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.
Isn't this what hackerspaces are all about? Maybe it helps to visit (or found) one nearby you.
That can lead to its own kind of burnout! ;)
However, reading that comment again, maybe the phrases "collaborative atmosphere" and "get together" were not to be taken literally?
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.
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.
> 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)
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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?
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.
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 :)
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?
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.
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.
Even things done a million times can be turned on their head.
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.
> 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.
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 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. ;)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
 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.
That might be the greatest single sentence I have ever read on HN.
Tons of people looking for the same thing, or open to it for the experience, and after a while it just gets second nature.
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!
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.
Someone should invent a straitjacket for the mind.
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 know the feeling, it just compounds the problem: https://twitter.com/vjk2005/status/753567329380732928
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.
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.
Interesting. What is your main job and how did you get into doing this work for the university on the side?
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.
How do you get out of that funk?
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...
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.
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.
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
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.
> How do you get out of that funk?
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.
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!
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.
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.
* 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.
"Oh, just what I need - Another thing for my to-do list..." :)
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.
(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 IS possible that another job would be a better fit for you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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?
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  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.
(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.)
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.
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!"
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
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.
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.
That said I have never worked in a place that fulfilled all the agile agenda.
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.
But agile is like communism or free market: it does not exist.
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%.
There are plenty of other reasons people become burnt out. They are listed in the article.
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.
My stance at work is that my default answer is "No. But..."
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.
 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.
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.
Of course, that's always possible but a perfect example of why the "No. But..." protects you from landing yourself in a nightmare.
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…
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.
Sorry but this never works. Once one starts "sharing the concerns" one have couple of months left in the workplace.
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.
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".
> 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?
- "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.
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.
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.
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.)
He doesn't need to brag.
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
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...
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
I can't even begin to thank you enough.
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 :(
Instantaneous impostor syndrome. I feel sorry for you :(
It seems the person who ran armory.com, John H. DuBois III, passed away in 2012:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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".
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?"
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", 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).
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.
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. 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 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. 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.
Lol. I find it funny I got attacked and censored for describing that and then being told it isn't related to burnout lol.
Changed my role at work
Now everything is great.
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!
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.