Zach Adams Web Developer and Programmer

How to Prevent Burnout in IT

January 27, 2015

Burnout is one of the greatest threats to people working in a technical field. Many of us enjoy our work, or at least parts of it, and are willing to work hours that would make others run in fear. In my opinion and experience this is a result of a culture that has taught us that working long and sleepless hours results in immediate success and rewards. Sometimes this is true, and it’s well worth the lost night of sleep or lack of a good meal, however most times it isn’t, and it’s hurting you. It’s more important that you figure out what routine works best for you and exactly how much variance in that routine you can handle without hurting your mind or body, and that’s what I hope to help you with.

According to Wikipedia which is never wrong (</sarcasm>), Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. It’s kind of a vague term, however it’s because of that vagueness that it’s so dangerous. Many of you have probably experienced a Burnout of some extent or another, some are relatively harmless and can be fixed by a good vacation somewhere far away, however some are subtle and dangerous. According to a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology in 2013 [1], people who experienced Burnout had the same number of depressive symptoms as clinically depressed people. That’s f***ing terrifying. For those who have not ever been clinically depressed, those who have will tell you that it’s something you want to avoid at all costs.

IT is not an easy field. Ok for some of you it is, however for those who are not equipped to handle the stress of the job, IT is very unforgiving. People take for granted how complicated computers are everyday. They just “expect it to work”, and are very annoyed when it doesn’t. The video below demonstrates my feelings toward this kind of thinking.

(NSFW Audio)

Most people in IT are forced to take crap from people even when it’s completely not their fault, and for some this can cause a major buildup of stress and resentment that can often get very dangerous.

It’s important to recognize the early symptoms of both Burnout and depression, and treat them like you would any other malignant disease. Treat the tips below as you would somebody telling you to make sure you “Brush your teeth”. Many of them are obvious, and because they are obvious they are repeated everywhere and their significance is diminished. However they are entirely necessary to maintaining a balanced mind and body both in IT and in general.

Tip 1. See a doctor

No, I’m being serious. If you haven’t seen your doctor in the last 3 to 6 months, make an appointment now. Tell your doctor about how you’re feeling about your job and your life, and make sure you’re honest. You DO NOT have to feel embarrassed or scared about telling him you’re feeling depressed, or even that you’re feeling down lately. They can and will help you no matter what.

If there’s any tip on this list that I want you to follow, it’s this one.

Tip 2. Exercise

This is kind of one of those “No S**t Sherlock” tips. It’s one that everybody says but few follow. Exercise alone will ward off Burnout better than anything else on this list (except Tip 1). Everybody and their cousin and their cousins dog and their cousins dogs chew toy has written an article about which method of exercising is the best, and most of them are wrong. The best form of exercise is the exercise that works best for you. Whether that’s hitting the gym, taking a light jog or a hardcore mountain bike trip, so long as you’re out there doing something it’s better than nothing. My general rule is that you need 3 days of hard exercise every week, and by hard exercise I mean more than 60 minutes of running, biking, lifting weights, whatever. If you happen to live in the best city on Earth [Citation Needed] Boise, then you have access to some of the best Mountain Biking trails in the world just 5-15 minutes away. No matter where you live there’s something nearby that I guarantee will be fun and provide you with hard exercise. Go find it.

Tip 3. Get a Hobby

This is kind of a general tip. Everybody has hobbies, whether it’s video games or arguing on the internet, you probably have something that fills the time. If you’re anything like me, you spend around 6-8 hours looking at a screen (Flux FTW). The last thing I want to do when I get home is look at a screen again unless that screen contains a new Game of Thrones episode. Some of you are probably different, and that’s ok, but hear me out. For most of you, your computer is a source of work as well as a source of entertainment and relaxation. However we become attached to our computers, and that can mess with your body in weird ways. Take an hour or two when you get home from work and do something with your hands other than typing. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to not feel like you need to check or post something, and that’s a good feeling.

There are tons of weird and fun hobbies out there. Although it seems childish, I’m a huge fan of Legos. It’s extremely relaxing and it’s nice to follow simple instructions to make something cool, plus it gets me away from a computer. My recommendation is to find a hobby that doesn’t involve a screen or a keyboard.

Tip 4. Say No

Boss or client ask you to do something not originally agreed upon? Say no. You are not the magical work fairy who grants free code, you’re a professional. It was your bosses or clients responsibility to understand what was expected of you, and if they can’t handle that then they aren’t worthy of you. It’s good to know where your work and client limits are, and make sure they are clearly outlined before you begin work. Most bosses and clients are understanding and cool, however there certainly are some that don’t. You do not have to work for a client or boss who will not respect your personal or professional space. You can quit your job or fire a client (just be respectful about it). This is a giant f**king planet filled with 7 billion people and you have tons of time, there will be another opportunity for you and it’s not worth risking a Burnout or depression to keep them around.

Tip 5. Be Nice

Kind of a silly tip, but a good step towards making yourself feel better is to make others feel good also. It’s the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Don’t act like there’s somebody watching you keeping a tally, then you’re just doing it for them, and not for you. Be nice to people because you want to be nice. Don’t expect to be rewarded for being kind to others, however helping others sparks a small part of us that makes us feel good, and sometimes that’s enough to help pull us out of whatever we’re going through.

[1] Bianchi, R., Boffy, C., Hingray, C., Truchot, D., & Laurent, E. (2013). Comparative symptomatology of burnout and depression. Journal of Health Psychology, 18(6), 782-787.

If you feel like you’re going through either a Burnout or a depression and feel like you don’t have anybody to talk to, feel free to email me at [email protected]. I know a little of what you’re feeling, so even if it’s just a rant, I’ll listen!

Also feel free to post to forums like:

And remember that you can call the National Suicide Hotline if you’re in distress: 1 (800) 273-8255

Lastly I’d just like to say that you’re awesome. No really. You are a unique part of the universe and whatever you’ve been through or are going through, it will help you become a better, more awesomer person than you already are.


Andrew says:
January 28th 2015 at 12:00am
Hey Zach, how you going? a good post i would like to add another tip if i may and that is to stay away from alcohol i mean stop altogether not the moderation type. After 25 years of steady drinking i have recently given it the flick and i can tell you after being 7 weeks without a drink it makes a big difference.

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