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Books on Burnout (fivebooks.com)
132 points by whatami 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

I've been a developer for about three years now but before that I worked in food service for about eight years. One habit I've had to break is the constant looking for something to do attitude that you absolutely need to keep an orderly kitchen.

The pool of tasks to complete doesn't replenish in software like it does in food service. When you've suitably completed a task and the next task lacks the definition needed to be completed, just read a blog or go on a walk while the other people working with you do their thing to get you in a position to complete the next task.

That's an interesting take, because my experience has generally been that there's an inexhaustible pool of tasks -- bugs that could be fixed, minor but nice-to-have features, little refactorings and code cleanups, closing stale bug reports -- in any largish codebase. Mostly these don't get done because major feature work or fixing bugs users complain about takes priority, but I've pretty much never found myself on a Friday afternoon thinking "no, there is nothing at all I could do for the moment".

I guess it depends on a team's or even just a single dev's priorities. Does something need to be perfect to be considered complete? I like to stay on top of bugs but things like little refactorings or code cleanups I've been avoiding more until it's directly affecting what I'm trying to do.

I used to refactor and try and improve every file I needed to work in, but more and more I've been trying to make as little changes as possible in order to complete my goals. Leaving the code just a bit cleaner in each commit.

Yes but they're all different tasks. You don't have to solve that duplicate-user-input bug every day before 5pm.

I like to read release notes for libraries we use or clean up the Wiki.

Nobody wants me starting code at 3:00 on a Friday. But I can still clean up text just fine.

Here is a hint:

Stop working so fucking hard on apps/websites/digital junk that helps no one, except by making your boss rich (be it manager, VC, or otherwise).

If you engage in meaningful work, then it is impossible to get burned out for too long.

Stop being a drone. Take a step back and look at the big picture and ask yourself: what am I coding for? Who is going to use this? Will it help anyone in any meaningful way?

What is "meaningful" is up to you. Just make sure it matters to you and own it. Don't let someone else own it and dictate it to you.

Set yourself free, and cast off the 24/7 toxic work culture of SV that's keen on producing useless shit for problems no one has. Don't let yourself be consumed by the entropy emamanting from startup land. You don't have much time on Earth. Don't give it to unworthy efforts and assholes.

Meaningful work isn't a guarantee that burnout won't happen.

My first small business I owned hit every bullet point in my career wants and desires and I burned out pretty hard on it. The constant state of being turned on, dangling the career carrot in front of myself wasn't healthy. I had a bad relationship with my own business.

Even though I enjoyed the work, the compensation was good, and I used my hands creatively, my own expectations weren't matching the reality and I still found myself becoming oddly dissatisfied with the work and becoming overwhelmed by the grind.

I think it's much deeper than just work being meaningful. My wife sits on a phone all day really doing useless work for a large publicly traded company and makes great money and absolutely loves it.

I think it boils down to each their own.

> Meaningful work isn't a guarantee that burnout won't happen.

Exactly. I'm a public school teacher, which is something many would consider 'meaningful', and which is, in a lot of ways. I'm burnt-out of it, and actively looking for something different. The kids are little shits most the times, and we've basically just become glorified baby sitters to their parents (I'm in the rural Southern US, in a place with next-to-no culture of education) and rarely pay attention. Too busy trying to sneak their next glance on Snapchat...And then trying to teach them math or science when they don't have the proper requisite knowledge because they've been passed along...Definitely burnout waiting to happen. And it's not just me. It's hit two of my other science teachers this year too.

Just wait until you have to teach them at the college level


Hang out where people talk about volunteerism for very long and you'll run into conversations about managing and preventing burnout.

When something matters to you it's easy to overextend yourself. Lots of people join a group for 10-24 months, do lots of useful work and then vanish. The work isn't done, but they are.


Posting something wrong and waiting for people to correct it to claim how you drove the conversation to an interesting place is mostly wasting everyone's time.

I'll play devil's advocate - in what way is it wasting people's time? People (myself included) find meaning in posting their opinions on platforms like HN. Why would this meaning diminish by the intent of the original message?

I would argue that although this behavior might be considered on the "trolling" spectrum, it's on the benign side of the spectrum, close to the Socratic approach.

