Most web developers start coding out of pure passion and later on turn it into a career. They usually learn to code on their own and then start working as a freelance web developer or as an employed web developer in a company. Whichever route they choose, they work hard and pull all-nighters or do overtime work to build the career they want.
Even though they start with drive and motivation to learn more and become better at programming, there might come a time where the passion for coding fades, and programming becomes overwhelming and stressful. If these symptoms persist and affect work life and personal life, they may point to burnout.
Developer or programmer burnout is a widespread phenomenon in the fast-paced IT industry. The web developer job comes with very high demands, so most programmers face it at least once in their career. If this sounds familiar to you, read our article to discover how to deal with burnout and prevent it.
What Is Developer Burnout?
Developer/programmer burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by extreme work-related stress. It is characterized by symptoms such as losing motivation and interest in work, mental and physical fatigue, and a cynical or critical attitude towards work. Burnout has become more common and exacerbated since the Coronavirus pandemic started, due to the fact that most people are working remotely.
Even though it is work-related, burnout can affect various aspects of your life, such as your family life, your health, or your friendships. You should identify burnout as soon as possible and take all necessary measures to recover from it.
How Can You Identify Developer Burnout?
These are the most common symptoms associated with developer/programmer burnout. Keep in mind that you can get all of them, some of them or none at all. The burnout phenomenon manifests itself differently for each person. To qualify as burnout symptoms, these things need to happen for a longer period of time (like weeks, months, or even years), not just for a few days.
- Loss of motivation and passion for coding. This symptom is very common, and most times, it is the first sign of developer burnout. If you notice that you don’t have the same motivation and passion you did when you first started coding, you could be on the verge of burning out.
- Mental and physical fatigue. You feel constantly drained and have no energy to code or even do other everyday activities. Physical and emotional exhaustion might be a sign of burnout rearing its ugly head.
- Feelings of isolation. Because you feel overwhelmed and exhausted by your job, you start distancing yourself from other people. Social isolation translates into loneliness, which can aggravate burnout.
- Feelings of depression and anxiety. These feelings are usually related to coding and your job, but you can notice them around other aspects of your life as well. If you want to find out more about how developers can deal with anxiety, read our dedicated article on this.
- Reduced work performance. Burnout causes difficulty in concentrating, which can notably affect work performance. This can, in turn, lead to a lack of accomplishment and feelings of ineffectiveness.
- Cynicism and Alienation from work. This translates into indifference to work-related activities and emotionally distancing yourself from your job.
- Physical symptoms. Some developers may manifest physical burnout symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. They are usually caused by the massive amount of stress they are dealing with.
What Are the Burnout Causes for Developers?
These are the unhealthy habits and circumstances that can lead to developer burnout. If you catch yourself experiencing these things regularly, you might burnout soon. Try to keep an eye out for these causes and counter their effects on your mind and body.
Spending 8-10 hours per day in front of the computer
This is a very unhealthy habit, and it is a decisive factor in burning out. You could do this willingly to impress your superiors and advance in your career or take up as many freelancing development projects as possible to earn more money. No matter the reason, beware that overloading yourself with tasks and spending most of the day coding can eventually lead to burnout.
Having a mundane coding job
If your job requires you to write the same code every day, use the same software and do the same activities, you’ll soon start feeling stuck. Your mind needs constant challenges so it can preserve its motivation and drive. Feeling like you’re never going to progress in your career is also directly linked to developer burnout.
Being isolated from other people
This is both a cause and a symptom. Being a web developer is a lonely career, even more so in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. As a developer, you usually have meetings to decide the course of action, but you do all the work by yourself in front of the computer. Coding together with someone at the same computer, also known as pair programming, can happen from time to time, but it’s not a technique used often.
Pushing your mind every day
Web development is a mentally demanding job because it requires you to solve complex problems daily. Straining your mind for extended periods will drain your mind and lead to mental fatigue, which is a burnout symptom.
Lack of exercise and sleep
It’s as the Romans used to say, “mens sana in corpore sano” (which translates as “a healthy mind in a healthy body”). If you don’t get enough sleep and exercise regularly, you will not be in your best form, physically or mentally. Having an unhealthy body makes it much easier for burnout to appear.
How Can You Prevent Developer Burnout and Recover From It?
You must be aware that burnout is a common phenomenon in the web development field. However, there are simple things you can do to manage stress. Keep in mind there isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe on how to avoid burnout or recover from it, but there are some guidelines that you can follow.
