda connected with this same issue more or less. We have only recently started to discuss it; framing it "lazy smart" people. Part of our group never got back on track in life despite "high iq". The reality kinda came after people got to good universities and realised that you have to work to progress. Finding motivation to gradute seems impossible when you are used to get everything without effort.


I call it "lazy genuis". I'm pretty old now (50) and experiencing burnout for the first time. Fwiw I've always been mildly successful rising to the upper grades of 3 different fields, draftsman, CG (Technical Director) and programmer (I hold the Architect title now) all self taught. I wish I had some words of wisdom for you, I don't. I guess just know you are not alone.


50 isn't old, and well done for achieving success in different areas of work!


Yes. This has been a problem for me for most of my adult life. I coasted through grade school, college. Most things came easily, naturally.

It all came crashing down for me, though, when I got my first semester law school grades back. For the first time in my life I did poorly, when I expected to do just as well as I had done before. It is not an exaggeration to say my entire sense of self erupted beneath me. I became depressed, anxious. I withdrew completely. I ended up dropping out of school. I am still recovering.

This sort of problem doesn't get much sympathy until it's too late. I hope gifted kids get more support these days.

I found some hope in the work of Carol Dweck and her book, "Mindset." All my life I had been told how smart and talented I was. I adopted this "fixed" mindset about myself, and when it was contested, I broke. Adopting a "growth" mindset is a much more sustainable, workable model. I highly recommend looking into Dweck's work for anyone who might be struggling in this vein.


But how do you really adopt this mindset? I can't get over the feeling that it's only a helpful lie (it's better for you if you believe it even if it's not true) which keeps me from really buying in.


Wow, I totally identify. I like to joke that I've done "less with more" than anyone else I know.


You spend your life having the idea reinforced that the fact that you can perform better than others gives you a advantage that is quickly exaggerated to mean that you think you can overcome hindsight deficit and common but expensive errors.


Picasso (I think) said "when inspiration turns up it better find you working".


The other side of the coin is if you have ideas without execution you could tell yourself they are great and have potential.

However, if you "do" all of your ideas, you may have to face the cold reality that none of them worked out or were that great/enjoyed after all.

So there's pros and cons.


It's the same with me and this might be the first time I notice someone else actually talking about it and assessing their situation so well, so thanks for that.

Do you think that it's just a normal degree of variation found in different people?

In the past I've occasionally been wondering if there is something wrong with my health that drains my motivation, or if actually I'm just lazy, or care too little about what i can give to other people, or whatever.

At that time it has also caused problems at work for me and kept my self-esteem low for quite some time.

Since then I have been a lot better and I'd say it's fine now. But I still wonder about what causes such wildly differing forms of motivation in different people.


Did/do you by any chance have what I can only describe as a "fear of failure / of being ashamed of your result" ? I infer that from your "low self esteem" remark.

I used to be very very similar, and with some help I identified that it was a combination of people around me expecting me to succeed a lot more than others, which lead to a fear of failing. Which then slowly creeped into a lot of aspect of my life. I really caught on it and decided to do something about it when it started going against what I actually wanted, making me decline events I wanted to get into and had the motivation but my brain just wouldn't let me hop in.


Here's what I think my brain does, when it happens:

I feel that something is expected of me

-> I feel pressured to do it, since failing to do so will surely have bad consequences

-> Being pressured, I feel like I have little freedom to do as I think fit

-> Feeling like I have no freedom makes me lose motivation, even if the task might have been interesting to me

It's not like that all the time, but it has happened fairly often. Sometimes I still fall into that mode of thinking and have a hard time pulling myself out again.

What I believe is the problem here:

I didn't have the confidence that I can take care of myself and have my needs fulfilled regardless of specific issues at hand at that moment in time. This has caused me to feel overly dependent on others and on meeting their expectations (or the expectations I think they might have of me, that they didn't even express).

Since I realized that I have tried the following to improve my situation:

I make myself aware of my fears as they come up, and don't try to push them away, but also don't acknowledge that they're justified. I then reassure myself in the feeling that I can look after myself and cause my needs to be fulfilled just fine. In other words, I try to make the cause of my satisfaction intrinsic.


I didn't have the confidence that I can take care of myself and have my needs fulfilled regardless of specific issues at hand at that moment in time. This has caused me to feel overly dependent on others and on meeting their expectations (or the expectations I think they might have of me, that they didn't even express).

I’m a people-pleaser so this is great insight into my own behavior. But being a people-pleaser is also why I don’t understand making my satisfaction factors intrinsic. When people push their “successes” — jobs, cars, girls, diamonds, houses and iPhones — onto me, how can I to continue to work on my small WordPress project with the same level of motivation I had before they brought their “successes” to my attention? I do need them for my survival — I get a lot of anxiety just thinking of living without their support — but I don’t want them influencing my motivation, so how do I go about insulating my poor self-esteem from their occasional, and btw completely unintentional, blitzkrieg attacks?


I know about that anxiety, what other people might think about you.

The problem with anxiety is, that you just want to get rid of it, the anxiety hinders you in a way to look at it, to reflect about it.

Instead of trying to get rid of it, it might be better to reflect about it. So in the case of the anxiety about the thoughts of others: what kind of effect these thoughts really have, even if they think the worst about you?

The anxiety of the bad things that might happen in most cases have no foundation in your current life, but have bean created somewhere in your childhood.


Honestly that question is quite hard for me to answer, since I have rarely felt pressured to acquire or achieve something because of the successes of others.

Generally I'd say if you find that some things you do or think are not the way you want them to be and you feel the cause is other people influencing you, then you have to take a step back and try to assess what your motivations and priorities are.

The hard part is to stop your fears from messing up your reasoning. Try to think about what you value first and worry about how that is attainable later. I think you will find that there are always more ways to reach a goal if you just take a chance, than you thought there were when you worried about it beforehand. So try not to worry too much.

Self self-esteem can be irrational, but I feel like it is very valueable to me nonetheless. I think I have come to accept that being confident involves being somewhat crazy and actively taking risks.

After all, most things we worry about never happen, so you might be able to afford being a bit more light-hearted :)


I don't think being a people-pleaser inherently works against making satisfaction factors completely your own. For me my motivation and desires are completely unrelated to the standard 'pop' model of success you allude to. But I sill feel like I am a people-pleaser myself, you just have to learn to make others understand you and how you are different, striving for a mutual understanding that allows relationships to flourish. Hope I am making sense, I have quite strong feelings about this and a lot to say but want to stay concise.


I, for one, never have fear of failure.

What I have is the opposite. In seconds I can think of this grandiose accomplishment in all its beauty if it was finished, and then I'm confronted with a white slate and tedium of doing even first steps in that direction.

What discourages me from smaller tasks is impossibility of failure. Why do a barely challenging exercise if i'm not the first to do it and not the best at that?


Why do a barely challenging exercise if i'm not the first to do it and not the best at that?

Exactly! My motivation primarily stems from the self-esteem boost I get from doing meaningful work that’s exclusive to me. But to do the experiments and research required to get to the exclusive domain I need to pass through the tedium of mundane jobs to pay the bills, learn the technology etc. I can find the motivation to do the tedium for minutes, but not for hours like others seem to be able to.


I used to be like this and began to realize that it was limiting me professionally as well as in general growth as a person. I started forcing my perspective to be this instead, "Can I do this more elegantly than those that came before me?" It pushed me to learn about problems and really foster a depth of understanding that I never would have reached due to the "If I'm not the first..." mentality. Now I find a deeper self-esteem boost in gaining understanding and subsequently teaching others the knowledge I've gained.


Incredible, your post and the one you responded to describe perfectly how I feel. I also noticed a new environment gives me an overall boost of motivation. Changing jobs makes me super exited the first few months but after that the enthousiasm start to die off.

A result of all this is that now after 5 years of being web developer I'm already bored of the job because the small mundane tasks outnumber the challenging projects by a lot. Already switched of employer twice... Looking to do freelance work now hoping the constant switching helps keeping my motivation up.


Fellas, do it in a way no one else has. Or use it for something no one else has.

Even things done a million times can be turned on their head.


Have you considered changing languages? 5 years in one stack can make things too easy in a way.


