Take a break!
Hello from burnoutville, population: Keith. I'm just starting a 3 month sabbatical, and am going to use the time to rest, recover, and plan for never ending up this fried again 🤞.
These are strategies that have been helpful for me getting to this point, understanding what burnout looks like in me, and some coping mechanisms to work through it.
Recognizing signs of burnout
Tired, but motivated
A major component of my own burnout is being physically drained and exahusted no matter how much rest I get, but still being motiviated to complete the work that I've attached myself to. I'll wake up excited to get through the work, and finish the day feeling completely drained of any will to live or be social. Everything I have goes into getting those little jira tickets moved from "in progress" to "completed".
For me, this comes from the energy I get from being a team player, and helping my team move forward on all of their goals. That gives me the tiny amount of dopamine I need to make it through my day, but not enough to do anything but work. It doesn't restore the months of deficit that have been created, but gets me through the work day without a crash.
Ever notice yourself sitting down with coworkers and spending a dinner talking about how frustrating and difficult work is? You're all going around, spilling the tea on teams and processes that are making it impossible to succeed. It feels good to get it off your chest, and feels even better that other folks are experiencing the same pains that you are.
For me, it then turns into a vicious cycle of seeking out those conversations, looking for the people who I know are going to feed into my already spiraling sense of "things are not right here". It doesn't actually make me feel better, or push me toward any solutions, just enforces that I have permission to feel bad about the things going on, especially things completely outside of my direct control.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool to help you prioritize tasks based on importance and urgency.
There are 4 quadrants:
- Quadrant 1: Important & Urgent
- Quadrant 2: Important & Not Urgent
- Quadrant 3: Not Important & Urgent
- Quadrant 4: Not Important & Not Urgent
Just the excercise of taking my workstreams and putting them in the quadrants helps me visualize how unimportant some of the things I've been prioritizing are.
My friend Sally Lait has been managing engineering teams for a long time, and has put together a great strategy for defraging your calendar. I try to do this once a quarter, and also use the opportunity to add emojis to all of my meetings 🗓️
USE YOUR PTO
❗ USE YOUR PTO
❗ USE YOUR PTO
❗ USE YOUR PTO
If you accrue PTO - Use it!
If you have unlimited PTO - Use it!
Ask for help 🙏
I struggle with what a previous manager has called Ruinious Empathy 💀, which makes it hard for me to ask for help at the right moment. I'm working to improve this, because I think asking for help when you're just starting to struggle is the most empathetic thing you can do, and really helps your teammates know what is going on. Looking out for folks who need help comes first nature to me, asking for help myself comes tenth nature.
Reach out to your manager, or the folks on your team when you're starting to feel the pressure of burnout. That's the point where you can reduce your workload, USE YOUR PTO, or make other changes that'll help give you the space to decompress.
If you find yourself anxious while you're on call, ask your manager about getting off the rotation for awhile.
Work != Life
I tend to work at places that inspire me, and make me want to build a better world. That's great and motivating, and has led to me making my life centered completely around the work that I'm doing. Taking a vacation feels weird, because what am I going to do? Just sit around and think about work.
Take a look at your calendar, and think about things that you like to do in your spare time (even if you don't think you have any) and start booking those things. What this has been like for me is:
- Buying season tickets at local theatre, that needs people in seats.
- Signing up for the "fun cheap SF" mailing list
- Re-joining my local pub trivia team
- Buying fancy park chairs to just go sit in the park whenever I want
Sometimes you can't take enough time to fill the void, or move your calendar around enough to make the ennui settle. I personally find it very hard to detach from something, and even harder if I haven't finished all I set out to accomplish.
It's not a failure to look at the road ahead and say "I don't want to do that anymore", or "I'm not getting feelings of success or satisfaction from this role". Sometimes it's just time to move on.