Take breaks throughout the day
Don’t sit in the same position for 8 to 10 hours straight. Make sure you take a 10 minutes break every hour to stretch and look away from the computer. Take an hour-long lunch break or even go for a quick. If your job does not allow this, it could be an indicator they don’t care about their programmers’ well-being, and you should consider looking for a different one.
Keep things fresh at work
This way, you can hold on to your motivation and drive. Don’t despair if you have a monotonous coding job that keeps you using the same technologies repeatedly. There are several things you can do. You could try talking to your superior and maybe switch projects or take on different responsibilities. If this is not an option, you can do coding projects that feed your motivation in your free time (e.g., try a new programming language, learn new tools, build an open-source project, and so on). Ultimately, you should consider changing jobs if this is something you can do.
Take a long break from time to time
Ideally, it would help if you went on a week-long vacation every few months. This way, you can relax and disconnect from coding. Start slow when you come back to coding. Don’t jump back into an 8 to 10 hours programming schedule.
If you can’t go on vacation, find something else that you enjoy, like a hobby that takes up a considerable amount of time and helps you unwind. Whatever it is that interests you will help you. If you are trying to recover from burnout, maybe you should try stress-reducing activities such as yoga or meditation.
Be around other people
If you are married and have children, spend time with your significant other and your kids. Hang out with friends and other acquaintances. This way, you can balance the feelings of isolation you have at work with quality time spent with people you care about in your free time.
Your life outside of work is important, and you should never neglect it. The support of your loved ones is precious, especially in dealing with burnout.
Exercise and get enough sleep
Regular physical activity can help you better deal with stress. It is also a great way to keep your mind busy and off work. Getting enough sleep restores well-being is directly linked to productivity. A healthy mind and body won’t get burned out as easily.
Practical advice from our team
Now that we’ve covered all the theoretical guidelines on dealing with burnout, it’s time for some practical advice. We talked with our team to get insights on how they prevent and manage burnout. Here’s what we found out:
Alexandru, Creative Tim Co-Founder
I’ve experienced burnout for multiple months in a row after having worked long periods. Now I usually stop working at 7-8 PM and move my attention to reading and listening to calm/Tibetan music (on apps like Headspace or Youtube). I also take 4-5 days of vacation every 1-2 months. Once a week, I smoke a cigar, which decreases my anxiety level for the next 2-3 days.
Beni, Full-Stack Developer at Creative Tim
What works for me is taking breaks throughout the day and listening to music. I also take short periods off work once in a while. During my days off, I enjoy traveling and discovering new places. Hiking is also a relaxing activity that I try to do as often as I can.
Dragoș, Front-End Developer at Creative Tim
Going to the gym is what helps me avoid developer burnout. I go daily and have been doing this for quite some time. Sometimes I go in the morning, so I am ready for a new day of coding, and sometimes I go in the evening to unwind after a full day at the office. Either way, sport relaxes me and keeps my mind off work. It also helps me focus and be present in the moment.
Rareș, Front-End Developer at Creative Tim
What helps me keep burnout at bay is working on my personal web development projects. I always have side projects and coding experiments because they are fun and a great way to gain new coding skills that I can also use at work.
Manu, React Developer at Creative Tim
“One of the small things I do to prevent burnout is to take a 5-minute break every hour, in which I do some physical exercises (abs, pushups, or squats). I also enjoy reading self-development books, so often after work, I pick up a book and dive into it for half an hour to an hour.
Ștefan, Front-End Developer at Creative Tim
I’m trying to find a balance between the work hours and my personal life. I usually spend time in nature as a proactive person or practicing swimming, cycling, or other activities like reading to avoid burnout. “Mens sana in corpore sano”.
Alexandra, Marketing Manager at Creative Tim
“Cooking is what gets my stress away. The launch break is my “Zen” time because I get to try new recipes almost daily, which makes me relaxed. I’ve forgotten about food delivery, especially since the pandemic started and I’m working from home.
Ana, Growth Marketer at Creative Tim
I use a Pomodoro timer to take short breaks throughout the day. After hours I like to relax by practicing yoga or meditating. I also try to take days off once in a while to unwind, maybe go on a city break or visit nearby sights.
We hope now that you know more about developer burnout, you will be more mindful about your well-being at work, and keep an eye out for potential burnout symptoms. Since it’s better to prevent than to “treat”, make sure you follow our guidelines from the last part of the article to achieve a healthy work-life balance.