I have the same thing... we should start a support group.


So do I. I'd gladly join the group.


I'm not sure I'm on the same spectrum as you, but I can recognize the "boring first steps stopping me from going further even though I can see the solution to 99% of the thing and it would be awesome".

That's why it's nearly impossible for me to make a project in modern javascript or anything like it with a ton of setup, but give me golang and it lets me just start hacking at the "awesome steps" and suddenly I'm building stuff.


I can relate to that! I remember I could not start any Windows programming because MSVC offered pages and pages of stuff as a Windows "Hello World" and I just could not figure what is this stuff for, and could not proceed without understanding.

I only got with it when I've learned some raw WinAPI with message breakers and stuff, but all and all fitting a program in one source file.


I started to read psychiatry journals to investigate. You can learn a lot about your unknown behaviour... Or at the least get some convincing platitudes to excuse your faults. I made a mistake in being so thrilled to unravel some bloody obvious bad habits that were obscured by my fourth decade, obscured by imaginary excess of talent, because unused talent is squat, and obscured by the same unused talent doing a number on the cover up job, all embarrassed when I was younger and more honest with myself. Don't think that your discovery inoculated you from coworkers taking pernicious advantage of the revelations, no matter how minor they seem, they are your Achilles Heels.


There are different personality traits. Out of the big five, it may indicate you have moderate or low conscientiousness. people who are highly conscientious tend to be extremely anguished when they are not being productive


> In the past

> At that time

> Since then

Can you point to anything that has caused this change for you? I can identify myself with OP's description as well and would be happy about any ideas how to address it.


I belive so. See my reply to nolok


Laziness does not exists in psychology.


A book that I read that described this very well for me: Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder by Gabor Mate.

Would highly recommend anyone to read. Revealed a lot about what motivates me. It covers things like only being able to focus on something you find interesting, and doing so for crazy amounts of time (Hyperfocus), while being unable to focus on a very simple task that is of no interest for even a moment.

Edit: I have a deadline in 5 hours time and I'm checking HN. I only work well under pressure...


I need to check out that book.

>I only work well under pressure.

Made me chuckle. I'm similar. But it's more like: I only work under pressure. I'm not so sure about the quality, whether it's well or not. ;)


I believe this boredom or lack of strong motivation occurs when you don't get the flow effect [1] from your work, which happened to me during my studies and sadly also as part of some of my current work in Academia. Once I started writing novels, I realized that I can quickly 'get into the flow', or however psychologists call that, and the activity is deeply satisfying over long period of time. The same happens to me when I program or make music.

Unfortunately, it's currently not realistic for me to expect to be able to make a living from any of these hobbies. I don't think that's very uncommon, though, and there is no need to worry or be shocked about it. Some people work primarily to earn money and there's nothing wrong with that, even though you're apparently not supposed to state that simple truth in job interviews.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)


I wonder: as a programmer, how do you get into a flow state when you're not doing active coding — e.g., when you're trying to learn new concepts, parsing research, or designing algorithms or data structures? That's what I have the most trouble with. Once I get past the hurdle everything is just gravy, but staring at the same paper or whiteboard for a week and trying to grok the darn thing is emotionally draining. I can only move forward when my mind happens to make those missing connections, which is not something I can force.


I find REPL driven development to be really helpful here. You play around with toys til you get your bearings, then you sit down for real to do the task. The instant feedback from the REPL causes me to not get sidetracked nearly as easily. YMMV, of course.


For languages/environments where REPL is not available, it can be helpful to create a setup where you get an almost instantaneous feedback from your changes. Nothing kills flow like having to wait 10 seconds every time you change a line of code and want to see the result.

For the parent poster: I think a good way to tackle learning new stuff is to break it do it in small increments at a time. Ex. if learning graphics programming, start with trying to open up a blank open gl window, then try displaying a single triangle etc. If the tasks proves to be more complex or requires going on a tangent, break that down into goals as well. The point is to always have something on your plate that is small-ish and feels achievable.


I totally get this. I finally got an ADHD diagnosis as an adult and the mild stimulants they prescribe help me plow through work that would otherwise be literally too boring for me to force myself though.

On the flip side, these same mild stimulants may be helping me get to the burn out phase. Heh. The net is that taking the stimulants while feeling a lot of stress or anxiety is not a good plan, and something I have to watch out for. So when I'm stressed out, I stay way from the stimulants -- I fall back to coffee and Diet Coke.


This used to be an issue I struggled with. I found sprinting towards small, but functional deadlines was effective. This way even if I put down a project for a few months and then came back, it was in an ok place to pick back up again and sprint some more on.

I also found that being able to complete one small task and then switch gears on the project kept me more entertained.

Also working with a good coding partner can be helpful, but that takes it's own time to setup and organize.


I’m the exact same way; were you able to find a workaround? Does our situation lie within the realm of ADD?


Best solution I have for you that work both as an "immediate fix" and a long term re-training is work in duo.

I hated the very idea of someone sitting with me at the computer and coding together, I mean that's stupid right ? And I'm going to be super slow compared to usual, and will have to explain stuff, ...

But even if you're only going at 80% of your usual speed, you're going. 100% speed is useless if you stop after 5 minutes. Consider telling the other person about your focus issue, so they don't let you play around too much.

With time, I've seen plenty of other great sides and bonuses in pair programming, but that one alone has been a god send. And after a while you get used to the rythm and get better at coding alone without stopping too.


I’d prefer not having to depend on someone because my schedule eventually becomes intertwined with theirs and it leads to all kinds of conflicts and complications. It sucks for me that you found it so effective, because I’m missing out on a potential solution[1].

[1] What has been a temporary solution is vasodilation through garlic-driven TRPA1 activation. Sometimes I get so down I wonder what is the point of life when I’m going to die in about 1600 weeks and me and all of my work is going to be forgotten; I pop in 70 to 120 garlic cloves (very hard to chew, they sting) but it does seem to work (could be placebo although the vasodilation does actually work as I get incredibly horny after). Since garlic is hard to chew I have my eyes on chocolate flavonols (chocamine) that does the same vasodilation effect. Still looking for better alternatives, if I can find them.


> Sometimes I get so down I wonder what is the point of life when I’m going to die in about 1600 weeks and me and all of my work is going to be forgotten; I pop in 70 to 120 garlic cloves (very hard to chew, they sting) but it does seem to work (could be placebo although the vasodilation does actually work as I get incredibly horny after).

That might be the greatest single sentence I have ever read on HN.


You may or may not have one near you, but "open coworking spaces" is how I did it in Paris. It's those big workspaces open to anyone where you rent a place by the day or week, you come in sit at one of the open spot and go at it.

Tons of people looking for the same thing, or open to it for the experience, and after a while it just gets second nature.


I don’t have one nearby (Coimbatore, South India) but I will try working at the mall here, see if the background noise and activity of people milling about can have a similar effect. Bret Victor mentioned working while travelling on trains for a year as a “wandering hobo”, perhaps he has the same trouble as we do and the presence of people helped him focus.

Judging from your experience as well as Bret’s, not working alone seems to be the key factor. I wonder why that is the case, but the mall idea is worth a try, thanks for the inspiration!


You might want to try pairing a portion of the time. I've been pairing part time on a side project and it's going really well. We pair about twice a week on harder work or stuff that involves decisions that aren't really undone. On our own time we then work on more mondaine stuff. It's great because there is always opportunity to be productive of the scheduled don't align, but at the same time you have just enough pressure to keep going while also having the safety net of being able to pair with someone if you get stuck. So there is little opportunity to procrastinate which I usually do when stuck.


It’s not every day that one hears about garlic-induced vasodilation! Did you arrive at 70–120 cloves as your minimum effective dose? Any side effects, digestion-wise for example, from consuming that many at once?


Are you serious???


Just got diagnosed with ADHD-PI (ADD) recently and this sounds a lot like me. If you're not sure, take a look at the wiki page, especially the "Examples of Observed Symptoms" for adults:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention_deficit_hyperactivit...

If that fits, you may wish to speak with a psychologist/psychiatrist. Best not to self-diagnose :)

My experience since getting the diagnosis has been pretty positive. I've dropped a lot of personal guilt after realizing many of these traits were not my fault. And I've also better understood how to manage them.

