Burnout

by Scott Boms

66 Reader Comments

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  1. Thanks for your guidance – sometimes its so difficult to just switch off – try to keep a routine and strict timing and you’ll remain fresh!

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  2. Referring back in particular to “Murray’s comments”:http://www.alistapart.com/comments/burnout/P20/#30 which are spot on along with the comments from “swag”:http://www.alistapart.com/comments/burnout/P20/#29, a lot of the reasons people burnout are entirely as a result of our own wants, needs and expectations being out of sync. External forces play upon those but as suggested are not the sole cause of burnout.

    It’s also never a bad idea to take an objective look at your own needs and re-evaluate whether they’re realistic or not. That alone can really make a big difference in avoiding burnout by helping you decide what battles are worth fighting and which aren’t.

    If the internal and external forces aren’t in sync (out of balance) then we’re likely to fall over. The extent to which they’re out of sync perhaps contributes to how long it takes us to get back up though.

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  3. Thank you for the great information! I’d like to add that one major factor for those folks lucky enough not to absolutely NEED to work all hours to survive, is greed and often an employer.

    I’m shocked daily at the classic American work life. 10days vacation p.a. and 60hour work weeks??? And yet, most European companies who offer 4week vacation and 38hour work weeks, get the same amount of work done…

    Luckily, I found a workplace in the US that supports family schedules, remote working, 3/4-time w/benefits, participation in sport and the arts, maternal/paternal leave, sabbaticals, etc… But I suspect my situation is rare in the US and in this industry?

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  4. I’m somewhere in the middle of this list at the moment. However, an issue I often have is swinging the other way too far – taking too much time off and not being able to get back into working. Please tell me I’m not alone!

    Thanks for the great article – I may print it out and plaster it to my wall…

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  5. This is very spot-on.
    It seems very puzzling to me that the same clients that tend to instant message me at 10pm are the same ones that turn up missing the day before an invoice is due. Does anyone see this happening

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  6. This was published at just the right time for me:  I’m retraining, trying to leave the Web industry, because I don’t want to keep trying to meet the always-on expectations of co-workers and clients.

    I admire your courage in admitting your burnout.  This business romanticizes overwork; I know I’ve been shunned or demoted when I questioned a project’s requirement for long hours versus productive ones.

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  7. This is one of the best articles that I’ve read in a long time. I feel like I have started to go down this path, but not near complete burnout. I love my work and am so devoted to it and to bettering myself and my business in the design world I forget about me outside of that. I think your article will help me live outside of the design world a bit more. I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually helps my design in the long run.

    Thanks again.

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  8. I think I could be experiencing burnout, or I am just too tired. I know that I have been piling work on, because of the fact that I have been laid off twice in the past year. Once in January, and just two weeks ago.

    It’s tough, because my wife is pregnant, and I have a ton of pressure on me. Especially since I am freelancing. I don’t know exactly what I am feeling, all I know is that I need to figure things out. Fast.

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  9. I’m only 28 years old and already I feel like I am facing burnout!! Everyday seems to tire me out and I feel like I am going to colloapse sometimes.Somtimes I think whats the point of working so hard, if I’m going to be too ill to enjoy it. I really have to slow down because in 1 -2 years that will be it!!!

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  10. Your article reminded me of workplaces when “every day was a bad day.” I said it from time to time. The people around me said it. It was everywhere. And we weren’t (all) bitter, selfish, resentful slackers. Burnout is contagious. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Really. Find something you like to do. Focus on it, focus on the parts that you like the best, but also acknowledge that long hours, icky emails, controlling IM’s and cranky clients may occasionally be part of the big picture. And if the good/bad ratio gets messed up, take as much control as you can and shake it up again.

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  11. thanks for the VERY timely article. I have had my ‘dream job’ for 18 months … and now the gloss is starting to wear off because I spend less and less of my day doing what I love and more and more time managing/hand-holding internal clients. Listing the signs of burnout is so helpful! Part of my problem is that I get all this ‘external praise’ for doing the things that lead to burnout! Lots of times people talk about my work ethic and how quickly I get things done – but inside I feel empty. This article reminds me that I need to pursue what satisfies ME, not always what satisfies OTHERS – I need to work on the balance aspect.

