Burnout is a common phenomenon in the tech industry, particularly for developers: Close to 60% of developers report suffering from burnout, according to Blind, for reasons including poor leadership and unclear direction, work overload, and toxic work cultures.
10 Ways to Overcome Coding/Developer Burnout
Employ Micro-interval Breaks
The brain breaks down in the same manner as the rest of the body. Studies have shown that your brain can’t handle more than 60 minutes of continuous stress without a rest period.
That’s why most productivity experts recommend taking a five-minute break every 60 minutes.
That’s good advice — but it ignores the fact that most developers work in short bursts, often starting the next task before finishing the previous one.
That means taking long breaks can sometimes feel like a pause in the middle of a task.
To change that, try taking micro-interval breaks: Five- or ten-minute breaks in the middle of your work, to take some deep breaths or write a to-do list for the next stretch.
The long breaks aren’t the only way to combat burnout, either:
Even taking a lot of short breaks to rest when you’re between tasks can be beneficial — they help you restore “flow” after a task and provide a chance to recharge the mental batteries.
Don’t Be Artificially Busy
A lot of developers believe they have to stay busy all the time, to feel useful, and to appear desirable to their leaders and colleagues. That way of thinking is the worst possible thing they can do to help their careers.
While it’s true that developers who maintain a long list of “to dos” are often more desirable to companies, that doesn’t help them improve their work habits.
Getting down to your to-do list may bring financial or career rewards, but it won’t help you grow or improve. Don’t be afraid to be idle. “Being busy” doesn’t imply that you’re productive, nor does it mean you’re smart, or creative, or any of the other things that leaders in the tech industry value.
For creative people, especially programmers, there’s a special danger in being artificially busy: The more you work on micro-tasks like one-off assignments, the easier it is to forget the bigger picture, to disengage from the work, and to become blind to the impact of the work.
That way of working can lead to burnout.
Develop Mental Cues
Everyone gets burnt out, particularly when they’re working in creative industries. It’s important to be aware when the burnout is first starting and nip it in the bud as soon as possible.
If your back starts to ache, it’s time to take a break and walk around.
If your eyelids feel heavy, it’s time to open your eyes to avoid eye strain.
If your body starts to feel lightheaded after a long coding session, it’s time to open a window, look up, or take a break.
Creating these feelings will remind you to take necessary breaks.
Do Something You Love
Neuroscience proves that doing something you love is great for your brain. When you’re working on tasks you enjoy, your brain releases chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, into the system, which makes you feel happy and energetic.
If you love writing, write. If you love coding, code. If you love dog-walking, take the dog on a walk. If you love sports, play ball.
You can find ways to do things you love on a regular basis, but you have to be willing to follow the ideas through — it’s easy to lose your way if you’re working on substandard work you don’t care about.
Let Go of Self Appraisal
Developers often look internally to figure out where they’re doing good work and where they’re failing. This self-examination isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes it crosses the line into obsession:
Maybe a developer spends weeks on a project that doesn’t work because they’re too self-aware.
Or maybe they spend hours trying to figure out a technical problem because they don’t like to ask for help.
Or maybe they continuously try to make a specific work project better than it is, wasting time with modifications that don’t inspire any new ideas.
Focus on the work you’re doing, not on yourself. Try to avoid introspection, and be mindful follow your intuition when you need to make changes.
Stitch Together Projects
If you’re working in a team, where you’re not given specific tasks at the start of the project, you can often find a way to stitch together different parts of the project in a way that you really enjoy.
This also goes for open-source projects: If you find an interesting project, and you’re comfortable with the project, contribute to it when you’re working on something else — it can help you stay engaged and focused on your work.
Don’t Keep Coding All The Time
If you take a break, people in your office may think you’re lazy, or that you’re working on an important project.
The truth is that you’re less likely to have a problem with burnout if you take breaks throughout the day. Get up from your desk. Walk around the office. Go to the bathroom. Stretch out.
Write in a journal.
Or listen to some music.
Set a timer to keep yourself on track.
Don’t forget to stretch after a long session.
Whatever you do, create the habit of getting up from your desk.
Find Inspiration In Music
Sometimes, in the middle of a long coding session, it’s easy to lose your mind and your focus. It helps to have a side project to work on, but sometimes you can’t find the spark of inspiration.
One decent way to get that inspiration, especially during long sessions of coding in the early morning or late at night, is to have a playlist of your favorite tunes.
Some people prefer music with a tempo of 120 beats per minute, which is the “tempo” of the human brain, and they find psy-trance music works best.
But music that inspires you is always good for your brain.
Work For Yourself
Working in a team can be a great experience for developers. It gives them the chance to learn new disciplines and to improve their skills.
But sometimes working in a team can feel like work for two — the team will be doing the majority of the work, while you’re busy doing something without a lot of impact.
At the end of the day, you want to feel the satisfaction of a job well done. And that often only comes when you own the work.
Developers need to feel in control of their work to succeed.
Take A Day Off
In a TED Talk, bestselling productivity expert and author of Deep Work Cal Newport said that one of the most important ways to catapult yourself to the top of your field is to take a day or two off from work every week.
If Newport was right, it may not be a bad idea for developers to take a daily siesta. At a minimum, developers should take at least one afternoon off per week.