Uncharted Waters

Jul 25 2016   8:42PM GMT

Preventing Burnout

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman


I can see burnout on the horizon. I’m trying to back peddle, but it is still there.

I did a quick Google search on preventing burnout, and this was the top result:

  • Work with purpose.
  • Perform a job analysis, and eliminate or delegate unnecessary work.
  • Give to others.
  • Take control, and actively manage your time.
  • Get more exercise.
  • Learn how to manage stress.

The list makes sense, but sometimes those things just aren’t possible. Last Tuesday, I was walking into the airport in Houston about to fly home. I got a call explaining that a contractor had dropped out mid-contract with no notice and 4 replacements had been pitched, and they wanted me. I’m already working a nearly full time software testing contract and have a few writing gigs like this one. “Sure, sign me up” I said. It’s important to help friends.

So here I am with too much work till the end of the month. It isn’t glamorous, and working too much isn’t a sign of valor. Right now I’m taking steps to avoid burnout and still be productive when this ends.

I worked this schedule one other time in my mid-twenties, but that time it lasted months in a stretch. I’m realizing two big lessons from that now.


The first time I tried working way too much, I’d start in the office around 830am and leave the office around 930 or 10. The company brought in lunch and dinner to keep us at our desk through out the day. I thought I was being diligent by not taking breaks, but my productivity and  quality of work suffered. By the end of the day, whatever I was working on was so riddled with mistakes, I’d end up having to review it the next morning.

That was a valuable lesson. This time around I have a different tactic. I have been waking up around 5 and starting work at 515 or 530. Yes, working from home has some benefits. This early start lets me work extra hours and still have time at the end of the day for normal things like making dinner with my family and going to sleep at a decent time. I’m tired at the end of the day, and this isn’t sustainable, but it is good for these short stretches.

Life Style

Most software companies I have worked with have a culture of drinking and eating junk food in the technical departments. When teams stay late or work through lunch, pizza or sandwiches are inevitably brought in. Fridays are beer days, well, most days are beer days. The company was enticing employees to remain at the keyboard longer while at the same time pumping them full of food that wasn’t great for long term health.

This one became apparent when I hit my mid 30s. Diet and exercise, or eating healthy food and getting some sort of exercise as many days a week as possible, can help someone sustain a full work schedule when they have to. I’m sure you already know the consequences of not staying healthy; a few extra pounds, fatigue, and eventually the plagues of a sedentary lifestyle.

A few times a week, I make time to go to the gym during the day. And, every day I avoid the temptation of getting fast food or heating up something from the freezer. A good rule of thumb I use is the fewer ingredients something has, the healthier it probably is.

Now, I think the advice in that Google search was fine. If you can delegate work, do it. Learning how to manage stress is important for anyone, really. Sometimes none of that is possible. There may be no one to delegate work to. And, managing stress can take a lifetime to master. Right now, my silver lining is knowing when the work will get back to normal, and being able to build a plan from my previous experiences.

3  Comments on this Post

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  • Carlos Casanova
    Finding the balance is tricky, especially when you are in a services/contracting role. I've been in an advisory role for many years and know all to well that you have to carefully balance it. Key is making sure that you deliver on your commitments to your clients. There seems to always be a feast-or-famine situation that needs to be tended to. 
    90 pointsBadges:
  • a3aanWebTech
    I cant avoid having to work long hours, and while I have strategies to work less in the long run - i also have a very simple short term strategy. I keep Sabbath (no work at all, not touching my phone or laptop) once a week  - get some great rest - and it helps me find balance with Wife and Family - and somehow things don't fall apart.
    10 pointsBadges:
  • Kevin Beaver
    One of the things that I have found to contribute to stress, burnout, and generally not getting things done is the gross lack of time management on the part of IT professionals. I used to be one of them and, in some ways, I still am. Unless and until you learn to manage your time (which really means managing yourself, i.e. discipline) you're going to continue to struggle. For what it's worth, here are a couple of articles that I've written on the subject that I hope someone may be able to benefit from:

    27,520 pointsBadges:

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