Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment and apologize for what passed for a post yesterday. Anyone who’s ever been a victim of migraines can tell you just how difficult they can make it to actually do anything, particularly when it comes to looking at words on a screen. However, I promised I’d get back to the real content today, so here we are!
I’m sure that everyone out there is familiar with the “burnout” phenomenon. Despite not being a recognized clinical disorder, burnout affects every corner of industry worldwide and can happen to anyone. It doesn’t discriminate. But what is it? Simply put, burnout is exhaustion and disinterest which can be brought on by long-term occupational stress or overworking yourself. Whether you were aware of it or not, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve experienced this at some point in time in your life. Think back, can you remember the last time you felt burned out? I know I can.
I fall into the somewhat unique category of people who actually like their job. I like my job so much that to me, it is relaxing. When I get stressed… I code! Doesn’t that mean that I’m actually less likely to burn out? Actually no. Quite the opposite in fact. There is a fine line between dedication and burnout, and it’s one that I spend a fair amount of time riding. However, while I have experienced my share of burnouts, in the last year I’ve managed to hold them at bay… and I’m going to tell you how.
Become A Gamer
Or don’t. When I say “become a gamer” I’m not implying that everyone should go out and by World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. What I’m saying is “take breaks.” They don’t have to be long, but they should be consistent. If you like drawing, take some time out to work on a sketch. If you’re an author or poet, take time out to write something; don’t work non-stop.
Possibly the single most valuable lesson I’ve learned since I left the daily grind and started working for myself, this particular piece of knowledge was provided by my friend Pippin Williamson. He takes a mandatory break every few hours and does a half-hour of gaming, and it works! While my “break schedule” isn’t entirely as consistent as it probably should be, since I started forcing myself actually to play a game every once in a while, my stress level has gone down!
First, I should point out that this particular piece of advice is unique to those of us who work from home. If you’re working in Corporate America, detachment isn’t an issue; you get to go home at the end of the day. But what about those of us who have an office that’s just down the hall from our bedroom or living room? It becomes much more difficult to separate “work time” from “home time” when work is right there.
This problem is a remarkably simple obstacle to overcome. The answer is so simple that I overlooked it for quite a while before finally figuring it out. Just do it! For a long time, my office was actually in my bedroom. Bad idea. Frequently I’d find myself lying in bed thinking “just five minutes more, and I can finish that project…” and the next thing I’d know it was morning. Oops. Now, my office and bedroom are at opposite ends of the house. When there’s a level of physical separation, it’s much easier to ignore the “need to work” urges.
This suggestion should be common sense. Vacations aren’t just for your kids; they’re a much-needed break from the stresses of your job too! However, they’re something that I undervalued for a long time. In the last year, I’ve started spending a lot of time traveling. Ok, maybe I cheat a little… most of my travel is to WordCamps, so it’s still business related, but the fact is when I’m traveling I’m not confining myself to a computer screen all day. Pulling the proverbial plug, even for a relatively short period, has the fantastic ability to recharge you. So do it!
Eat Right… or at Least Better
Ok, so this might seem a bit silly, but you’d be surprised how much of an impact your eating habits have on other aspects of your life. This statement is especially true for those of us who have predominantly sedentary occupations. When you spend all your time sitting behind a desk, it’s super easy to munch on a bag of chips instead of eating a real lunch. While I’ve never been much of a traditional junk-food kind of person, I haven’t always had the best eating habits either. In the last year, I’ve shifted from lots of pre-processed food (canned soup and Hot Pockets anyone?) to a more regulated diet. I generally only eat two meals a day, with breakfast being a relatively standard diet of cereal, and dinner being some chicken or fish. To prevent the munchies, I eat a salad or similar around what most people consider lunch time. Since cutting out the pre-processed food, my energy level has been consistently higher, I’ve had less (but sadly not a complete lack of) headaches, and my stress level has been down as well.
So there are my secrets to preventing burnout. Granted, it’s not a perfect system, but maybe there’s no such thing as a “perfect” system. However, on the whole, it’s had a remarkably positive impact on my work and, by extension, home lives. Of course, every once in a while I still hit the proverbial brick wall, so as a little bonus, here are my solutions for getting back on track.
Probably nine out of ten times, burnout occurs when I’ve been working on a single large project for way too long. If that’s the case, I generally try to find a simple project I can do as a sort of “break” from the monotony. As a developer, there are virtually limitless possibilities for quick, one-off projects I can tear through in a few hours at most. Finishing something, even a simple project, has the tendency to make you feel better about yourself which, in turn, generally holds the burnout at bay.
Do a Crossword Puzzle
This idea might not work for everyone, but it works for me. I do a crossword puzzle every night before I go to bed as a way of “winding down” at the end of the day. Despite their analytical nature, I’ve always found them to be relaxing. The flip side of this is that the very fact that they are analytical in nature makes them ideal to help you (or at least me) refocus.
Go For a Run
Ick! Exercise! Yea, not everyone enjoys it; but you can’t deny that exercise does have health benefits. During my time in the military, exercise was a fact of life. Going out and doing a five-mile run in the morning was as much a certainty as the sunrise, and they usually happened at about the same time. Since getting out, however, I’ve definitely let that part of my life slide. I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I used to, and for years I didn’t get any more than was necessary as part of my daily life. This last year, I’ve been using exercise as a sort of release. When I get stuck on something or start to feel burned out, I go for a brief run. It doesn’t have to be anything super strenuous, you don’t even have to actually run. If you’re more comfortable jogging, that’s fine too, but getting out and getting some exercise gives your mind a break and your body will thank you for it in the long run.
So what other “secrets” are there for avoiding, or fighting back from, burnout? I’m sure the community at large has some suggestions that I haven’t thought of yet, so let me know!
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