How to Prevent Burnout as a Developer

It’s 11pm on a weekday, you’ve already had a long day at work and now your hacking away on one of your many side projects. You feel like this is the only way you can get ahead and improve your skills. It doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day.

This is just one of many things you’ve done after work besides, cleaning your house, getting dinner, taking care of kids/pets, etc. You don’t get to sleep until 2am that morning and you have to be up again in a few hours for your job. How long can you continue like this without burning out?

If this sounds familiar you’re not alone. Many developers have super busy schedules that cause them to work many hours every day. But the question is, how do you avoid burnout when you’re always running at full speed?

We know, especially as developers, that anything running at full capacity won’t continue that way for very long without some kind of failure. (stack overflow anyone?) However, we continue to do it. We have jobs that we enjoy that take up our creative energy, then we have household responsibilities that we need to take care of. Plus the hundreds of different decisions we make on a daily basis, not to mention we are doing all of this during a pandemic. It’s enough to cause anyone to not only burnout, but have a mental breakdown as well.

To combat burnout I’ve had to rethink how I approach my day to day life. I’m going to share a couple of things that has helped me avoid burnout as a developer and hopefully they’ll help you too.

Learn to mindfully cruise

We do so many things on daily basis that we rarely slow down for anything. However, sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do. Even when everything in your mind is telling you to go full speed, you have to quiet that voice and take a beat.

What does that involve?

Well, for me it was being aware of what I was doing on a daily basis and how much I could realistically get done each day. I sat and thought about the last time I burned out and everything I was doing. I decided to try and aim to come in below that threshold. I wanted to get things done but not be exhausted at the end of a busy week.

Find out what’s comfortable for you and aim for that. Remember, this is going to be your cruising speed so make sure it’s something attainable. You may think “Isn’t cruising through my day a bad thing? I don’t want to cruise through work. That’s sounds werid. ”

So, the cruising you may be thinking of is what I call autopilot. This person is clearly phoning it in and not really trying hard at all, doing the bare minimum to get by.

However, mindfully cruising is different. Think about it this way, if your in your car cruising down the highway with your foot on the gas, fully aware of your surroundings, your comfortable right? What happens if there is a speed change or someone suddenly stops in front of you? You can quickly slow down and pivot.

The same is true for your day to day. When you are mindfully cruising you can easily gage when you need to speed up or slowdown or even pivot. This is the art of balance. Not too much, not to little, just right. Of course this is going to take time to do but it’s well worth it.

Making time to chill

Another thing that helped me was taking time during the day to rest or chill. Coding non-stop while fun can zap your energy quickly. So a break during the day can help you recharge.

This means taking a lunch, a real lunch not a working lunch. I know it’s tempting to work through lunch especially if there is bug your trying to solve, feature you’re trying to push out or a mountain of tickets you need to go through. But here’s a tip you already know: that bug, ticket, or feature will always be there when you get back. It’s not going anywhere and it will happily wait for your return.

I started taking a walk or doing a quick workout after I ate lunch to reset my mind. Whatever you do to recharge do that during downtime. But whatever you do, don’t work during lunch. The more quality time you spend away from your keyboard, the more quality work you’ll be able to produce when your return.

Turn down the noise

As a new developer I thought I needed to code all the things to be considered a good software developer. From what I would read or see on social media I needed to know every framework out there, understand JavaScript like the back of my hand and build every project that has even been built. Because there are just a ton of messages (often conflicting) out there about the best approach to something, it can be difficult to figure out what you should be reading or who you should be listening to. Most of the time, it’s just a bunch of noise.

The truth is, no matter what anyone tells you or what you may read, it’s just their opinion on something. Does that make it good or bad? No, it just makes it their opinion. (Even this article is just my opinion) Your job is to decide whether or not you want to follow it or not.

The better you can decide what you feel you need to be listening to, the faster you can filter out what you don’t. How does one do that? Well, I started looking for people who would give out the most up to date information about a field I was interested in. Then I would listen to see how they presented the information.

Were they balanced in their delivery or were they dogmatic about it? Did they speak about different frameworks or only the ones that interested them? Did they speak more negatively or positively about patterns, frameworks, etc? I find when someone presents the facts in the balanced way it makes it easier to figure out for yourself if you want to either use that framework or pattern.

This filtering method I use works well for me, and it may work well for you. But if it doesn’t find something that does. The most important thing is, to avoid burnout you have to tune out the noise that isn’t important to you and your goals or you’ll be running around trying to complete every project out there, memorize every pattern and learn every framework. That’s not healthy.

Quality over quantity

The final thing I do to reduce burnout is to focus on quality instead of quantity. What does this mean? Well, we can think about with a illustration. Suppose your given 1 week to complete a 4 week task. What’s going to happen? The feature is probably going to have a ton of bugs, not be tested and customers are going to complain. As you probably know there are constraints to any project. Time, Scope, and Cost.

If you give a developer a good amount of time, then all of your scope (or requirements) will be met and most likely it will come within budget. If you cut the time of a project, you’ll also either need to cut the scope or increase the money to fund the project. You get the idea.

You can actually use this in your personal life as well. If you aim for Quality over quantity in your day you’ll quickly start to see areas where you can either cut back on the time or cut the requirements (or if you have the money, increase the cost.) to accomplish what you want to each day.

You can apply this thought process to anything you do each day. For example, cleaning. You could clean everything yourself with quality if you have the time, if you’re short on time you could either cur down on the places in your house you clean (scope) or hire someone to clean (cost).

I could give you even more examples but I’m sure you get the point. Your time is valuable and the more calculated and optimized you can become with it the better you’ll be able to focus on what matters to you and avoid burnout.

Final Thoughts

The previous points mentioned here are just some of what I’ve been able to do to prevent burnout. It’s still a process as more and more things continue to compete for your time and you’ll always have to reevaluate what’s most important and prioritize those things. Hopefully this article allows you create some things that will help you avoid burnout.

If you like this article check out my other ones here.

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Aaron Billings

Aaron Billings

Full Stack developer that follows the ABCs (Always Be Coding). If I’m not coding you can find me playing video games, or spending time with family.