Finally, I'm titrating onto medication and so far my experience with that has been quite positive as well. It's nice to feel like I have productive weekends.


Surprised to see a lot of those symptoms hit really close to home for me, especially Directed Attention Fatigue. Thanks for pointing me in this direction!


I have been wondering this as well. I also wonder if being a "night owl" is related, as I'm only really able to work when I'm tired. Maybe I require a less active mind to reach motivation?


I’ve found that to be true in my case too. Many theories have been proposed but my personal favourite is [1]: "I can't start work until I've exhausted every possible distraction.”

Someone should invent a straitjacket for the mind.

[1] http://ask.metafilter.com/272294/Why-am-I-most-productive-la...


My workaround is to do things that I like and put pressure on myself when things get slow.

However I still have a long list of side projects that I should do one day (or even worse, return to them one day).


I still have a long list of side projects that I should do one day

I know the feeling, it just compounds the problem: https://twitter.com/vjk2005/status/753567329380732928


What does roll a check mean?


It's a term from role playing games (pen and paper or digital).

It means that in order to do some task X, you need to roll 1 or more dice and have the sum total of the result of the dice roll be greater than some arbitrary requirement.


The Rock method of waking up 6 days a week, doing 30 mins of heavy cardio and then lifting weights and pull ups is the only way I've found where you can keep an insane schedule without burning out. As soon as I hit a pillow I sleep no matter what I'm thinking/worrying about, and I wake up without any back pain or other problems where before I started this routine I always woke up with little pains and stiffness. I have energy all day, and the cardio seems to help with focus.

Something else I do for sanity is on Saturdays I work in a medical lab at a local university for a few hours designing and testing algorithms. It pays a joke salary, but it's intellectually satisfying work and you get access to PhDs to leech their knowledge. This can get stressful as mistakes can blow the results and ruin their research grant but it's something I look forward to doing every week outside my usual job of just adding features and putting out fires. If you can I highly recommend looking at your local university research position pages and seeing if there are any open on the weekend or in the evenings. For some reason local students here never take these.


> Something else I do for sanity is on Saturdays I work in a medical lab at a local university for a few hours designing and testing algorithms.

Interesting. What is your main job and how did you get into doing this work for the university on the side?


Reading TAOCP and CMUs Parallel Algorithms book in my spare time. http://www.parallel-algorithms-book.com

Stack exchange jobs listed the research grant position. I have 2 main jobs, one is a unionized labor shop I've had since high school from 10:30-5pm (can't give up that indexed pension) and I remotely add features to a dbms before it starts which I also learned from a free CMU resource http://15721.courses.cs.cmu.edu/spring2017/ but before that I did a variety of things like contract framework feature writing, writing simple kernel mods, QA testing ect.


But even given that I'm burned out. What am I going to do about it? I can't just up and quit my job. There's no other jobs that won't have me just as burned out in a few months, and the idea of searching for one is tiresome already.

How do you get out of that funk?


Live for something else. Music, startup, reading, whatever you like. Pay yourself first (work on that thing first thing in the morning), or whenever you can give it attention. Work to get your paycheck. You can still do a great job -- this doesn't mean you need to slog through it. Just make your own life your priority.


This is the right approach. Long days are easier when there is something else to look forward to. I would also suggest a short term ban on all electronics. Get away from your phone and laptop and try some new things, go to some meet-ups, join a gym, w/e. Just break your old routine for a bit to recover. Then add things back slowly and ask yourself if it makes you happy. I know sometimes I veg on tv, not because I'm interested but just because I need to decompress. Finding some non-tech ways to decompress is worth it.


> Music, startup, reading

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things does not belong...

Founding, or co-founding, a startup, probably shouldn't ever be on the shortlist of ways to walk back or avoid stress / burnout...


> Pay yourself first (work on that thing first thing in the morning)

What if there is obligatory daily standup early in the morning eating up the entire morning energy? Well obviously it's not explicitly obligatory but the "we are the second family", "be a good team player" stuff.


Theoretically? Get up even earlier.

In practice, it doesn't work for everyone. Some of us are night owls, and I don't mean the "likes to stay up late" kind, but "can't possibly get up in the morning without being kicked out of bed by someone else" kind.


If they were you family they would care about your health, if they were team players they would find a way to work together on the long term not just burn you out and replace you in 2 months.

When I had my burnout, I just wanted to quit, my boss told me to take as much time as I needed to get better and kept me as an employee


Then you do the "or whenever you can give it attention" part. As importantly, don't care too much about the annoying standup - just get it out of the way.


get up earlier, or do it in the evenings. if you can't do one of these things, you may want to consider what it actually means to own your own company.


I would gladly own an outsourcing hegemon charging the clients tens or hundreds of millions of USD/EUR and paying the employees anually 20-40k USD... but getting up earlier or rescheduling my hobbies for the evenings will not be enough I'm afraid.


yeah, the biggest problem with a starting a company is you actually have to start it. it totally sucks.


These kind of businesses are not just casually started by some random guy.


yeah they are. i've worked for 2 of them.

the problem is you think there's "special" people and "special" businesses... there aren't. there's just successful, and not, and you can't determine a priori which it's going to be.

furthermore, the number of $10 million - $100 million businesses (including consulting firms) operating today that you've never heard of is probably in the tens of thousands.


My team does standups on slack, it works very well for us.


sound like micromanagement without the ceremony. Still better than an actual standup. I'm glad when we get to do this instead (like when the team is in meetings).


I like the overall direction of your comment, essentially make yourself your priority for a bit, but I don't think starting a startup is a good solution for burnout :P


    > How do you get out of that funk?
You focus on others. Find some way, formal or informal, to help other people.

It can be as basic as tutoring or volunteering for an organization you believe in. I don't know why this works but I was counseled to do this by someone who I consider wise. Perhaps the reason it works is that it is related to gaining a different perspective and avoiding excessive self-reflection.

The job is just a job. Some folks are lucky to be employed in something that gives meaning to their lives, but that's not for everyone and not for every job or time in everyone's life. If you can diversify your expectations beyond finding satisfying work, I think that helps a lot.


I would suggest it has to do with having social needs met, while volunteering is but one pathway to that end. The work makes us feel isolated, and sapped energy leads one to be complacently grounded in a hermetic sort of lifestyle. Taking the initiative to change your environment and commit to some planned social encounters shakes things up.


I find I'm doing all sorts of work outside my day job, working on various little projects etc.

In the past I've stopped doing any of that, and just focused on exercising, socialising and watching TV outside of work. You'll be amazed at how much time you have to fill, and how much sleep you can catch up on.

But then the only times I've approached burnout it's been because of all these side projects!


> But even given that I'm burned out. What am I going to do about it? I can't just up and quit my job.

Depending on where you live, you might be legally entitled to sick leave, or something similar.

I know this option isn't available to everyone, but I still wanted to point it out.

> There's no other jobs that won't have me just as burned out in a few months, and the idea of searching for one is tiresome already.

I think it's dangerous to assume that once you've burned out, changing jobs will solve the problem.

In my own case, once I passed the burn-out point, removing all of the causal factors that lead me beyond that point did not cause me to return from beyond that point.

The only thing I could suggest is to talk to a physician, who will then suggest the proper course of action -- be it medication, therapy, exercise, diet, a combination thereof, etc.


1. Go to a mental health professional and talk about what's going on. Do so for several months.

2. Get disability insurance and use it: www.disabilitysecrets.com/dnewsblog/2009/07/filing-for-disability-for-stress.html << typically pays about 2/3rds of salary up to a cap for X months.

3. During that mental health break do the following:

a) remove all social media from your life.

b) break your days into 4 hour chunks with buckets like this: Enjoy Nature, cultivate friend/family relationships, read, learn, introspective deep work.

4. Don't return to work until you're sure what you'll be doing day to day will enable you to be happy.

5. If you won't be happy change jobs or even your career entirely. Just because you can program doesn't mean you'll be happy doing it...


