Coping with Burnout

Date:September 28, 2019
Time:6 min read

While I was at DevFest Houston, sponsored by Google Development Group Houston and Woman Tech Makers, along with a handful of other companies, there was a notable talk about managing burnout by Anjuan Simmons and Dr. Aneika Simmons. The talk was refreshing, reminding me much of what I already knew: burnout is real, and there are ways to manage it.

In fact, it is this feeling of burnout that surfaced yet again that has inspired me to write about it. When I started freelancing, there was a part of me that honestly just wanted a break. In the role I had before I left, I was the jack-of-all-trades. As the sole developer managing a platform, I had to figure out everything. While I have found that I thrive in this environment and enjoy being able to wear multiple hats, I don't think I realized I unintentionally 10X-ed this when I pivoted into freelancing...until it was too late. Guess what - I'm still a jack-of-all-trades. Just in even more disconnected fields: sales, marketing, admin, accounting...oh, and, of course, development. This has, inevitably, led me to recognize an impact on my mental and emotional well being. At times, freelancing really does just...suck.

Developer's Curse

When I first started programming in 2009, everyone was a developer or a software engineer. Even if you were doing the "front end" work, you were a developer/engineer. There was no separation of front-end or back-end. Several years later, all that changed. Several years after that, DevOps became a thing. So did Cloud Engineers. Working in tech means things are constantly evolving, improving. While it's great that things are getting better and people are able to focus on what they do best, allowing productivity to increase overall, it can also lead to burnout.

Every day, a new product is launched. Every few years, a new framework becomes "hot". Just as quickly, developers must race to keep up with the latest tech in order to stay current. That is, unless you specialize. Then you just need to stay good at what you do best. But specialization doesn't suit everyone. It doesn't work for me. I get bored if I'm doing the same thing over and over. To date, I can't even count the number of services or technologies I've tried just to get a taste of what they can do. I've learned now though, that there are better ways to spend my time.

There have been far too many times where I never touched the service or technology after I used it. It was therefore an unnecessary expense of time. Perhaps in my youth, I had more tolerance for learning new things. Now, I've learned to be selective, weighing the likelihood of me using that technology at a later date to decide if I want to spend the time to learn about it.

Habits & Planning

When you work for yourself, you are responsible for the time you spend. Whether you're working or playing, how you spend your time will impact how much you accomplish, and balance becomes increasingly important. There's no one looking over your shoulder to tell you when you need to be working, or when you should stop working. You get to decide.

Consequently, it can be easy to work "too much" or "too little", depending on your circumstances. This has been challenging for me. I've found I'm almost always tuned into work and work opportunities, even on the weekends. While I've gotten a bit better about structuring my time, it still remains a challenge I must address every day.

Personally, I've found life easier to manage when there's a bit more structure and planning. Having a plan in place makes it easier to track productivity, and as a result, it's easier to feel a sense of accomplishment for the hour, day, week, and month.

Setting up a plan and working towards goals has allowed me to hold myself accountable for what I accomplish, as well as what I don't accomplish. I always take some time for reflection, which leads to improvements and personal growth.

Preventing Burnout

Burnout can creep up on you if you don't recognize it. So it's important to be able to recognize it before it irrepairably impacts your life. This year, burnout was recognized as a legitimate medical condition by the World Health Organization.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • reduced professional efficacy

Preventing burnout includes common techniques such as developing a strong support network, staying physically fit, and taking enough time to rest your mind and body.

Building a Strong Support Network

I heard this before I began, and I experience it now. Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely profession. Few understand the challenges of being an entrepreneur unless they too are entrepreneurs. It's important to remain engaged with people in some way, and it helps to connect with others going through the same challenges as you. With the internet, it's relatively easy to find various virtual communities where people can empathize with the ups and downs of this lifestyle. It's also important to meet with people in real life. I don't think virtual meetings can ever replace in-person meetings.

In building my support network, I've remained connected with different online communities - Women Make. Women Who Code. Indie Hackers. To name a few.

In real life, I have my best friends and my family, though it's at times challenging to chat with them about things. They just... don't understand. So I make an effort to attend meetups, conferences, and other networking events with other business owners (and developers too). These events have been invaluable in growing my network, near and far.

Stay Healthy

I've always been relatively fitness aware as of the past 5 years, when I learned a lot about nutrition, health, and fitness as a result of my participation in things like the Spartan Race (thanks lil' bro!). If you think you lack awareness about nutrition and fitness, I would recommend reading up on this. What you eat and how you train can make all the difference in how you feel throughout the day. It can give you the energy to succeed...or not.

It's important to get regular exercise. I've chosen to mix this up with my regular social interaction, partaking in group-oriented activities like martial arts or group classes.

I also make time for meditation. Or at least I'd like to do so more. I'm a firm believer in the benefits of meditation, and I think regular practice of meditation can result in stronger mental fortitude.

Rest

I think this one's obvious, but just in case...getting enough rest is important. Functioning on not enough sleep makes things so much harder. Whether it's physical or mental rest, it's important to give your mind and body a break.

I try to get at least 6-7 hours of sleep a night. I don't always succeed, and I feel it the next day. If I'm mentally tired, I take a break and do something fun instead. Work will still be there when I'm back.

Make sure you get enough rest!

Certain Uncertainty

At some point, after you settle into this notion of starting a business, whether freelancing, running a startup, etc. you get used to certain uncertainty. You begin to accept that there are simply things you can't account for, and that's just the way it's going to be.

Starting and successfully running a business is challenging. There's more than one path to where you want to go, but it's not always clear what the best path is. Sometimes you just have to trust your instinct and trust yourself. Then stick with it.

Of course, it doesn't make it any easier. And there are days it just sucks. On those days, it's just best to let it run its course. Sleep early. Go exercise. Go hang out with friends. Don't work. Take your mind off work. Do something fun. Tomorrow is another day, and it'll be better.

Credits

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash.

Source:

Burnout is an official medical diagnosis, World Health Organization says, 30 September 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/27/health/who-burnout-disease-trnd/index.html.