And your response isn't? And who is to say it's wrong?

> If you engage in meaningful work, then it is impossible to get burned out for too long.

Most social workers and medical practitioners get a burnout they never recover from. All that because they cared. Your boss who doesn't care and just runs you down for profit never gets a burnout and enjoys superb quality of life.

I think middle managers seem to get burnt out more easily than their employees, at least in the software industry.

To offer a contrasting opinion, I had to step away from "meaningful" work in order to recover from burnout. It was absorbing my life and I ended up feeling like I was trying to save the world with just myself and my little band of trusted colleagues. It was truly the most exhausting and deeply frustrating "job" I've ever had. Quite frankly, I don't think I'll ever go back. I don't know what could be worth the emotional difficulties that came with all that. Triumph, maybe? But we failed so I never got that. Fighting for something you truly believe in as meaningful can be _hard_. Insanely hard--because sometimes the world is just against you on it and there's nothing you can do about it.

In the end, I get paid far more to work on "junk" (cloud infrastructure) and it's orders of magnitude more easy to walk away from it at the end of the day and sleep peacefully over. Maybe it makes my boss far richer than I'll ever be, but I'm happier, my family's happier, and overall I enjoy my life more. So for me, I'm gonna keep being a "drone" (and happily continue to serve my customers that do seem to need these things for whatever reasons they have) because it's easy and sometimes it just beats suffering ever day--even if it's for something you believe in. Maybe I'll find some meaningful "work" in my free time but at that point is it even really work?

There is plenty of meaningful work that causes tons of burnout, and not the temporary short lived kind. Just look at teaching or healthcare.

I guarantee people working at a beer company are less prone be to burnout than nurses.

Key factors here are stress and independence.

I think that doing meaningful work is a privilege that is quite rare.

Usually, the work that one is likely to find meaningful pays less, so there is a trade-off.

This trade-off might not seem significant to a single person without any responsibilities, but I'd imagine that people with families to support often simply can't afford it (though in that case the meaning can be found in providing for the family).

Maybe one can also find meaning in well-paid but meaningless jobs by working towards financial independence (FIRE).

I do agree with you on the whole "producing digital junk" phenomenon, though, and of course meaningful work is ideal.

The counterargument I often hear is that janitorial work is, in the grand scheme of things, very important and yet nobody would do it if we all just did what we wanted to do.

As a veritable army of curmudgeons has pointed out, "that's why they call it 'work'".

That said, when those of us who have the privilege and opportunity to take this advice don't follow it, that's unfortunate.

The American legacy of Calvinism is that you do well by doing good, or working hard. If people work their asses off and there's no payoff at the end... if nobody 'arrives', if it's slaving away until you're old and broken...

Then what's the whole point? Why do we think we are more right than the slackers? Where's the evidence?

> If you engage in meaningful work, then it is impossible to get burned out for too long.

Yeah, sorry that doesn't work either(spent many years in gamedev doing what I thought was meaningful work at the time).

You know what prevents burnout? Not working insane hours.

What prevents burnout is taking care of yourself. To realize that your value in the long run is higher if you don't carve off little pieces of yourself every month to "give 110%" until there is nothing left.

What would you recommend for things like school work?

I do full time development work but I'm self taught. When I was hired the company agreed to pay for part of the tuition to get a degree. I'm still a couple years away from completing all the courses, but I just can't handle a lot of the material. Much of it is outdated and a lot is biased based on the instructors past work and experiences. Last year I had to take a class on ASP.NET (web apps, not MVC). The school's introductory database class used MS Access.

I know there are benefits to these from a historical standpoint. Understanding where the technology came from. Access may also be easier for absolute beginners to jump into. Much of it just seems like a waste of my time though since I know these systems have been replaced. Having to work full time _and_ study technology that I know isn't commonly used has worn me down quite a bit. I no longer have the drive to learn that I once did. The obvious answer would be to find a better institution to attend classes, but I have a limited budget to spend on tuition annually and few colleges will allow for the schedule I need to continue working.

I had to take a required CS class in COBOL programming. I think these courses are focused on teaching the concepts and techniques rather than expertise on the particular tool they are using. Plus, if you think you’ll get to focus on just the cutting edge tools in the workplace and won’t have to deal with some bs legacy crap, you may be slightly disappointed.