  1. Go to a mental health professional and talk about 
  what's going on. Do so for several months.
My wife and I were talking about this last night. (She's a researcher in a field of psychology.) It is common to see lists like this that start with "get help", but it's incredibly hard to actually do it:

* Insurance may or may not cover it.

* Someone who has never been to a MH professional has no idea what to expect or what they need.

* MH professionals are generally not good at explaining where to start. Resources are few and far between.

* Most MH professionals are specialized in ways a novice doesn't understand.

* Most MH professionals don't have good websites or don't return phone calls.

* MH has a stigma, so a) you're unlikely to know if your friends see someone or b) be willing to ask for a referral.

* MH degrees and credentials are confusing: MSC, MMFT, MSW, MAPC, PhD, MD, LMHC/LCMHC/CMHC, RN, LPCC/LPC/LCPC, etc.

* Medication, if you want to explore that route, is a completely different discipline (psychiatry) and never the twain shall meet.

* Counseling is incredibly dependent on connecting with your MH professional. So if you manage to navigate the above and get an appointment, but don't feel like you can open up, you have to start all over.

Don't get me wrong: you should go to a MH professional and talk about what's going on. Keep pushing until you find someone you like.


> 1. Go to a mental health professional and talk about what's going on. Do so for several months.

"Oh, just what I need - Another thing for my to-do list..." :)


Looks like solid life advice but 3b could use exercise thrown in.


You almost certainly will. My problem with burnout was it made it hard to even muster the energy to find a new job.

Once I did, I couldn't believe how dramatically my life improved. I didn't realize how many aspects of my life were being negatively affected by my old work environment.


I switched jobs a while ago, and while a lot of the previous stress factors were eliminated, they have been replaced by an almost equal amount of other stress factors.

(going from a small startup to a large corporation is good for work/life balance, not so much in terms of getting things done)


It hasn't been mentioned before, but I find that socializing - especially with friends - relieve you of stress. It doesn't have to involve deep conversions but just being around friends have a strengthening and calming effect. Take time to cultivate your friendships.


What about your job burns you out? I've seen in different jobs a range of stress levels depending on the type of project and the team culture.

It IS possible that another job would be a better fit for you.


> five-minute breaks for every 20 minutes spent on a single task, or sitting at your desk

As a software developer, yeah right! In 20 minutes, I've barely even gotten a problem into my head, and a five minute break would mean starting over.

Also, working remotely is not necessarily a cure for burnout. I've been burned out while working remotely and it had a lot to do with the additional stress of having to be self disciplined, the lack of boundaries between leisure and work, and the lack of emotional support from co-workers.

Other than those two points, there was some good stuff in this article.


> As a software developer, yeah right! In 20 minutes, I've barely even gotten a problem into my head, and a five minute break would mean starting over.

Being able to work in small chunks of time and being able to recover from short breaks in concentration are skills that one can develop much like other programming skills. Needing a long time to "get back into the zone" is a fix-able weakness, not some intractable law of nature.

Try having kids! You'll quickly learn to divide your productive time up into dozens of short 15-minute sessions rather than hours-long stretches in the zone. Infants don't care that you're concentrating.


Some people sink in the sink or swim scenarios. Having kids can lead to no productive activity at all during kid's waking hours instead of 15 minute chunks.


I've seen this mentioned quite a bit around these parts and I just don't get it. What kind of problem takes 20 minutes to wrap your head around? Can you give me a working example?

I'm asking honestly, by the way! I've never personally encountered a problem in my professional career that takes half an hour just to internalize, and I've always wondered what one might look like.


You probably won't get someone posting an example, because they're often in closed enterprise type source code.

One example is spaghetti type code that you have to untangle and see if you can simplify (or simply understand). Imagine that you have a Rails controller where there are several modules being pulled into it. There is a before filter that calls a private method. The private methods makes a call to another method, but it's not clear where that method is. It turns out that it's in one of the modules. The module method makes calls to other methods in other modules - of which you have to hunt down and figure out where they are. One of the methods in such modules has some dynamic code where it calls a class based on a value that comes from the DB...

There's some funky stuff that goes on in production apps sometimes - add in a bit of tricky logic to trace, and maybe you can see how it could take a bit to get your head around what's going on.

Hopefully this is the exception to the rule, but if you're a consultant who's job it is to clean up other's messes then I guess it wouldn't be so surprising to see some pretty gnarly code.


Thanks! That's kind of what I figured, which makes me a little glad I haven't had to do that kind of work yet.


Architectural problems, for starters. These can take me somewhere between an hour and a day to crack. The time is spent constructing a coherent mental model and then "simulating" it in my head, looking for how it behaves in various conditions, and then patching the discovered holes.

(Those problems could easily take even more time, but after a lot of such cases in my hobby projects, I learned that if I feel the problem is that complex, I should aggressively decompose it into pieces that can be thought through and implemented independently.)

Another kind of problem - complex algorithms. For instance, it once took me over a week to implement a new path routing code in our company's application, with half of the time spent on trying to comprehend some obscure papers that described an efficient solution in just enough details to get a pretty good picture of the method, but not nearly enough to actually build it.


It's not so much the problem itself that takes 20 minutes (though if you have loose specs, you have to think of the best way to solve it, which I prefer), it's how to solve the problem within the constraints of the existing codebase / framework / design philosophy.

I can give you a concrete example. At a place I worked at a while ago, they wanted to integrate shipping. Well they had already done Fedex but wanted to now do UPS. Shipping has all sorts of special services like Saturday delivery and return receipts, etc. So first you have to understand what they were doing with the Fedex implementation, then you have to understand the constraints of the UPS implementation and conform those constraints into the same functionality of the Fedex implementation without missing any of the features or how the implementation works / looks to the user. You have to apply this to the front end, the back end, and the database.

That took a lot longer than 20 minutes, because you have to keep 2 mostly full implementations in your head at the same time while you are designing the second.


Oh man, lucky you. I've worked on things that take days to start figuring out what's going on... debugging subtle race conditions in massively distributed systems comes to mind.


Well, I've worked on systems that take days to figure out, but not problems that require half an hour to get into my head every time I touch them.


Try inheritance trees in a dynamically typed language, when there is 8 layers of abstraction between the thing that you know and the thing that might be causing the problem.


It's not getting the problem in your head, so much as where you are at a certain point in time while attempting to solve the problem. If you get knocked out of flow by interruptions after 20 minutes, it can take quite an amount of time to get back to where you were.


If you are a programmer, here's a good one: You are 'thrown' into a legacy codebase and asked to fix/refactor/add a new feature. Oh, and also you don't have docs and the people who wrote the code are no longer available to you. Added bonus, that codebase runs on 4 completely different platforms platforms. Finally this is a game shipping in 2 months.


I understand, but why can't you stop fixing/refactoring/adding a feature for 5 minutes ? Taking a break won't make you forget you everything, it mights make you more productive for the next 20 minutes. For the record, I've worked on 20 years old code where maintanability didn't seemed like a important part. Breaks doesn't always make you slower, it might do the contrary. Of course, there is no magical solution and you have to find a balance.


From the parent post, and I quote: "What kind of problem takes 20 minutes to wrap your head around? Can you give me a working example?"

I'm not against breaks, the issue here is that someone mentioned that 20 minutes is more than enough to wrap your head around anything. I gave an example where most (mortals) would require substantially more than 20 minutes. Are we talking about breaks? Or the fact that some geniuses are able to figure out everything under 20 minutes?


Parent poster here — just FYI, I certainly did not say that "20 minutes is more than enough to wrap your head around anything". Was only looking for examples to assuage my curiosity.


I stand corrected. However it is a weird question to me and this mislead me into wondering how could someone not ever encounter any problem or task which takes more than 20 minutes to grok. Out of curiosity, what is it you do professionally? Do you get bored of it?


What I meant was, there's often talk on HN about how distractions during programming will tear down your "mind palace" and force you to build up your mental model from scratch. There are certainly problems I've dealt with that take more than 20 minutes (or even days) to grok, but almost none where I couldn't talk to someone and then jump right back in unless I'm actively learning/researching/debugging (which is maybe 10% of the time). With most of my work, I only have to deal with local functions and behaviors without having to run the whole stack in my head. Everything else is on paper or in my notes. But it seems that many others don't operate this way, and I'm very curious about this division.


