Avoiding Burnout as a Software Developer

Written By Idris Azeez

Life as a Software Developer is about creating great software every day. You feel like less of a developer when you are performing at anything less than your optimum capacity. So every day, you do your best to turn in the best code possible and you try to keep doing that.

Well, even machines do not have the same effectiveness every day. But in the world of today where everyone is seeking better salaries and other bonuses, we want to be better than the next person so we get that comfortable fat check at the end of the month.

Don’t get me wrong, wanting to have the same effectiveness is a good thing; the only issue is to always know when you should stop and take a break, when you have completely exhausted yourself, and when you need to take a long rest to get back to work.

The notion that because the other developer is on his/her computer for the past eight hours means that he is doing more work is an erroneous notion. We should do more to understand that work is not only based on the numbers of hours spent working.

How much we work is also based on the hours spent resting and fully gaining back all the energy we have expended while working. You want to be optimal everyday and that means you need to give yourself enough time to recover so you can be at your best everyday

Take the case of a new developer who joins a firm. His/her goal is to show that he/she can really deliver on what the company wants to achieve. To show that they can deliver, they stay late at night and are the first person to arrive the next day.

The cycle becomes work, work, work, and a little sleep. This cycle goes on for a while and the company is really impressed and happy about the output of that employee. They begin to shower him with bonuses and more allowances. Over time, natural factors set in and the programmer begins to deliver a little less than what he used to deliver. To the developer, they are still giving their best but to the organization, the developer has began to give less than what he can deliver.

To meet this expectation, the developer continues to push themselves even further up to a point when they can no longer continue. In some cases, it is during this period that the organization employs another person who begins the same cycle over and over again. In no time, everyone is demotivated and demoralised. The organization feels the developers can do more and the developers feel they are already giving their best.

At this stage, a very high level of stress has been reached and the once passionate and coordinated developer is now just one of the other programmers. This case is real and many programmers are in one way or the other currently facing this problem.

Never think: well, this cannot happen to me. It happens to the best of us and when it does, you are simply burnt out. What you need then is to be serviced. The way an automobile is serviced after running for a while.

How then can developers prevent this issue especially for new developers who are entering the world of corporate programming, no longer writing code for pleasure or for class exercises? Here are some tips I wish I had known because they would have helped me. I hope they can also help you in preventing burnout.

Never Seek To Be Better Than Anyone Else, Only To Be Better Than Yourself

This is one of the famous lessons I learned from John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach: The only person you should be better than is yourself. Sometimes we burn out when we focus too much on what others are doing and how others are becoming better everyday while we are just following the path of the great programmers without ever catching up.

What you need is to develop a personal plan and follow through with your plans. Not to follow up on the plans of others. Seek to continue to grow everyday on your path, not on the path of others.

Develop a goal, push for the goal, and keep pushing for the goal. It is important to focus on what you want to do and achieve. Do not let the success or failure of others deter you from your path. Your path is yours and yours only.

Have time to do deliberate practise. In learning how to learn, it is emphasized that to learn, you need to focus, understand, and then deliberately practice. Deliberate practice leads to more expertise in what you are learning and it is more interesting learning what you are good at because you have fewer issues to contend with.

Continuous learning is how you can be a better version of yourself through seeking to learn from others who you feel are better than you. Seeking mentorship and going to events are just a few of the ways that you can improve yourself. But never set your success level based on the success of others.

Have a Work-Life Balance

This advice is so cliche that even people from other walks of life can find it useful. We sometimes burn out when we focus all our lives only on work. Imagine the life of a programmer who sleeps barely six hours and is back to work, with no form of engagement beyond his/her current job.

When you ask such a person about themselves, they begin to describe themselves based only their current job. Ask them what they like and dislike, and it is also around the same thing.

It is important to love and cherish our work, but the lack of balance makes us fall too much on one side, and as they say, too much of anything is bad.

You need to be able to have time for activities that are fulfilling and might not have any link to your current work. Taking time out gives you more time to focus on other areas of life where you can also help make more impact and be impacted more than your current job.

Imagine giving tutorial lessons to a group every weekend. This activity allows you to set out time to also relearn what you already know and also goes a long way to impact the life of others. Remember, this is a great opportunity to discover areas you never knew you could excel in.

Not having time to exercise and do a lot more things that energizes the body is known to be a path that leads to fast depleting health issues. Ask some people why they do not work out and they give you the boring explanation that they are basically too busy for that.

Well, if you are too busy to cater to your health, what on earth then are you here for? Do you want to make the money for the time when you fall ill, so you can use the money to take care of yourself? To me, that does not sound right.

Take some time to always look at other ways you can engage yourself actively beyond work. What other activities can you do beyond work that you can also derive pleasure from. Go out once in a while for other activities that can also make you enjoy the time and also make great impact in the community.

Taking Care of the Little Things

The little things matter because the small things are what make up the big things. You should focus and pay attention to the very small things that accumulate to become very big things in your life as a developer.

Pay attention to the way you sit, the way you work, the food you eat, and a whole lot more that might not seem to be of great importance to you at the present moment. Take care of how you even type on the keyboard. The brightness of your computer screen. All these things are important if you want to be able to remain a developer for a longer time.

For developers, it is more than just a job that pays the bill, it is a job most developers do with passion and would want to continue programming for as long as possible and doing things that can make that possible is an area to always look out for.

Not doing these things might not show any immediate effect, but over time, I assure you, the effects are obvious and you can only wish then that you did the small things.

Food, Sleep, and Exercise Are For The Wise

When you ask some programmers if they set out some time to exercise and better develop themselves, you get funny answers as if it was a crime to exercise as a developer. To some developers, all you have to do is to sleep, eat, and program. That’s all.

Realize, however, that the most important part of your body responsible for developing the idea for writing code is the brain. So the question is to ask whether the brain requires food, sleep, and exercise. The answer is clear—the brain needs a lot of these.

To be better as a developer, you must always find ways to ensure that you rest and exercise, eat good food to make sure that you can always maintain this flow.

The concept of no time for exercise, sleep, and eating good food should be greatly discouraged. That we can always be as productive every moment of the day without resting and keeping healthy is a notion we need to clear from our mind.

Never Hold On To The Past

Because we failed in the past does not mean we will always fail, and just because we won in the past does not mean we will continue to win. Not holding onto the past means that we should not let the issues of yesterday define how our today will be.

Some people reach the stage of burnout faster than others. They focus too much on the number of times they have failed in the past. They may be trying too hard to find a way to prevent others from noticing their mistakes. They’re so focused on not showing their real life that work becomes less interesting.

Always seek to find ways that you can grow beyond the image of yesterday. Yesterday is now in the past and all that you have is now. Do not be labelled by the actions of yesterday.

Seek to grow and be better. But don’t hold onto the issues of the past as the past is not going to be needed today. Leave yesterday in the past and move on.

By letting go off the past, you are realizing that today can be better than yesterday and the success of today should not be determined by the failure of yesterday. Developing such a mindset is a great way to help fight and overcome burnout.

Learn New Ideas Beyond Your Current Field

Working on the same language or software day in and day out can cause a great level of repetition which can, in no time, lead to boredom. Seek to learn a new way of doing what you are currently doing; for example, another language you can use for your work or a different kind of workflow.

Learning a new language allows for variety and can greatly reduce the level of boredom. It means that you can do more than one thing everyday. Never feel you cannot go outside of your comfort zone to do something else;That all you want to stick to is the one thing you do everyday.

It makes sense to be proficient in one language or framework, but sometimes having a little variety can make work less boring and more challenging.

By overcoming boredom, you can be in a better position to fight and win over your burnout faster. Imagine you are burned out and the task you keep doing everyday does not stimulate or challenge you to become any better, that means you are stuck in a rut and you would need to really find a way to fight such.

Finding challenging tasks can help take your mind away from burnout and you soon realize you are no longer burnt out.

Be Your Best, Avoid Burnout

There are more ways you can definitely prevent burnout as a developer than the methods described above. You can make it comfortable to discuss burnout among teams so that they can come up with a solution that better addresses their needs and situation.

By never pursuing that rat race of being better than any other developer and by creating a plan that helps you grow and track your growth, burnout can be quickly noticed and prevented.

Having a work-life balance that ensures that you get a great deal from life: working out and exercising to stay healthy, eating good food to nourish your system, and also taking care of the small things are ways you can also fend off burning out.

We all want to be the best and one sure way to do so is to avoid burning out.