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Developers Burnout: Why you Have to Take it Seriously?

How do you feel about your job? Do you feel dreaded or happy about new challenges? Yea, it’s normal if you sometimes feel unmotivated, but if this condition continues, you better watch out! You may be close to burnout!

Every programmer got close to get burnout at least once in their career. If you think that can’t happen to you, you’re wrong. It happened to the best programmers, so it’s essential to prepare and stop it on time. Some strange feeling goes through your veins, you’re procrastinating your tasks, find excuses not to work, struggling to perform tasks, or simply working so hard, feeling so stressed all the time, and don’t have time for yourself.

A burnout story: What are the signs?

High-achievers often expect a lot from themselves, so they keep working long hours and put enormous pressure on themselves to excel. However, sometimes your condition is not chronic:

“A standard burnout is extremely easy to spot. If you suddenly don't feel like doing something you don't normally have a problem doing, it could be only 2 things: you're lazy or depressed today or you're working too hard and need a break. Hint: take that break.”

Miloš Đekić, CTO of ClickGUARD

If this is the case, you can quickly stop it and try to concentrate on the purpose - what motivates you and what attracted you to start coding in the first place. Nevertheless, sometimes you just can’t see how close you are to get burnout.

“A deep burnout comes like a thief in the night. It's like a lonely cancer cell, dormant until something kicks it and it starts its mayhem. It won't offer warning signs and it won't offer any understanding when it happens. You have to have introspective and always think about where you are now, what you are doing, why you are doing it, what you have to tolerate in order to keep doing it, do you really want all that… and when you can't answer one of those questions or the answer does not bring peace - the big one is close,” continuous Miloš.

That burnout comes unexpectedly proves the story of co-founder of GrowIT Tech Aco Gagić:

I didn’t realise what is happening, my body started fighting against me. I started feeling strange and had no energy, it was a strangely unpleasant feeling. The culmination happened when I felt so bad, that I had to go to a hospital. I spent the whole day sleeping, on infusion. After that, I was OK, but it made me analyze what had happened. I was under a lot of stress, had  too many things to do, so I started losing myself.”

According to Psychology today, these are signs of burnout:

  • Chronic fatigue - lack energy feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention.
  • Physical symptoms - chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches
  • Increased illness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger - interpersonal tension and irritability which may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments with others

As you can see, these are the signs of physical and emotional exhaustion, and if you don’t have it, it’s great. You shouldn’t fear of it just because it might happen to you. But keep these warning signs in mind and remember that burnout is an insidious creature that creeps up on you as you're living your busy life. Luckily, there is a solution. But let’s see what can cause a burnout first.

What can cause the burnout?

1. Death march projects

Maybe you heard about this kind of projects, or maybe you’re working on the one right now. They are usually causing progressively worsening feelings of emotional and physical fatigue. Why? They have a fixed and immovable scope, timeline and resources available to get it done and everyone knows that it’s not achievable, but management doesn’t want to hear it. Furthermore, they get progressively worried and loses trust in its people. You keep working, but you struggle to understand the value of the project. You just can’t see the light, so you start questioning your accomplishments.

2. Working long hours

The cycle becomes work, work, work, sleep, no time for yourself. You keep working even on evenings and weekends. Your boss may be impressed by you, but they keep giving you more work to do. After a while, you just feel exhausted and begin to deliver a little less than what you used to deliver. You feel bad about it and you get lost in the code.

3. You’re not making any progress

Your job is no longer stimulating for you. Maybe you’ve been in the company for years, and you feel like you’re not going forward. There are no challenges, you’re not learning, or your manager doesn’t give you an opportunity to learn new technologies. You’re stuck. Doing the same tasks, again and again, can make you question your career path.

All of these things cause a high level of stress. You stop valuing your work and keep procrastinating. Many questions keep crossing your mind and you have no answers. Should I quit my job? Why am I doing it? How did I get in this phase of my career? Should I try something else? You know that you’ve loved your job once, but you just can’t remember why. Burnout grows slowly and builds up a little step at the time and you feel a lack of control.

How to avoid burnout?