Everybody is different. Personally, I can't keep multiple things in my head at the same time very well. I need to focus 100% (or as near to 100% as possible) on the task at hand. If I'm focused on solving a problem and somebody comes up to my desk to ask a question=, it's very similar to that xkcd comic where the mental bubble goes 'poof' and I'm back to square one.


Figuring out how a bug happens can easily take 20 minutes of concentration. "This thread calls this method, that one sends this message, then a request arrives here while this lock is held...".

It's in tracking down tricky bugs that I find focus is most needed: if I'm in an easily-distracted state then I will basically spend hours getting nowhere.


Potentially when your inexperienced in the problem domain, or you're building brand new large and complex systems and you haven't yet broken it into smaller subsystems/tasks that can be tackled one at a time.


I find the 20 minute on/5 minutes off Pomodoro cycle is great for getting me started into a problem. After 1 or 2 of these cycles I find I'm skipping the breaks and sustaining focused work for longer.


Speaking a software developer, I think this technique can be quite powerful. You'll often hear people talk about the Pomodoro Technique[1]. I don't always organize my day around promodoros, but when I'm under the gun, it's a great way to maximize productivity by minimizing task waste.

I see a common anti-pattern in myself and other developers that I call the "depth-first problem solving" method. In short, it's when you go down the rabbit hole and loose sight of what you were originally trying to accomplish. Others call this issue "Yak Shaving"[2].

By forcing you to take stock of what you're doing and give yourself a breather, I find one is better able to keep on-task. Also, when doing pomodoros, the side benefits is that you're only working on one thing.

Even if you're not doing something more sophisticated like pomodoros, taking a break every 20 minutes can be very useful even for "in-the-zone" type activities, like coding, which can take some time to get into.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique [2] http://www.hanselman.com/blog/YakShavingDefinedIllGetThatDon...


> As a software developer, yeah right! In 20 minutes, I've barely even gotten a problem into my head, and a five minute break would mean starting over.

My strategy for this has been to take a long break and treat myself after finishing a big feature. I usually try to do one large thing in a work day and right when I push the commit, go watch tv for an hour or something.

I've found it works very well because instead of using entertainment as some sort of "boredom medicine," it makes it into a reward.


Take the break without "unloading" the problem from your head. Get up, get some coffee or whatnot. You're brain will retain the problem you are working on with no effort on your part.

This works much better when working remote. When in office, keep your headphones on so people see that you are not available.

This is basically variation of a Zen walking meditation. To respect the Zen style fully, try to concentrate on the walking, breathing, making, pouring your coffee, and nothing else. Don't beat yourself up if you starting thinking about work, though -- just go back to being in the moment while doing trivial things. It's the getting up and giving your brain the OK to relax that is the key. The goal of Zen is to be in the flow with that's in front of you, even when sitting and doing almost nothing (just breathing). It is impossible to do this for long (at least for me). But the goal of "not thinking" and being in the moment / in the flow is a worthy goal. Softly bring your attention back to what's in front of you is the mental exercise that helps you relax and avoid distraction when not meditating, though for me this takes months of meditating to have this knock-on effect.

This isn't always possible for me. I probably don't meditate enough. Sometimes I basically keep thinking about whatever I'm working on or worrying about. But even then, stepping way from the keyboard at least let's me tackle things from different direction.

Anyway, a short break like this unlock something you are working on, similar to how we sometimes come up with good ideas in the shower.

For me, I do this once every hour or 2 when I can, not 20 minutes. On the other hand, on days when I have lots of meetings, this is basically impossible.

Just my 2 cents. Everyone is built slightly different; your milage may vary.


> working remotely is not necessarily a cure for burnout

I've never been close to burning out so take this with a grain of salt, but I definitely felt way more relaxed once I started working more from home.


I've been burned out at the office (recently) and at prior a while working at home. I was working 100+ hour weeks while at home because they decided to RIF everyone and I was basically working 4 jobs. It's possible to burn out at home, but it takes a lot more doing.

At home, you can get up and watch a show on TV for 30 minutes, or play a quick game or something to alleviate the stress. You can't do that at the office typically.


I have a story for young HNers: if you want to learn about burnout, I propose to you a dangerous thing to try out (note: I did warn you). I did it myself (note: I did warn you twice).

What I tried out was studying as much as possible for the longest period of time on university. Do this as long until you either (1) cry yourself to sleep at night from exhaustion or (2) start to feel emotionally numb. This has to be combined with the condition that you see yourself having a reduced output/productivity.

I expected to get (1) but instead I got (2). I then went to the wikipedia page on burnout and looked at the checklist [1] and saw I had almost all of them, except for the most severe ones. I took on half the amount of study work (which was still more than most students would do) and since it was the end of the second semester, the summer holidays arrived. The next academic year I was fine.

Why did I do this? Simple: I recognize that I am a person who wants to work hard. So I knew I'd get a burnout sooner or later in my life. It's better then to be acquainted with it, so that I can see the warning signals. Also, it's easier to experiment with this on university than in a working environment, since it's easier to take uni a bit less seriously than work -- for me at least. Also, I prefer to make deliberate mistakes as young as possible when I know there's a high likelihood I'll make them down the line anyway.

Note: I did warn you thrice. It is a dangerous experiment, but so is any experiment where you want to look up your limits. Knowing your limits, however, can be very beneficial.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20150413145539/http://en.wikiped...


That sounds both systematic and disciplined! I rarely got close to my limits simply because I couldn't focus that long without getting distracted.

(Result: Quit after undergraduate, got a job, was happier with that than academia, but I admire the discipline it takes to get through proper PhD research and even more, a career in research.)

(Other result: I learned that I'm much more socially motivated than internally, so group projects and collaborative environments are much more my style than most of the work I found in school. If research had been more collaborative and had more hackathons, maybe I would have stuck with it longer.)


One of the earliest signs usually goes like this:

Hmmm I wonder if I’m burned out. I should Google about it.

By the time you’re thinking you might be across the line, you’re already past it. Your subconscious is trying to tell you things.

That’s how this subconscious health stuff usually works. If you think you might need a break, you do. If you think you might be tired, you are. If you’re thinking whether your job is a drudge, it is. If you’re thinking about food, you’re hungry.


I think I would call that one of the latest signs. The signs mentioned in the article are much earlier indicators of chronic stress conditions, since they also work on someone who is somewhat in denial about their condition. Speaking from personal experience, the biggest problem is that you really don't want to admit to yourself or to others that you're suffering from chronic stress.

Indigestion, lack of sleep, headaches, frequent colds, etc. are all symptoms, but people will get several these and still treat them as if they were separate issues, rather than being caused by a continuous release of cortisol and other stress hormones: "Oh I can't sleep, better start using melatonin!" "Oh I'm constipated, better eat more fibre and start the day with yoghurt!" "Oh I have a headache again, better take some paracetamol and drink lots of water!"


But you're so good at tricking yourself that in practice it can be very, very hard to know whether it's your "subconscious" "talking" or your gluttony/lust/greed/pride/envy/laziness/anger.


Well, on the extreme end, there's hypochondria.


This.


If only managers could understand that putting the screws on workers leads to worse results. More bugs, more staff turnover, more absences, more arguments.


Yes. In agile development we have one "sprint" cycle followed by another. When do we stop sprinting?


If your using sprints to put pressure on people, tell your manager he's doing it wrong.

Work out your velocity at which you can do work at consistent pace without pressuring people.

I think one of biggest mistakes in scrum was calling sprints, sprints.

The goal out of scrum is being able to release at predictable and sane pace. Not to maximise output


Every pitch I've heard for Scrum promised increased productivity. I've seen consultants come in and show slides like "10x increase in output per employee" (and then refuse to answer what exactly that means in terms of code produced).

Maybe it's not some philosophical goal, but it's definitely something that's advertised a lot in practice. I've come to treat the fact that they use Scrum as a minus in potential employers.


The biggest issue with pushing for pure productivity is that it makes your team unpredictable and inconsistent.

One sprint, yes you may get more out of them if you pressure them.

But on the next sprint? Your team has mentally clocked out.

In practise going for consistent and sane pace increases productivity over the long term than trying to pressure your team.

