11 Ways to Avoid Burnout as a Software Developer

11 Ways to Avoid Burnout as a Software Developer

Lately, you’ve started to feel your motivation slipping away. It’s getting harder to focus and you’re losing your steam way too early in the week.

It wasn’t always this way. When you started this job, you were thrilled about building new things and learning new technologies.

But now you’re bored.

And tired.

You’ve got years of work ahead of you, yet you’re wondering how you’ll ever keep up with the dizzying speed and looming deliverables.

You’re starting to get burnt out but have no clue how to avoid it.

If you’re ready to feel recharged, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled 11 of our favorite tips to help you overcome burnout as a software engineer.


1. Know When to Take a Break

If you’re constantly hustling, your body and mind will never keep up. You need times of relaxation and rest to keep yourself energized for work.

One option is to be more proactive about taking breaks throughout your day. Step away from your computer and do something completely different. Simple things like taking a walk or grabbing lunch with coworkers can be incredibly restorative during a tough day at work.

You should also remember to take time off. Finding time to visit your favorite beach or to hike through a National Park will help you truly step away from work and give your body and mind time to fully reset.

Note: While a long weekend here and there is great, it’s also important to take a full week off once or twice a year.


2. Become Replaceable

Now, this might sound counterintuitive. After all, shouldn’t you become irreplaceable in order to ensure job security?

But when it comes to avoiding burnout, this is a dangerous tactic.

If you are the only one who can do certain things at your company, then you will be called on every time there’s an issue. That means your evenings, weekends, and even vacations could get interrupted (not helpful when it comes to healthy work-life boundaries!).

Alternatively, if your team members are trained on overlapping responsibilities, then your phone won’t always be the one ringing when there’s an emergency.

Talk with your team about cross-training. Take turns covering responsibilities for one another. Create SOPs for routine tasks.

All of this will help create a safety net for you and your team. And when you go on vacation, you’ll be fully present instead of constantly thinking about fires you need to put out.


3. Be More Efficient

One way to avoid burnout is to end each day with a sense of accomplishment.

If you approach each day with an intense focus and complete a good deal of work, you’ll end the day with a sense of pride and most likely won’t feel pressure to take on work during the weekend or evening.

Here are some tips to boost your productivity during the workday:

Limit your personal tasks during work hours. For example, turn off notifications on your phone and only check periodically when you’re on a break. You can also limit social media and personal emails since they tend to disrupt your workflow.

Take breaks that are rejuvenating. Breaks are a great time to do something non-work related. Since coding is a sedentary activity, it’s ideal to incorporate physical activities into your breaks. For example, you can go on a run during your lunch break, take your dog on a walk, or simply step outside for a few minutes.

Incorporate the Pomodoro Technique into your day. This is one of the best ways to ensure you spend focused time working without running yourself ragged.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get a to-do list and timer.
  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes and focus on a single task until the timer rings.
  3. When your session ends, mark off one pomodoro and record what you completed.
  4. Enjoy a five-minute break.
  5. After four pomodoros, take a longer, more restorative 15-30 minute break.


4. Learn to Say No  

Saying no can be difficult, especially when you’re saying no to something that appears to be good for your career or personal brand.

But setting boundaries is essential when it comes to your long-term success.

What does this look like?

Start by setting time boundaries. For example, you might decide that aside from emergencies you won’t work past a certain point in the day and won’t work on the weekend. Hold yourself accountable by turning off your work notifications, avoiding checking your email, and refusing to take meetings past a certain point in the day.

As you establish these time boundaries, make sure they align with your company culture and that you communicate them to your teammates and manager.

You should also set workload boundaries. Start by planning your schedule in advance. When your boss wants to add more to your plate, let them know that you’ll have to take something off your schedule in order to make room for the new task. A good boss will respect you for being organized and will work with you to reprioritize your responsibilities.

Bonus Tip: If you’re ready to take a deeper dive, explore this resource about how to set boundaries as a startup developer.


5. Set Reasonable Goals

Most developers love a good challenge. That’s probably part of the reason you chose this career.

But if you’re trying to avoid burnout, it’s crucial to not challenge yourself too much or take on too many responsibilities.

Here are a few ways to set yourself up for success:

  • Be realistic when creating your daily to-do list. You may initially find it difficult to anticipate how long tasks are going to take to be completed, but over time you’ll get better at gauging this. Do your best to not over-promise on deliverables so that the goals you set are realistic. With some practice, you’ll find the right balance of pushing yourself to work quickly while still setting goals that are achievable.
  • Don’t fill your day up to 100% capacity. Instead, stop a little before you reach maximum output. For example, if you give 80% output each day, you’ll be able to end the day without feeling completely drained. On the other hand, if you reach your full capacity every day, then eventually you won’t have any more to give.

