Dino Cajic explaining the Reason for Developer Burnout

There are many causes of burnout. We’ve all experienced the Covid burnout: not being able to cope with the new lifestyle. Something just feels uneasy and your work degrades. You’re bombarded with negative news day and night. You lived in constant fear. There was no clear light at the end of the tunnel. The constant stress and anxiety caused your mind and your body to exhibit an elevated response and you crashed, hard.

Now that we’ve returned to some sense of normalcy, we can get back to our normal burnout cycle.

Burnout Cycle

Each person is different with their tolerance, but everyone will experience burnout at some point. That’s usually a clear sign that you should take a vacation and give your mind a break. Taking a vacation and checking your email won’t do you any good. I know that when I’m on vacation, even receiving a text message from someone in the organization that states “I hope you’re having a nice vacation” will bring me back into thinking about work. I make sure that everyone knows not to contact the individual going on vacation unless it’s an absolute emergency.

Taking two days off vs an entire week is also not enough time to fully decompress. If you only have one week of vacation per year, it might make sense to do this, but I would definitely look for a different job that offers at least two weeks of paid vacation. Taking one week off and splitting the other throughout the year is a good way to recharge your batteries.

When you come back from your vacation, you’ll feel ready to work. That’s how you know you’ve had enough time off. After a few months, you’ll start feeling it again. If you have the opportunity, take some time off again.

Multitasking vs Shifting Priorities

There’s one Reason for Developer Burnout that I don’t see discussed much, but it’s probably one of the biggest reasons for it. Multitasking takes the blame but it’s actually being told to shift priorities.

My daily schedule is overly optimized. Aside from working full time, I also write articles each day, create content for YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, my own website, etc. I still write code each day and am currently in the process of doing to the #100DaysOfCode challenge (you can follow the journey on my twitter account).

Even after a full schedule from sun-up to sun-down, rarely do I feel burnt out. Tell me to stop doing what I’m doing and shift to something else and I start to feel it. I’ve had positions, especially when I was a developer, where management would come in and say “hey, I need you to stop working on this project. We need to get this other project out the door. It’s high priority.” Doesn’t sound bad, but it’s incredibly destructive.

It’s not like you can just stop and start working on something else immediately. You have to bring down your current environment, bring up your new environment and then get back in the zone. You hear athletes mention that they’re in the zone. Developers get in the zone as well. It’s that magical place where you knock out a weeks worth of work in a matter of hours. Not being able to enter the zone will deteriorate the developer’s work output and will bring on unnecessary stress.

I thought that it was exclusive to software development, but it’s actually more widespread than that. I’ve spoken to numerous different individuals in varying industries and the consensus is always the same. The workload is a factor absolutely, but the trigger point for almost immediate burnout is being reprioritized throughout the day by someone else.

One example is an automotive body technician that I recently spoke to about this topic. He was home earlier than normal and was not in a great mood. He was contemplating looking for a new company to work for. Through conversation, he mentioned that he wasn’t happy at his job anymore because people will frequently say, “we need you to stop working on this vehicle and start working on this other one. It needs to go out today.” It doesn’t seem like something out of the ordinary for management, but for the person receiving those prompts, it can escalate to the point that they leave the company.

That conversation was what triggered a deeper reflection on my part. I was never really stressed out that I was doing a 100 different things per day. I just didn’t like to be redirected when I was in the middle of a task. Once I understood that, I began to treat work like work. Once someone redirects me to a different direction, I just remember that it’s part of work and that I shouldn’t stress out about it. If you keep that in your thoughts, you’ll find that it will take you significantly longer before you start feeling burnt out. You’ll probably be burnt out from the amount of work that you’ve done, but not from being told to shift priorities.

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