So yes, it can increase productivity but not in a naïve way.


I thought the goal wasn't more productivity, but rather more consistency. The goals of agile, as I have seen them pitched, were always about the business having more insight about speed and control of the why, and the developers having more control over the how.

That said I have never worked in a place that fulfilled all the agile agenda.


Agile is about finishing the antagonism around the developers and product owners that appears when the product is badly specified or the business is risky.

I have no idea what Scrum is about. Most people claim it's a way to fulfill the above paragraph, but then half of its formalism would have to be dropped. Anyway, as badly named as sprints are, they are one of the formalisms that wouldn't need dropping.


The problem isn't the velocity IMO, it's the endless grind that sprints create. Back when, we used to do quarterly releases (back when you would burn to a CD and ship it). Quarterly releases were pretty aggressive, but at the end of the release, we would celebrate. Biweekly releases are just insane and no celebration, just another sprint. Grind, grind, grind.


I remember those days as the worst. I remember coming to release times, and having "crunch" times.


Agree, but now every 2 weeks is crunch time.


Obligatory quote from Rich Hickey (from his talk "Simple Made Easy"): "Who can run at the top of their ability? Right. A short distance runner. You can’t run far at that speed. We programmers have figured out how to fix that, though. We just fire the start pistol every hundred yards and call it a new sprint!"


We don't want do disappoint Scrum master, do we? If one doesn't like daily standups one can always change the job, right? /s


If your team was really agile it would be the case. Retrospective should be used to discuss and adapt the way you handle your iteration (not sprint). If your daily stand-up are a problem, remove them.

But agile is like communism or free market: it does not exist.


If you are stressed at work just leave. No amount of tricks will make you feel better in a toxic enviroment. Also, why would you help a toxic company by staying, when you could help another company that respects people. Because people stay at toxic companies it why there are so many of them and not enought of sane companies. People don't respect themselves first.


That's good advise, but most companies are toxic, and they don't even understand why.

I personally think scrum has a lot to do with it, but there are many other things like cube farms and open workspaces.

A very dear friend of mine who is a high level manager (and used to be a developer) was extolling the virtues of open office and how it improves collaboration. He didn't understand that we collaborate maybe 1% of the time and code 99% of the time. Though open offices help that 1%, it greatly harms the 99%.


You seem to be assuming that the only reason one can be overly-stressed at work is due to a toxic environment.

There are plenty of other reasons people become burnt out. They are listed in the article.


My mother has a saying: "No is a complete sentence."

In North America, we live in a "default yes" sort of work culture.

We say "yes" to every request at work until we're overcommitted and then we burn out.

Why do we say "yes"? Here are some reasons I detected in myself:

* Afraid to rock the boat, to appear uncooperative.

* My own ego. Sometimes I think I have a a super clever way to solve a problem and I say "yes" so I can show off.

* Not thinking it through. Sometimes I say "yes" before thinking the problem through, and the problem ends up being way bigger than it first seemed.


> Sometimes I say "yes" before thinking the problem through, and the problem ends up being way bigger than it first seemed.

My stance at work is that my default answer is "No. But..."[1]

I've seen too many developers wanting to show how clever they are saying an immediate "yes" to things (because obviously anything is doable when you're a clever developer!) and then spending months bitching about the sales people / managers / customers who asked for the thing THEY AGREED TO DO.

Easier to start with "No." and then pivot into "But" with the angle of finding out exactly what's involved, what alternatives would work, etc.

[1] I should point out that this does not make me a popular employee but it does make me productive in that I always deliver what I say I will.


> [...] and then spending months bitching about the sales people / managers / customers who asked for the thing THEY AGREED TO DO.

This is a legitimate critique of the worker, but some workplaces have this culture where PMs stalk the office looking for 'resources' to work on projects to promote their career.

In cases like that, they may mislead you while selling you on the idea in order to get you on board.


> In cases like that, they may mislead you while selling you on the idea

Of course, that's always possible but a perfect example of why the "No. But..." protects you from landing yourself in a nightmare.


The article appears to point out that work-related stress is the main reason for burnout, which might be the case for some, but personally, I found that the lack of challenge and meaningfulness in my work were the main predictors for burnout. In short, be more selective in the projects/jobs you take, and focus on the ones you actually care about. I do realize that it's easier being said than done of course.


Great point, I'm unfortunately living on the wrong side of that right now. Not too much work, not too little pay, but too little to be proud of.


Same here. This also applies to my hobbies, when I'm not invested in challenging and meaningful hobbies I'm much more probable to burn out.


I guess burnout means different things to all of us, and is probably caused by different things, too. What I'm about to describe probably wasn't the start of burnout, but I ended up there all the same.

I'm currently looking to get out of programming after 17 years because I'm tired of politics and bureaucracy. But anyway, on to your question...

I can't tell if these were signs of an on-coming burnout, or if I was already gone by then and just didn't realise what it was. But for me, I started to get angry and frustrated, quicker and easier. Sprint meetings annoyed me, daily stand-ups seemed pointless, interruptions always came at the wrong moment. I started to believe my own hype and went days without doing any work what-so-ever because I knew I could still do more work than my colleagues if I wanted to. I used to moan about my employer all the time and would often find myself saying things like "this fucking company...".

All of those symptoms probably have nothing to do with burnout per-se, and were almost certainly a result of a complicated relationship with a co-worker and a lack of credit and respect by my employer. Nevertheless, I believe that period changed something fundamental in regards to my thinking about programming, the industry, and perhaps life in general, which has led me to want to get out (of the industry, not life) as soon as I can.

I think what I'm trying to say - and having some trouble conveying - is burnout can come as a result of some other thing that starts you on the road of questioning if this industry is really what it's cracked up to be. So perhaps instead of looking out for potential signs of burnout, look instead for changes in your attitude. If your attitude is becoming more negative, you need to change something quickly or you’ll probably end up “burned out”.

Or maybe I’m just rambling about something that most people wouldn’t describe as burnout…


I usually think a bad attitude or cynicism as a symptom of burnout.

Everyone knows that sleep deprivation can make you cranky and put your nerves on edge.

Burnout reduces your sleep quality and you might not notice it except that you feel cranky in the early stages.


> A trusted mentor at work with whom you can discuss and strategize other ways to deal with work-related issues.

Sorry but this never works. Once one starts "sharing the concerns" one have couple of months left in the workplace.


It has worked fine for me, so I guess that disproves your sweeping claim?

I had mentors (at various times) who were the VP of Engineering, the GM of a $300 million product line, and the CFO of a $6 billion company. I was able to share concerns and still get promoted, get raises, get extra equity, and so on.

Just because your experiences have been different doesn't make your experiences universal.


> Just because your experiences have been different doesn't make your experiences universal.

True, but I think he's probably more right than you are. Burn out is still taboo in most places around the world, if you think companies address this problem correctly then you're a victim of the HN bubble.

Anyway, I want to share a related/not-so-related anecdote that happened to a friend of mine that I still haven't shared.

My friend was angry because he worked for years in his company and always got shit raises. When I say "shit raises" I mean the kind of raises that are basically insults to the employee.

He talked to management but nothing changed. So he decided to look elsewhere and ended up quitting. He got convoked by management shortly after and this is what he was told by the guy in front of him: "you can't do that so impulsively [...] you're not a real man [...] if I was your father I would have slapped you in the face 3 times [...]".

My friend is the most diplomatic guy I know, he disarmed the situation and walked out in good terms. Still, when he told me that I told him to go see HR. He told me "no way, it's a familial company (with thousands of employees), they will not care and won't do anything".


Hmm...

> I had mentors [...] who were the VP of Engineering, the GM of a $300 million product line, and the CFO of a $6 billion company.

> Just because your experiences have been different doesn't make your experiences universal.

You probably should also tell us what was your career position at the company at these times. VP/GM/C-level people certainly won't mentor a random Joe?


It never works in outsourcing centers, doesn't have to be a sweatshop - includes product development centers i.e. places where decisions and strategies are simply "broadcast downward". Basically most of southern Asia, most of EU which is not Germany/UK/France/Scandinavia, Russia, etc.