    Thanks again for the great article.

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  12. Thanks for these important reminders that letting work consume your life can have serious consequences. My husband and I run a small business together, which we thought was a challenge on its own.  Then we added a child to the mix a year and a half ago and found out was challenging really was. Suddenly, you place yourself even lower on your own priority list.

    We’ve faced some struggles with work-family balance, and we still work late at night, but we’ve made some changes too.  We make sure now that we’re both home for dinner with our daughter and that we always have some fun weekend family time. Having a child certainly helps to put things in perspective.

    Here’s hoping we can unplug on our upcoming vacation – our first real vacation in several years.

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  13. I really wish I’d read this about a year ago. Some of the bulleted items that indicate burnout really hit home (though none of the more sever ones).

    “Displacement of conflict (the person does not realize the root cause of the distress)” Check.
    “Behavioral changes become more visible to others.” Check.

    Fortunately, I got out of that job. Which I loved at first. Guess I got bored.

    Good stuff.

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  14. Thanks for this article. Avoiding burn-out can be fun.

    I really enjoyed “this short movie”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7JlI959slY produced by free range studios and “Dr. Mark S. Albion”:www.makingalife.com on making a better life. I don’t really care about having a lot of money, just enough so that I can enjoy living with my family.

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  15. Excellent article, spoken from the heart.  I’ve felt that way before.  I had a job that paid well with good benefits, and I wanted to cry every day while driving to work.  Although I had the job for 7 years, one day I just told them I wasn’t coming back, and became a travelling photographer for the next few years.  Eventually I became burned out on that as well, except I was a lot poorer.:)

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  16. Boy do I know what you’re talking about here… Thanks so much for helping me identify the signs of burnout. I think I’m experiencing a lot of them right now, to be honest, and you have reminded me to take a step back and relax a bit.

    Thanks again!

    – Cherilyn Woodhouse

    “web design,web site design,web page design,copywriter,copy writer,business consultant,internet business consultant”:http://www.bcwebmedia.com

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  17. Great article, i had my own burnout at the start of 2006 which is no wonder as I was running 4 different businesses and trying to do everything myself.  I think people see the internet as being easier and automated but the truth is that you can suffer from overload online much easier than offline.  Best advice you have given is to take a step back and relax take some time off.

    Automate what you can online and if you are needed do the task and take a minutes break the world wont end without you being online.

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  18. When trying to find a balance between my work and my personal life, I always try to remember that no one lying on their death bed ever said, “I wish I spent more time working.

    “Cyber Pet Adoption”:http://www.virtual-pet-adoption.net/cyber-pet-adoption.asp

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  19. Was simply leaving the laptop in the office a few nights a week.
    It was tough, but it’s made a BIG difference!

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  20. The topic of burnout is not discussed very often and definitely not in such detail. I guess the younger generation od professionals simply brushes it under the carpet and pretends to move on when they should rather learn to deal with it.

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  21. Part of my problem is that I get all this “˜external praise’ for doing the things that lead to burnout! Lots of times people talk about my work ethic and how quickly I get things done — but inside I feel empty.

    d4kc brings up something that was a real trigger for me in my own experience with burnout. Getting things done is good. Getting things done in a timely matter is good. Getting things done too quickly, and consistently means that you’re probably not focused and jumping around from one thing to the next. It likely means that you’re being interrupted regularly by small fires that need to be put out and that break your train of thought in solving problems – in other words “context shifting”.

    You can think of “context shifting” like switching from one application on the computer to another – each time you have to load up a new set of rules and information before you can do anything. This means you lose focus, and once lost, can be really hard to get back.

    The question to always ask yourself is simply: “Does it need to be done right this second or can this wait until this afternoon or tomorrow?”

