Recovering From Burnout

Burnout is defined as a “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress” (Oxford dictionary). It typically occurs when you have been overworked or over stressed for an extended period of time and have reached a breaking point. Burnout doesn’t happen in a day, and can not be recovered from in a day. It’s a plague on the software industry because of our tendency to work too much, with too few breaks, and inadequate time to step away from the computer and just live.

“If you have any ambition for a better life, you’ll work hard. And if you work hard enough, for long enough, you’ll eventually experience one or more the symptoms of burnout.”

Burnout is an insidious and destructive force. Not only can it ruin your life and career, but it can do it BECAUSE you are doing the right things. It requires a different set of strategies to deal with than many other problems that you might encounter during your work.

Episode Breakdown

Identifying Burnout

09:11 Symptoms of Burnout

These symptoms are taken from MindTools. They are more dangerous than you might expect. That’s why caregivers often succumb before the people they are caring for.

Feeling negative every day. This can often be interpreted as depression.

“A lot of the symptoms of depression cross over with other things.”

Remain exhausted much of the time, even when getting enough sleep. This can be a sign of burnout or early depression or could indicate medical issues that are messing up sleep. Also pay attention to your dreams if you have any.

Feel little joy or interest in daily matters, including work, even if you enjoyed it before.

Feeling constantly overwhelmed.

“There’s a thing called functional alcoholism.”

Attempt to escape, either by substance use or other behavior (we each have our own). This can be anything from playing video games or watching TV to excess, to drinking excessively. A more insidious way this can work out is to get too wound up in other people’s drama.

Begin to feel physical symptoms that indicate things aren’t right, often without an underlying medical cause. Will’s stress level tends to nail him pretty quickly with physical ailments like grinding his teeth, excema, and headaches.

Lose patience with everyone. If you find yourself attributing things to malice that are easily explained by stupidity or lack of attention, that’s a clue about you more than it is about the other people.

28:00 Behaviors and Situations Driving us to Burnout

One way to think of this is like a bank account. You might be able to handle spending a lot for a little while, but every bit of overspending eats away at your reserves.

“The never ending sprint planning.”

Working too much, especially on tasks that seem never ending. Eighty hour workweeks are not sustainable.

Stressors in personal life that make it so that going home doesn’t give you a break.

Missing out on important parts of your personal life due to work and other obligations.

Inability (real or imagined) to take a real break without taking work with you. Happens to entrepreneurs and senior developers at small companies frequently.

“I went through that when in medical school already in burn out.”

Major life changing events, like the birth of a child, getting married, the death of a parent or spouse, etc.

35:22 Warning Signs

An increasing sense of resentment towards others.

Feeling like you are losing control over more and more of your life.

A desire to escape using sleep, shop, or use mind-altering substances more frequently, including caffeine and alcohol.

Perseveration over minor events during the day that normally wouldn’t have bothered you.

Inability to disconnect from work (or whatever is stressing you out).

A sinking feeling that you are getting behind and there is no way to catch up.


Impaired concentration or attention.

Cynicism and detachment.

Degraded immune response

Much quicker temper.

Isolation and diminished desire to help others.

Recovering From Burnout

42:23 Short Term

“It’s amazing how much perspective a good night’s sleep puts on things.”

Take a break of several days and assess the situation after you’ve had some time off and some sleep. Fix the things that may throw off your assessment of the situation before you start trying to come up with ways to fix it. Decide how to fix things when they still hurt a little, but get away from the worst of it so you can still be reasonable.

Remove as many major stressors as you can. Get help with the stressors that you can’t remove. The point of the short term fixes is NOT to try and spot patch the problem, but to give you the resources and time to fix it over the longer term.

47:20 Long Term

If burnout has been particularly severe, it cannot be recovered from even with a vacation of a couple weeks. Instead it requires a more holistic approach to life that not only takes away the pressure, but that helps to keep it from building up again.

“We have to look at how that method is going to interact with our entire application.”

You may need to re-evaluate your life goals to be more realistic. You should be re-evaluating life goals regularly anyway. You’ll find they change even without burnout.

You might also need to take a leave of absence for a good long while, instead of a regular vacation, if you have the funds to do so. This is pretty hard to swing for most of us. Additionally, as many people get burnt out, they tend to spend a lot more money than normal, eating into their reserves.

IoTease: Online Course

Hackrod: Hot-Rodding for the 21st century



Mickey McManus, Chairman of MAYA Design and a research fellow at Autodesk, gives a two hour talk about combing IoT, machine learning, and digital manufacturing by looking at an industry that is already being disrupted, the automotive industry.

For this project they started with people like my uncle that are fans of the car and build their own. The research looks into the how what is being built is transitioning from “dead” to “alive” in that they can sense their surroundings and even create new iterations based on that data collected. They even get into some interesting medical tech looking at EEGs of people as they are driving and racing to see where the stress points are located. The video finishes with a panel on the the future of manufacturing.

Tricks of the Trade

I have to relate an anecdote that I observed. I have an acquaintance who teaches self defense who was pretty rough when he was younger, but now teaches people how to avoid the kind of problems that violence creates, especially the legal ones. Anyway, he was asked how to escape being tied up when being kidnapped and I thought his response was interesting. His response was “start by not living the kind of lifestyle where being kidnapped and tied up is likely”. He did offer some ideas after, but I thought this was a pretty profound (if entirely obvious thing) that bears repeating. Don’t spend more time thinking about how to get out of a bad situation than you spent figuring out how not to get into it. The stuff we are talking about here in regards to burnout is a good example of that – you are far better off having good habits that keep you from severe burnout than you are trying to clean up the damage from allowing yourself to get into that state.

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