Don't work more than your 40h a week in an outsourcing centers. They have a different economy than software companies, noone should do overtime.


That's definitely not true. You need to find better places to work.


Key word in that quote is "trust". Probably a matter of social intelligence to determine with whom one shouldn't be talking.


This is not true. I have several friends who got good help through their workplace.


I am burn out ... sleeping 3 hours a day... if I stop working I lose my visa


I was in a similar situation, although I got more than 3 hours of sleep. I don't think 3 hours of sleep per day is sustainable, you have to find another solution. Any work you do on 3 hours of sleep is probably not great anyway.

I don't know your specific circumstances, but I used low dosage Armodafinil and Melatonin before with with success to get by with little sleep (didn't keep track, but I think at least 6 hours per day). If you are in the US you will need a prescription for Armodafinil, but if you explain your situtation to the doctor it is easy to get one. Armodafinil can be imported cheaply from India. Melatonin is over-the-counter.

Hang in there and good luck!


If you don't stop you might loose any chance of a meaningful life and job for the rest of your life. A burnout is not always possible to recover from.


Stop it, now! You'll always have a second chance but please don't destroy your body.


Wish more emphasis was on this. The posture, back, legs, sight, digestion... these all deteriorate from extended sitting in front of the monitor and a bad diet.


How are you only getting 3 hours of sleep per day? Genuinely curious. Why does your visa matter so much you're willing to harm yourself in a possibly very serious way? I suggest you take a step back and seriously weigh your options.


Ah the two malaises of our age...

- "OMG! I'm so busy. Stressed. Burnout!"

- "Oh no! AI is taking our jobs"

There's a certain irony in that some of the most overworked people in the world are those bringing AI to the market.


This whole situation will only get worse until a more efficient income distribution system (i.e. not wage-based) would be implemented.


It's not irony from the point of the programmers perspective, it's logic: "If I don't work this hard I will will be replaced by one of the thousands of people who have been already replaced by automation".


No irony there. Job stress and unemployment rate go together - and this is completely unsurprising.


Thankfully, SV has solved the issue of having both a demanding job and little children by offering egg freezing as a perk. (Phenomenally disruptive! Uber for asynchronous human reproduction!)


The future is here! Except it's not a perk for interplanetary travel, but for working on adtech...


... it's just not evenly incubated.


I feel desperately burned out every night when I go to sleep at 2am or 3am but when I wake up the next morning at 7am, I feel completely refreshed and I want to keep going.

I think that having an open source side project can be rewarding in that way.

Financially, I'm broke as a camel's back but open source work does give me a sense of satisfaction. At least for now.

I think it's vitally important to have some social recognition for your work otherwise it's very easy to feel burned out.


4-5 hours of sleep is definitely not enough. 6 hours is a recommended minimum in nearly every related study I've ever seen. Even though it might not look like a problem immediately, but it's a serious burden on your body (heart, especially) and on the long it will take it's toll (heart attacks in 30' are common as never before). Get some sleep.


Protip, he's actually trying to brag.

Anyone who actually has been burnt out will know it happens after many months or even a year or more of tireless work.

If you're burning out and recovering ever next day. That's just being exhausted after a hard day's work.


>Protip, he's actually trying to brag.

No need to assume the worst in people.

>Anyone who actually has been burnt out will know it happens after many months or even a year or more of tireless work.

Now it sounds like you're trying to brag. Granted, I tend to agree with you—the only caveat being, it's very possible to burn out on shorter timescales.

For example: last year I did 10 contiguous 20-hour workdays. Despite the fact I've never been more productive in my life, my brain was largely mush by the 10th day. Ended up burned out for weeks after. (Now it sounds like I'm trying to brag.)


This trying to brag thing becomes a race to the bottom quickly. You should be allowed to talk about things you did which may in fact be seen in a positive light.


For sure—that's the punchline. Not to brag, but my humor is probably too dry for its own good.


If he is who I think he is then the guy has been at it since at least 1989.

He doesn't need to brag.



If he feels refreshed when he wakes up, he gets enough sleep.

The amount of sleep needed varies greatly from person to person

Edit: I mean, if he actually feels refreshed WHEN WAKING and not after forcing himself out of bed and downing 2 cups of coffee


I find it incredibly hard to achieve that, even if I increase the amount of sleep I get.


There are studies that show 5 hours a night leads to dangerous health consequences.

6 minimum


Genetics makes a big difference...

My usual routine is up at 6, leave home at 6:15, at work by 7, work til 6pm, sport from 6:30 to 9pm, home at 10pm, dinner with my partner til 11pm, then together we work/do admin/surfing/etc. Bed is ideally 1am, though usually 1:15. So long as I get 4.5 hours sleep I am fine. Less that 4 and I feel noticeably less sharp the next day. At weekends, I will sleep 1-2 hours longer.

In a previous HN comment thread, people doubted I actually do this for more than short bursts. However my friends and colleagues know it is absolutely true: I started working like this when I was 20, and am now 47.

In my case, the genetic connection is narcolepsy, i.e. excessive sleepiness. At night, I fall asleep in typically a minute. Sleep lab tests show I hit REM sleep in several minutes. 90 minutes is normal. So my 4.5 hours is equivalent to 6 hours for 'normal' people.

For me tiredness is related to activity level, not hours awake. I deliberately go for high-pressure jobs (investment banking tech) and high-complexity active hobbies (flamenco dancing). Otherwise I would sleep all day.

Just my personal perspective...



Good point. I was accepting other studies as general guidance. I had overlooked the importance of genetics.

For readers that do not click through to read the study or Wikipedia page the conclusion of the study can be summarized as:

> There are a number of mutations of BHLHE41. Mutations reduce total sleep while maintaining NREM sleep and provide resistance to the effects of sleep loss.

More info at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BHLHE41


If you are the Jon Dubois of armory.com then your late nights had a crucial impact on me being who I am today. The first time I connected to the "Internet" was through your dialup SCO server in the early 90s.

I can't even begin to thank you enough.


Oh, wow, now I understand why people sometimes call me out by name on HN. I didn't understand what that was about.

I'm not THAT Jon Dubois but quite a coincidence, he sounds like a real pioneer.

Now I understand why I get so many upvotes on HN. I thought it was because my comments were insightful :(


> I'm not THAT Jon Dubois [...] I thought it was because my comments were insightful :(

Instantaneous impostor syndrome. I feel sorry for you :(


I wouldn't worry about it too much. Looks like you have a good comment history, and a powerful spirit ally.


They're not bad :)


Not the same person.

It seems the person who ran armory.com, John H. DuBois III, passed away in 2012:

http://lists.celestial.com/pipermail/sco-misc/2012-March/014...

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/felton-lug/V1OE-HaaiRQ...


That really fucking sucks. Thanks for letting me know even though it's not the best news. I am now going to go figure out what all these feelings mean.


I guess I have to carry on his legacy then...


That has as much to do with actual burnout as depressing news with clinical depression.


For me: writing code is my job, writing code is my hobby, writing code is what drives and comforts me. I hear about a great new tool or language, I just have to try it out - usually on my own time.

Doing this has served me well in some cases, but there have been times I have woken up in the morning not caring if I ever use a piece of tech again. This has been a pattern throughout my life: to focus on something to the point where I may be a bit obsessed, start to get really good at it and then burnout hard and transition to a new focus.

Luckily with tech I have learned moderation to a point. I still almost hit that wall sometimes, but recognize pretty quickly when I am about to and take a short break from the tools or issue at hand.


I write and distribute a 'weekend update' just about every week and send it to my team on Sundays. It serves two purposes:

1. Clearly communicate project progress and near-term goals to everyone involved, including non-technical people. I outline the features / issues & resolutions in fairly technical detail while tethering it to more accessible concepts. If things were truly easy or exceptionally difficult, I note that. This has helped Sales and Marketing better manage expectations. The times I'm most stressed are when Sales and Marketing have underestimated the difficulty of something they've promised a client. It's typically not frustrating because it's hard or there are time constraints, it's frustrating because they're prioritizing something that may not be aligned with technical or user priorities. Pile several weeks of this and it can be exhausting. The 'weekly update' has helped that.