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  22. Wonderful article.  I am still in the midst of trying to get over burnout after getting my graduate degree and being unable to find steady work.  I found it to be really inspiring, hopeful and I’m looking forward to emerging on the other side a stronger person.

    Thanks.

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  23. For the past 6 months or so I have been noticing a real lack of disconnect. I wake in the morning and check email first thing before anyone wakes up. I put the kids to sleep and get back on after having worked all day. Burnout happened months ago but I pushed through it not recognizing what was going on.

    I really appreciated this article as it made me pause and take inventory. It is summertime and I am motivated to spend time with the kids at the pool and beach more than ever. Thank you for your insight.

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  24. Marcus – I was more of less in the same situation – before I realized that I was burnt out I was checking email at crazy hours and working long into the night and brushed the symptoms aside which I really should have just stopped and took a long hard look at what was causing them. Hindsight is 20/20 but the article has done it’s job if it’s helped you even if only in a small way.

    Enjoy your summer and keep making time for yourself and your family so you can find the balance that works for you.

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  25. I particularly appreciated the part “Rely on a good process.” For a person that often walks the line of burnout running a web agency it is refreshing to hear others speak up about this and push back. Thanks for the tip on the email usage Franckg. I changed my email to only send receive every 30 minutes and that was a huge help so I can only imagine that increasing this will help more.

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  26. Although, it was written a bit late. haha

    About 3 months ago I quit my 6 year design/front end development career and started going back to school for something entirely unrelated to design, media, development, and the web in general. I cant take the industry anymore. Now it’s just a super-selective (almost hobbiest style) freelance gig for me.

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  27. Thank you for the article. I am from Bratislava, Slovakia and have absoluely nothing to do with any kind of design.
    But I am burned out, just browsing the Internet to see what the hell is wrong with me as I am sooo tired, frustrated and have no interest in anything. We are having a great business month at work and I cannot care less, eventhough it is my team who brought the business in. I find it difficult to even talk, my husband does not understands what is going on and I do not feel like talking about it.
    But I obviously have to do something about it and I will take in your advice. I am glad I read the article.

    Thank you

    Michaela

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  28. Heck, that’s a brilliant article. I’ve never seen something like this targetted at web guys before but by the same token I’ve read we’re amongst the most vulnerable to burnout, alongside doctors and the like. Now hitting my 30s I’m seeing these troubles first hand. My daily dose of Escitalopram keeps me engaged in my work where previously I had a spell where I just wasn’t interested and took time off with depression. Playing a game to give my life a meaning shouldn’t be an actual life and death situation. When burnout arrives it’s like a sense of self presevation kicking in, like your body understands that it’s just playing a game and wants to move you out of harms way in the name of genuine self-preservation. You finish up sort of intentionally behaving in conflict with your own values and aims which makes the whole situation pretty darn rubbish to stomach.

    ‘A little is dangerous’ and ‘planning fallacy’ are the twin banes of the web developer. Tasks come to you with an expectation, usually very much below the mark because an inexperienced technician will not see the full complexity of the task in hand, and won’t be ready to recognise their own inexperience. Couple this with the fact that an experienced techician will have a better idea but generally underestimates anyway ‘planning fallacy’ and you finish up hurtling into the abyss. The end result being unattainable goals and a sense of personal failure when deadlines are missed that drives a developer to do their absolute best and put matters straight. That absolute best is not something that somebody can keep doing for any length of time. If I was to offer advice, it would be to learn to let people know you care when things run over, try to sort it out without overexerting yourself, but never panic and imagine your career or reputation is on the line.

    This is the first article I’ve seen where there’s an understanding that a vocational techy can’t really change roles. If I was sweeping floors I’d go tend bar instead but I’ve put a real investment into my career and want to keep it moving. Thanks for some good reading.

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  29. The creative industry is a tough business and it will always be a tough way to make a living. That said, I probably speak for most of us in saying that, “I wouldn’t have it any other way”.  I love my job and a periodic creative meltdown is not something that frightens me … In fact, I’ve come to embrace it.  There is no point in fighting the inevitable, especially when it gives me the best reason I can ask for to take a vacation. 

