The IT industry is fast-paced and exciting, and yet, burnout is commonplace amongst developers. There are endless opportunities to learn new technologies, develop your skills, and hone your software development craft. IT work is also very accessible, meaning all you typically need is a computer and possibly an internet connection to start working.
You can work from home, work from the office, or work from the coffee house downtown. If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time separating work life and home life. This separation can become even more obscured when working from home, as I’m sure many of you are during these strange times.
Although they are positives in the big picture, these combined factors lead me to today’s topic: developer burnout. Developer burnout is a physical or mental collapse caused by excessive amounts of work or stress, and I’m sure all of us have experienced it in one way or another over the course of our careers. Burnout manifests itself in different ways for many different people. In this post, I’m going to go over some causes of burnout and how you can avoid it.
On the Computer…All Day Long
As I’m sure you’re all aware, sitting in front of a computer for 8+ hours a day isn’t very good for your health. Staring at a monitor all day hurts your eyes, and long hours in a chair wreaks havoc on your entire body.
To help combat these physical health pitfalls there are a few preventative measures you can take to protect yourself. Some of these tips are more suitable when working from home but can typically be practiced in an office as well.
First, invest in an ergonomic chair and desk setup – your back will thank you later. If possible, opt for a desk that has both sit and stand options. Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
Second, Follow the 20/20/20 rule for your eyes. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will help to prevent eye strain from prolonged monitor use.
Lastly, set an alarm that will go off every 30 minutes on your phone. When that alarm goes off stand up and do some stretching. A few simple movements every half hour will help keep your body happy throughout the day.
Mental Health in a Highly Cognitive Job
Mental health issues are another thing developers are faced with. Programming jobs, especially as a consultant or contractor, can be intense and stressful. We’re expected to be top-notch professionals and are usually counted on for a high level of expertise. Sometimes, you can be pushed to your absolute mental limit for an entire day and get no breaks.
To help combat these effects, try to structure your time into chunks of productivity. For example, spend 1 hour doing something mentally challenging like focused coding development or meetings, and then shift into a 15-minute period of mechanical tasks, like replying to emails, tracking your time, or managing a ticketing system your team works with.
Additionally, if you’re lucky enough to have a software development team, take advantage of it! Teams are there for emotional support as well as technical support. Reach out to your coworkers. Talk about how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid of team building activities.
Although there is an endless number of technologies out there, some developers are stuck doing the same type of work over and over, and this can undoubtedly lead to developer burnout. Using the same technology or writing seemingly redundant code every day can slowly eat away at motivation and the passion for programming we all have. You can start to feel trapped or stuck, and occasionally, you might feel like you aren’t making career progress.
To avoid feelings of monotony in your development, start a personal project. Practice different kinds of programming on your own than you do at work – check out these tutorials if you need some direction. Or, contribute to an open-source project, develop a game, a web application, or interface with a device like a Raspberry Pi. Find something ‘fun’ to work on that reminds you why you have this passion in the first place.
This may seem to contradict the first two points of feeling overworked and fatigued, but your personal projects don’t need to feel like an obligation or work at all. Timebox your work on at home to an hour a day if you have the time for it.
Isolation From Others
It doesn’t matter if you work from home or in an office, software developers can begin to feel isolated from their peers. You can often feel totally alone as you read through and analyze code, fix problems, and think through solutions. Even as part of a large group or team, there are feelings of singular responsibility. You may be assigned a task or ticket, and unless you’re paired programming, that work is now uniquely owned by you.
If you’re on a team, you can try to have more paired programming or learning opportunities. Bring up the idea of paired development during meetings or with management.
Avoid developer burnout by trying to be as involved with friends and family as possible outside of your work. Find a hobby community to be a part of, or chat with friends online if you can’t meet in person. You can attend workshops, hackathons, and join community courses on the internet. Building personal and meaningful lasting relationships is key to preventing feelings of isolation.
Exercise, Sleep, And Diet
Last but not least is our physical health and fitness. Exercise can lead to improvements in concentration, mood, and memory. Getting adequate sleep reduces stress and makes you more alert. A proper diet can help with maintaining a healthy weight, which improves your mood and memory and gives you higher energy levels.
For exercise, try to incorporate physical activity into your day. As mentioned earlier, take a small break every hour or so to stand up and stretch. Take a quick lap around your house or office to get your blood flowing. After or before work, try to get in at least 30 minutes of an exercise of your choice. If you don’t have equipment and don’t want to join a gym, brisk walking, bodyweight exercises, or yoga work just fine.
Sleep sounds simple. The rule of thumb is 8 hours a night, but that always seems impossible to achieve. Try to step away from screens an hour or so before bed. Let your mind wind down by reading or book or listening to some music to prepare yourself for bed. It can help to develop a nightly ritual to relax your mind and body to get the best sleep possible.
Diet is another intimidating factor in our daily lives. However, with a little effort, it too can easily be conquered. Set aside some time on the weekends for meal preparation. Buy some food storage containers and portion out breakfast and lunches a week in advance. Even if you don’t have many skills in the kitchen, there are plenty of recipes that require only an oven and a baking sheet.
With food always at the ready, you will be less tempted to snack on junk food or eat fast food. Even if you still snack, you will at the very least cut down on how often you do so. Trust me, your body will thank you later.
In conclusion, burnout is a serious issue, especially for software developers. To help stay fresh and at your best, remember to take breaks from your computer screen and electronic devices, break up the monotony with personal projects and hobbies, socialize with friends and family, and treat your body well with a proper diet and exercise.
A little self-care goes a long way, and it will ultimately make you a more productive and efficient developer.