Wild ideas to avoid burnout
Published on in Work–life balance
Care less, take a sabbatical, get a second job, get monster ear protection, hide behind your manager.
Someone recently asked on Hacker News if anyone has managed to find enjoyment in their work after burnout.
Excerpts from comments that I liked (not all are that wild, but anyway):
Care less (comment by highwaylights)
This advice is going to be hated by a lot of people but... care less.
You're in an industry that values your skills and seems to always have demand. Whether or not that's true in the future, it certainly is today, so the best thing you can do is put yourself first and worry less about work as a whole. Especially if it's not your own company.
Spend more time on you, on activities with friends and family, on hobbies. If you don't have particularly healthy hobbies, maybe start some. Getting away from your work more and more will make it all the more bearable.
These days work is close to the bottom of my list of concerns, which sounds really bad – BUT – I find I'm more productive than I've been in years because I'm not worrying if something takes longer than expected or is bigger than I realised. I can just enjoy the problem solving and shipping without the stress.
If you're burned out this badly I'd suggest it's your soul's way of telling yourself "hey this isn't working for me". As someone who has been to some pretty messed up depths with the anxiety monster, I'd heed that voice. Life isn't long enough to stay stuck in a rut like this for any amount of time at all.
Caring less doesn't mean doing sloppy work, nor does it mean not caring about the quality of your work.
It means not taking work things too seriously (no one's life is at stake), not having too strong opinions on everything (so you can avoid tiring debates; pick your battles), not involving in office politics.
It means focusing on the fun things, like technical challenges, clean code practices (yea I like them), documenting your learnings (and later blogging about them).
Another way of saying "care less" (comment by _fat_santa):
I think a better way of putting it is: "don't get too emotionally invested". Writing code I often times get emotionally invested in its success, but with a job you have to create that clear line of "I care, but I'm not emotionally invested". I really want to fix that bug in the system but if 5PM hits, I don't have the emotional investment to keep going into the night like with a side project, I can get to it in the morning.
Stopping early and continuing the next day is important, but sometimes I fail to do that. Like "one more turn" when playing Civilization, "ten more minutes" often gets out of hand (comment by SoftTalker):
I used to be the sort of person who would stay at work until I got to what felt like a "good" stopping point in what I was doing. If something wasn't working, and seemed like another 30 minutes might fix it, I would often do it. Of course 30 minutes often turned into 3 hours.
Now I'm much more likely to just go home at the end of the day. I don't really care what fires are burning, they will be there tomorrow and nobody will die.
Saying "care less" is like saying "stress less," but the latter is difficult to implement on its own; you need other tools for that (e.g. caring less).
Take a sabbatical (comments by samatman)
Can you afford a sabbatical?
The term has roots in "seven", just like Sabbath, so with 14 years in the industry, you've skipped one.
I think a solid half-year off every seven to ten years is an excellent practice for intellectually demanding labor.
Ooh, I suddenly feel like I'd like to take a sabbatical! Even 6 months would be nice.
A sabbatical is not a vacation; it's time to work on your passion projects:
What makes it a sabbatical is that it's a change of pace which furthers your career. I'd love to take a sabbatical and just work on building stuff, personally: from soldering, to designing boards, probing them, writing firmware, I'm a rank amateur, and I'd love to level up for a while, while free of the burden of justifying my salary in the process.
What it isn't, is a vacation, or a convalescence. It sounds like you haven't hit "can't work", just "sucks to work", which is a blessing.
I've known people who pushed "sucks to work" until it became "can't work", and they don't all make it back to the profession, a bit less than half in fact. Whatever you do, I urge you to take burnout seriously, because at the limit it's a serious medical condition which can cripple or kill you.
When looking for a job after the sabbatical, saying that you took a sabbatical sounds better than saying that you took a year off:
A sabbatical is not a gap in one's resume, it's a sabbatical. What's done with that time is open-ended, but one of the things it does is provide a useful line item.
A sabbatical is good if: you can write an open-source library in your niches which solves a problem, if you expand the breadth of your expertise, if what you're doing has a significant philanthropic angle. All of these can set someone up for a higher tier of job, something with better prospects.
Even if you wouldn't achieve anything tangible during your sabbatical, it should still bring great benefits: less stress, fresh mind, more energy.
If you are already burned out, taking a year off might be better for your health. If you are not, a sabbatical could be a good tool to avoid that.
Get a second job (comment by aspyct)
For me, switching to 4 days a week was a huge improvement in my quality of life. Now I've switched to 3, and have a completely different second job 2 days a week. And two days of rest.
I love both, for different reasons, but could never go back to a full week of IT, or switch to a full week of my new job. They balance fine, but I don't think they can exist on their own.
Having only one job and working only 3 or 4 days a week would be more optimal, but not always financially feasible. Getting a completely different second job would bring in more money and also variation to days.
Another good point:
I think working 5 days a week, 8h a day on the same topic is insane. I can't think of anything I would want to do for so many hours a day, almost every day.
It's crazy how much people usually work (including me, ouch).
Get monster ear protection (comment by larve)
Get monster ear protection. This has to be one of the revelations: noise stresses me out sooo much, and I have been repressing it for so long. I now have -35 dB + noise-cancelling earplugs and can basically live in complete silence, in the noisiest environment.
Noise stresses me out too, very much so, and I too have been ignoring that.
I walk on my treadmill for several hours every work day, and it's not a particularly silent device, so I'm being exposed to a lot of noise. That's gotta do something to my mind, and not in a good way.
I already own Sony WH-1000XM3 wireless noise-cancelling headphones, and looks like RTINGS.com has rated them as having the best level of noise isolation among 697 headphones that they have tested (as of Nov 7, 2022). Nice! So I just need to learn to use my headphones more.
Hide behind your manager (comment by jnsaff2)
Whenever anyone asked me to stay late I referred them to my manager for them to approve paid overtime. Most of the time the discussion stopped there, but there were a few times when they decided to pay.
There'll always be people who'll try to shamelessly take advantage of you.
If setting boundaries on your own feels difficult, one strategy is to delegate unpleasant discussions to another person, like your manager.
That's not cowardice; that's saving your mental energy by avoiding discussions that shouldn't happen in the first place (no one should ask or except anyone to do unpaid overtime).
One more link: Do Nothing on YouTube (0:49) summarizes the "care less" category well.
Dictionary.com defines convalescence as "the gradual recovery of health and strength after illness." ↩
Walking is sooo much better than sitting or standing still. Blog post coming some day. ↩
To be clear, the comment doesn't directly say to "hide behind your manager." ↩