    Just plan for it and if you are the type who likes to “recharge” on vacation, notify your clients well ahead of time and get an iPhone to track “fires”. I recently disappeared for two weeks and saved three jobs with a few emails.  It’s that easy to enjoy time off.

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  30. A very nice article. But do people realize that they are on their way to a burnout? Burnout is not a depression, but in some aspects comparable. If you are depressed you can´t just think: “Yes, I´m feeling down, but that´s only because I have a depression. So nothing to worry about. I just have to wait until the depression is over.” Depressive thoughts feel real. One beleves at that moment that this depressive reasoning reflects the truth.
    If I no longer enjoy my work and are fed up with it, it probably wouldn´t come into my mind that this is just because I´m getting a burnout. Being tired from too much work and knowing that ones has to take a good rest, is not a sign of a burnout. I think it´s a mental thing. And one cannot be 2 persons at the same time. One person that is living a burnout and another one that watches the first person like a doctor and tells him what to do and how to better his behavior.

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  31. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions over the years, where I’ve felt like wanting to run away from everything. I wonder how many of us have been ignoring the signs? A lot of us are feeling pressured into getting work done, in order to retain clients. In a recession, the fear of being out of work raises the pressure even more. I’ve bookmarked this one for future reference.

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  32. Oddly enough, I had a teacher who would take on huge contracts, work non-stop for a few months to the point of burnout, and then take a few weeks off.

    Having gone through a burnout myself back in 2001, it’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The smallest tasks seem like a mountain. Never again. Exercise, take time off, learn to say no. I’ve started martial arts, and the extreme workouts have not just helped against burnout but give me more energy, less sicks day and a clearer mind. Eating well is also important. Your body is a machine and needs to be taken care of the same way you would car for your automobile or computer.

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  33. Wow, this article is exactly what I needed a couple of years ago.  I had massive burnout, it was literally killing me.  I got out of the company I was in then thinking that would solve it.  All it did was lead to burnout in another environment.

    Luckily I was able to get things under control, even though it’s a constant struggle to keep from falling into bad habits that can lead to burnout.  The biggest help for me was to set very strict boundaries.  When it’s me time or family time, client phone calls do not get answered, period.  It’s amazing to me that today’s culture has become such that clients expect you to be there for them 24/7.  I even went through a period without a cell phone and the world kept turning and I was happier. 

    Today’s culture, especially in the U.S., seems to think that anything less than the type of intense work that leads to burnout is laziness.  It’s absolutely ridiculous. 

    Thanks for the article.  It’s a very important subject matter and you handled it very well.

    “Shiba Inu”:http://www.shibainupup.com
    “Shiba Inu puppies”:http://www.shibainupup.com

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  34. yes mate,  sometimes need to take rest and clean mind to :)

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  35. Neurofeedback or brain training is a great way to decrease stress and increase creativity.  My friend told me about it who was addicted to her Blackberry.  She was finally able to relax again in the evening and on weekends.  I tried it and it helped tremendously with writer’s block and creativity.

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  36. The article is well written for the most part; however, I disagree with the author’s comment regarding career change being rarely a realistic option.  Sometimes career change is a solution for those who may have exhausted all other alternatives connected to relieving his/her symptoms of burn out.  I am certain that most of us know people (if not ourselves) who have changed careers up to three or four times before finding the one that aligned with their personal values and goals. 

    Though career change may seem tough in the beginning, there are plenty of support services out there to help with the transition.  Also, in light of the current state of our economy, more Americans are using the effects of the recession as a means to pursue their passion or to find purpose, considering that job security is also a concept of the past. 

    From experience, a good rule of thumb for anyone considering career change as a solution to burn out would be to measure his/her personal values and beliefs against the values and mission statement of the company to which he/she is applying.  Sometimes a misalignment between employee and employer (company culture) may contribute to burnout down the road.

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