It’s harder to fix burnout once you’ve been deep in it for weeks or months, but it’s not impossible. You will have to work on yourself and set some boundaries. According to Đekic, the recipe is this: “Detach from the cause of burnout, rest, relax, pray or meditate, spend time with family and friends. Literarily like for any other painful thing in life... It works.” However, sometimes it’s not that simple.

“Unfortunately the real consequences of a serious burnout are felt with a delay, so we need to do everything in our power to avoid it. Both mental and physical health are seriously endangered today, especially in tech workplaces”, said Đekic.

Aco Gagić said that it’s important to listen to your body.

“Signs are everywhere, so I am trying to follow them. Before anything else, I’m working on myself in order to avoid stressful situations and burnout in general”, said Gagić.

Let’s see some other tips that can help you avoid burnout.

Determine your boundaries

Maybe your boss can work for a whole day, but if you can’t, that’s OK. However, you have to define how many hours you can stay productive and let people know about your limits. If you need a break, you take it! Don’t compare yourself to others, because every person is different. Furthermore, don’t commit to doing something if you know that’s not possible. Ask for help when you have a deadline because if you keep working above you “too much” point, you’ll get burnout.

Next, your boss and organization have to know what are your non-negotiable terms. If you define your boundaries, no one will expect from you to give more than you can. Sure, you want to be useful when there is a deadline coming, but if the company keeps expecting from you to work long hours, you will have to say something. If your limits are not compatible with the company’s expectations, maybe you should consider finding a new job. IT recruiting agencies can help you find a job that suits your expectations the best. Remember, having support from the company and team is very important. The environment where you can rely on your colleagues can help you avoid burnout and stay productive.

Eat, sleep, and exercise - that’s what your brain needs

If you want to be better in your job, you have yo think about your body and mind. What your brain needs is quality food, sleep, and exercise. It’s easy to fall in a circle eat-sleep-code, but that’s not what it’s good for you. You have to realize how essential both resting and exercising is for your brain. So, prioritize things in your life, and you will be more productive. When you give yourself time to do things that matter, the possibility that you get burnout is lower.

Make time for doing things that you like doing

Did you know that hobbies can impact your work performance? Those who engaged in a creative hobby performed between 15-30 percent better at work. Separating some activities that you enjoy doing from your work is a recipe for a happy, well-balanced life. So, enjoy some free time with your family, draw, write, read, travel, or do whatever makes you happy. You will be happier not only with your work, but with life in general. There is always time for things that you like doing, so put your hobbies at your must-do list.

Stop comparing yourself to others

Often we compare ourselves to others when we should be focusing on our progress. This insecurity doesn’t necessarily happen just at the beginning of a career. Sometimes we feel like we are stuck on one level and we don’t know what the next step is, so we start thinking about others and their progress. However, when we think about others, we lose focus on our progress. Some things aren’t comparable, so what you need is your own goal. Yes, big goals can’t be accomplished in a day, so you have to think small - what can make you a better programmer on a daily basis? Small things matters, so you have to make a long-term and short-term plan. Stop judging yourself and start making first steps that will help you boost your career. So, focus, understand, and then deliberately practice things you planned.

Conclusion: If you burnout, you won’t be productive

It’s important to stop for a moment if you notice any symptom from this list. These first symptoms are the wake-up call for you - your body and mind are telling you to slow down. No job is worth losing your health for, so ask for a day off and analyze your condition. If you feel like you can’t deal with it on your own, you can always ask a professional psychologist for help. Also, check out Ed Finkler’s Open Sourcing Mental Illness website. He is helping those who are facing mental illness in the tech community.

Burnout doesn't go away after a few days like a flue unless you make some changes in your life. These small changes can help you avoid a dangerous path of burnout, the path where your life becomes miserable. If you care about the work you are doing, but also about your family and friends, you need to avoid getting to that point. So, whenever you feel like you’re close to get burnout, remember that this feeling won’t help you. What you need is a rest, a clear head, and well-balanced life. In the end, Đekic is sending a message to those who are struggling at work:

Find a purpose. If you can't find it, create purpose. Change when necessary. Take care of yourself. Be awesome.

Share with us your burnout story. We are here for you!

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