You're allowed to cut your losses and drop out, you kow.

I appreciate that input as that's the point I'm reaching. Senior devs that I've worked with have said the same thing. However, I haven't found a convincing argument for upper management.

Two years is not that long.

Power through it.

I work for a company that will not allow you to be a lead or manager without a degree. Keep that in mind. Lots of companies are that way.

For me personally, "meaningful" can be replaced by "interesting". I don't really care if what I'm doing has any meaning whatsoever, I want it to be interesting and tap into my strengths.

Note also, this had nothing to do with difficulty. I hear people say "I love difficult problems" all the time, but interesting yet easy work is far more rewarding to me than boring and difficult.

> Stop being a drone.

> Set yourself free, and cast off the 24/7 toxic work culture of SV that's keen on producing useless shit for problems no one has.

IDK man, I like being able to eat. But on a more serious note, that's a much bigger political economic issue than it is an individual one. If we want to change it, we have to act corporately.

I also take issue with the idea that meaningful work makes it impossible to burn out for long. I have been completely bulldozed by meaningful work that both killed my love and investment in what I was doing and left me exhausted and barely sustaining. It took ages to recover. If anything, meaningful work is that much more likely to lead to burnout because of your personal investment in it. In my experience, when you care about what you do you tend to give yourself over to it. For example, 24/7 toxic work culture is pretty much the standard in non-profits because you're there for "the mission".

> what am I coding for?

My family.

I’m constantly striving to be the best I can at what I do and sometimes that means burning the midnight oil. That doesn’t necessarily mean working on work related tasks after hours but working on bettering my skills and knowledge after hours so I can have more of an edge in my career and workplace.

And get off social media, which is mostly mental pollution.

The whole idea of "work" whether it's meaningful or not, if you do too much of it will lead to burnout. So go out and "play", make sure there is enough play where you completely, utterly lose yourself for a couple hours everyday.

Whoever you are, seriously, I love you for this commentary. Thank you.

> Set yourself free, and cast off the 24/7 toxic work culture of SV that's keen on producing useless shit for problems no one has. Don't let yourself be consumed by the entropy emamanting from startup land. You don't have much time on Earth. Don't give it to unworthy efforts and assholes.

I’m glad that someone said it!

> If you engage in meaningful work, then it is impossible to get burned out for too long.

Definitely not true.

Counter-point: KONY 2012

Related: I have recently watched a video by Louis Rossmann whose title suggests that it is about eliminating procrastination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UwOdFzPTH4

In the video he analyzes why people procrastinate and mentions that it is a natural response against oppression. He suggests that the first step against it is to realize that you are a free person and can do whatever you want. He adds a lot of context and examples.

It seems to me that procrastination is one of the symptoms of burnout and that the suggestions Louis mentions in the video may also be helpful when dealing with burnout.

For a scientific/brutal reality check I would also recommend reading "When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress" by Gabor Maté.

Chade-Meng Tan wrote an excellent book about practicing and teaching meditation and mindfulness at Google - "Search inside yourself".

Meditation has helped me immensely to cope with heavy burnout and find a balanced approach to work.

I find the most peace when I simply don't care about the outcome. Nothing I've worked on in my professional life is going to be important on my deathbed. No books will help you power through it. Learn to take care of yourself and not have such a vested interest in work related things of little importance.

I literally just walked by some guy sleeping at his desk.

All book links are shrouded affiliate links (tag=fivebooks001-20).

I don't really know what's wrong with that. That's one way to monetize this site and I think it's pretty harmless.

I find this site very useful to me, maybe not this one he linked, which really looks like book marketing, but idea of experts recommending books is useful

I'm always wary of undisclosed affiliate links. Sometimes it's monetization of genuine recommendations, sometimes it's just "I pulled a bunch of possibly-mediocre books related to a domain I can easily talk about so I can better monetize a blog post".

It's disclosed on the site.

"Shrouded" isn't the word I would use when the footer of the article states they participate in amazon's affiliate program and make money off qualifying purchases

They're giving you book recommendations. Don't they deserve something for that?

The article is a shrouded puff peice for the interviewee.

No harm in reading books , also is it a crime to try to make money?

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