2. The process of writing the update offers reassurance that whether the week felt productive or not, progress was achieved. This is the piece that makes sitting down to write it feel like a fun activity rather than a chore. My mind may be saying, this week wasn't productive, but by 15 minutes into composing the update, I'm finding things I had already forgotten about. The week may have been less productive than expected, but it's almost always more productive than the mind gives credit, and writing the update forces the mind to acknowledge these small achievements.


I think there are two very helpful skills when it comes to preventing burnout:

1. Being able to know where your limit is

2. Being able to tell your boss were your limit is

Many of us try to be good at their job and are not afraid to give constantly 120% but while focussing on the task at hand we put aside our physical needs. And telling your boss you have enough work for the next days and that any additional tasks will have to wait, is something many people are afraid of. Often they fear to give the impression that they are not enthusiastic about their work.

In my opinion, everbody who tells his boss about his or her capacities cares about the efficiency of the company.


I couldn't make sense out of the "Common Work Stressors" chapter -- who is the target population which served as a base to establish this list? People lifting heavy things usually have predictable schedules. Also, that, as well as exposure to the weather, becomes more problematic with age, exactly when interacting with people becomes easier... Etc.

If this is rather an open-ended list -- why not a word about how companies lay off people based on age? Isn't that a common source of stress to many?


Has anyone dealt with being burnt out while enjoying their job at the same time?

I started a new job and although its very interesting (I like the technologies used, the project domain and the competence of my teammates) lots of symptoms mentioned in the article apply to me. I just feel so stressed out all the time its affecting every aspect of my life.

Not really sure how to proceed right now. Honestly I don't feel like pushing through will help but I don't want to quit my current job so soon.


I used to think I occasionally suffered from work burnout, but then my SO became a medical resident, and I realized "oh, that's what burnout is."

What I used to "suffer" as a programmer was the ebb and flow of productivity. As described by books like "Drive" and "Flow". This state-of-mind was perhaps best described for me by my colleague (also a programmer) in this public essay, "Find the right routine to surf productivity"[1].

What my SO suffers as a medical resident is true work burnout. They work 6 days per week, nearly 80 hours per week, for weeks (or months) on end. Their work is not only challenging intellectually, it's challenging physically and emotionally. Their work also buckles under the weight of administrative bureaucracy, which removes their sense of agency.

Recently, after my SO got off a 5-week "night float" block (where she worked 6 days per week on an inverted 6pm-6am night-time schedule), she finally got a day off. It was really a day to re-adjust her schedule back to working "normal" daytime 6am-6pm hours. During that day, she said to me, "Can we look up Maslow's hierarchy of needs?"[2]

Looking over that diagram, we realized her work had her floating around in the first couple levels of that pyramid, whereas in my work, I was very much at the top. My "burnout" feelings were really "not feeling perfectly self-actualized". Her "burnout" feelings were actually "not having access to basic physical needs (e.g. sleep) and emotional support (e.g. daylight, friends, family)."

I am very much in favor of Jason Fried style "Calm Companies"[3], and I think in software/tech, we actually have the ability to "work hard" without burning out, usually hovering around the "self-actualization" level in the pyramid. One of the wonderful things about software engineering, in particular, is that since it is the art of automation, we can actually save ourselves labor, and think carefully about the notion of employee leverage. That is, one employee's code can do the labor of hundreds or thousands.

It's really sad to me that the medical profession, at least during its training period for new medical school graduates, there is an epic contrast: the near-guarantee of burnout, with basically no recourse for residents except to "suck it up and power through".

For those of you who feel your are in jobs in tech where managers "put the screws on you", you should recognize that you have all the power in the world to change job. Employers in tech should be fighting over you, ensuring you feel fulfilled, productive, and balanced. "All of the above" is possible; this isn't a "pick two" engineering trade-off. If you don't feel that way, it's bad management or bad culture -- period. In medical residency, it's "pick zero", and even worse, there is no way for those folks to change jobs (at least, not without derailing their entire career).

[1]: http://lifehacker.com/5955115/find-the-right-routine-to-surf...

[2]: http://timvandevall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Maslows-H...

[3]: https://m.signalvnoise.com/the-calm-company-our-next-book-d0...


How is it that medical residents have so much burn out? What are the economics that force them to have such horrible, shitty lives?


It's a bunch of factors -- many of which I have been trying to understand at a systemic level.

Here's what I know so far:

1. Are medical residents students or workers? This was actually an open question of law -- you can see a discussion of the issue in NEJM here[1].

2. Regardless of your answer to #1 (or, even if your answer is "both"), hospitals unambiguously treat residents as workers (labor). Quoting NEJM again, "residents are clearly indispensable to the care provided at the hospitals where they are employed, even if their work is reviewed by supervising physicians."

3. Having a position in a residency program is viewed as a privilege -- that is, getting a spot is competitive, subject to The Match[2]. Since it's very difficult to "match twice"; nearly impossible to transfer to a different residency; and quite a leap of faith to quit the profession altogether (throwing away 4+ years of med school and $200K of tuition payments); you end up with something that feels more akin to indentured servitude than a normal job.

4. Residents are very wary about the possibility of being booted from their program for incompetence. I think the risk of this is actually quite low -- after all, to make it through med school and The Match, you are probably quite the high-achieving type. And for a program to lose a resident is a major hassle, since they rely on them so much. But this fear is supported by a strong sense of Imposter Syndrome[3] running rampant in the early years -- an inevitability of the inherent difficulty and complexity of patient care. This leads to a culture of deference to superiors, who seem to have a lot more confidence (and thus, seemingly, competence) than you.

5. Various economic and cultural factors combine to contribute to the encouragement of long hours. Wikipedia has a good discussion here[4]. The tl;dr is that hospital systems are themselves resource-constrained; residents are cheap & guaranteed labor; residents are therefore "easy targets" to pick up slack for an otherwise over-extended system. Since medicine has historically had ridiculous hours for residents, the higher-up "attending physicians" believe it's essential to medical training (survivor bias, etc.) Further, residents save the attending physicians, themselves overworked, from some of the scutwork of medicine (e.g. especially data entry and paperwork). So, they have no incentive -- and, often, no power -- to fix things.

6. Residency spots at hospitals are funded by the government and limited by federal regulation. There are too few residents. Further, hospitals are under no obligation to make sure their program can run without resident labor. Therefore, hospitals behave as though residents are "free" labor.

7. Residencies last 4+ years, and then these young doctors move on to other programs, usually in other cities and states. This means there is built-in turnover, which means hospitals don't have a strong incentive to invest in their own staff -- at least, not this specific part of their staff.

8. Medicine, on the whole, has long hours and difficult on-call expectations. This for the simple reason that patients can become sick at anytime and doctors feel a moral obligation to put in the most amount of effort possible for their patients, even at the expense of their own health. I will say, though, this strikes me as one of the weakest factors driving long hours for medical residents. It is, however, often used as the justification for long hours ("we care about patients", "we can't let them down", etc.). In reality, I think the "medical factory system" exploits the built-in altruism most doctors feel toward their patients in order to squeeze more revenue from them. If hospitals really cared about patients this much, they would hire some secretaries to save their doctors valuable clinical time, rather than using their younger/cheaper doctors as secretaries for the older/expensive ones.

[1]: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1100414

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Resident_Matching_Pro...

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

[4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_resident_work_hours#Ca...


> Feeling alienated by your colleagues and bosses, feeling constantly underappreciated, or feeling ostracized by them.

Lol. I find it funny I got attacked and censored for describing that and then being told it isn't related to burnout lol.


When you are too busy to make time for doing something you love like readimg or trekking


I was close to being severely burned out.

Changed my role at work

Now everything is great.


As a side note, it should be "Ms. Seppälä". As a Finn, I always find it a little weird how most media can't be bothered to handle Nordic characters.


Could it be that this person of Finnish descent who works in the US uses an anglicized version of her name on purpose?

I'm usually quite pedantic about diacritic character neglect, but in this case this might be correct; the CCARE (her employer) website does this too.


Those characters aren't reachable on a US keyboard. Thät's why :) Maybe.


[flagged]


Could you please not be so gratuitously disrespectful? It's not civil and it doesn't belong here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html




Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: