15. On Burnout

October 16, 2018

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If you haven’t noticed, I didn’t send a newsletter for almost 3 weeks.

Why? Burnout is real and it will creep up on you

Basics first: what’s burnout?

Burnout is a mythical creature that sounds like excuses a lazy person would make until you experience it for yourself. More technically, it’s a state of having no motivation left because of a long period of overwork or frustration.

It usually manifests itself in the form of lack of excitement for the things that you usually enjoy, getting cranky over little things and sometimes even physically - feeling tired all the time.

I say it’s a mythical creature because even though most cases of burnout happen due to working too much over a prolonged period of time, it’s not that straightforward.

I worked crazy hours for the first 3 years of my career, 11 hours a day, weekends. My phone would start beeping at 3 in the night, API server is down. I’ll fix the issue, go to sleep again, only to jump on the wagon again the next day.

Even though this wasn’t sustainable, I didn’t feel like I’m burning out. Sure, I would get physically tired from time to time, but nothing a short break from work couldn’t fix. The reason was simple - I was completely invested in the success of the team, I could tie my efforts with the end result.

Taking timely breaks is super important even if you love your job, we have a limited amount of physical and mental endurance.

If you’re doing something you don’t enjoy, you’ll burn out faster. MPJ has a great video on it, he calls it burnout due to value conflict.

If you have to drag yourself to get to work every morning, you’ll need longer breaks more frequently to keep going. And there’s nothing wrong with that either. I’m not here to guilt you into feeling that you should love your job, we all hate it sometimes. But, you should know your limits and identify when your motivation levels are declining.

Side projects area a great way to balance out the things you feel are missing at work. Don’t feel you’re learning anything new at work? Start building an app in a completely new language on the side.

What’s different this time around?

No, I’m not unhappy at my current job. I really like my team and the project I’m working on. Cosmos is shaping up to be really good and I’m excited about how it’s improving every day. But that’s not all I do, I’ve been super busy outside of my job as well.

I left my previous job this time last year. Here’s how 12 months have been in numbers:

created 326 pull requests on cosmos

published 14 npm libraries

spoke at 8 conferences

gave 9 meetup talks

conducted 5 workshops

created 23 videos on youtube

wrote 14 newsletter posts

built half a course

visited 10 countries

ran 71.7 km

tweeted 3,465 times

sold 620 stickers

That’s a lot of things 😅

It’s definitely been a lot of fun and a great learning experience. I’m excited to share some of the learnings with you in future posts.

It’s a fine balance though. Some of these things like conference talks and workshops are scheduled ahead of time, which means, I can’t skip them if I’m not feeling up to the task.

My friend Sara wrote about the negative effects of speaking at conferences, if you’re interested. I don’t get invited to even half as many conferences as Sara, but doing that many things takes a toll on you!

Last month, I noticed my motivation levels were declining. I was getting anxious about the talks I have to give. At work, I was being cranky when discussing solutions I didn’t like.

Now you know what that means, I was approaching burnout. I hadn’t reached the stage where I was tired or completely unmotivated. But, you know what they say - A stitch in time saves nine.

I talked to my manager and scheduled a 2 week break that I just got back from. I didn’t get the chance to completely chill but the time away from pull requests, emails and oh god slack notifications was really helpful.

I still have the 3 conference talks and a workshop scheduled in the next 30 days 😅

To not undo all the benefits of my break, I’m taking a break from some of the things I do - like this newsletter. I’ll be back with stronger content in the second half of November. I hope you understand.

In the mean time, I’ll livestream some code on youtube and continue posting randomness on twitter.

See you soon,

Sid


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