As you practice setting realistic goals, you’ll soon find yourself finishing each day with a strong sense of success – without being depleted!


6. Prioritize Your Health

One of the easiest things to overlook when you’re completely swamped is your physical well-being.

Even though it’s not directly related to work, your health has a huge impact when it comes to being productive and motivated in the workplace. In fact, if you’re experiencing burnout, your body will often send you warning signs such as anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and an inability to focus.

So what can you do to prevent this?

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Eat healthy food (and drink plenty of water!)
  3. Exercise regularly

Prioritizing these things will help you feel far more energized and able to push through each day.

Bonus Tip: Since coding requires so much focus and vigilance, a lot of developers end up relying on caffeine. While effective when it comes to getting through the day, it can end up backfiring if it prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep. Consider cutting out all caffeine after 2 pm so you’re actually tired by the time you head to bed. If you need an afternoon pick me up, try going on a walk, taking a cat nap, or drinking a glass of water.


7. Don’t Neglect Your Life Outside of Work

If you work with a busy, fast-paced team, you’ll likely encounter times when you have to work late in the day or even on the weekend.

While this is understandable (and even expected), you want to avoid it becoming the norm.

One of the best ways to ensure balance is to have other activities, responsibilities, and relationships beyond the workplace. After all, if you have plans with friends or want to head to your child’s baseball game, then it won’t be as easy for you to routinely work late.

Take a minute to look at your calendar. Are you leaving time for people and things outside of work?

If not, consider picking up that hobby you’ve always wanted to try or block off time to hang out with your family. The time will be well spent and you’ll feel invigorated when it’s time to go back to work.


8. Learn Something New 

Once you’ve been in your role for a while, you may find that programming can be quite monotonous.

Over time, it will test the resolve of even the most passionate developer.

So how can you stay engaged?

One recommendation is to dedicate 10-20% of your working hours to learning something new.

You could:

  • Master a new tech stack
  • Attend conferences
  • Take a class
  • Earn a certification

Build learning opportunities into your daily routine and you’ll rarely find yourself growing bored.

Bonus Tip: To make this goal doable, it’s worth finding a company that encourages or offers opportunities for professional development. If you find yourself growing bored, your boss will help you make the necessary adjustments so you feel stretched and challenged again!


9. Define Clear Long-Term Goals

In the short term, it’s easy to stay heads down and crank out your required work. But if you’re not passionate about your job and can’t see how it will help you achieve your goals, you’re bound to eventually lose steam.

To avoid this, take some time to map out your career goals. Where do you see yourself heading? Do you have a dream role, industry, or company that you want to work in?

Then work backward and come up with a plan of how you’ll get there.

If you can see that your current role is a stepping stone towards your goals, then it will be much easier to stay motivated.

This exercise will also help you vet opportunities and new projects as they arise. If something comes up that is completely unrelated to your future goals, you’ll feel more confident declining the opportunity. On the other hand, when a relevant project presents itself, you’ll immediately know that it’s worth pursuing.

Bonus Tip: Part of planning for the future is knowing where you’ve come from. Get in the habit of writing down what you’ve learned – whether that be on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly cadence. The main thing is that you want to look back and see how much growth has happened in your career. Simply seeing that you’re not stagnant will be a huge motivation to keep going.


10. Do What You Love

Regardless of the role you’re in, you’ll probably end up having responsibilities that you don’t necessarily love.

But when you do have the opportunity to perform tasks that you truly enjoy, take note of them.

To help make the process easier, grab a piece of paper and make two columns – one with the tasks that are invigorating and another with those that are draining.

As you identify each category, ask your boss to allow you to allocate more time towards the enlivening projects and less time to the draining ones.

Over time, you’ll be able to tailor your role into your dream job!


11. Find a New Job

Now it’s worth noting that there are times when the solution to avoiding burnout is to find a new position.

How do you know when that’s the right approach to take?

Typically, you’d only want to go this route if the source of your burnout is the work environment (i.e. the company, team, overall culture, or the job itself). These are all external factors that you typically don’t have control over.

Here are some steps you can take to make a good decision:

  1. Establish healthy rhythms that help you avoid burnout (like the ones mentioned above)
  2. If you start to experience burnout, ask yourself: Where is this coming from? Can I control it or not?
  3. Talk to your boss about what you’re experiencing. They might be able to make changes to improve your work environment (or even help you transition into a new position or team)
  4. If you’ve taken these steps and realize that the source of burnout is beyond your control, then it’s likely time to look for a new role. In that case, here are some tips on how to quit your job on great terms.
Bonus Tip: If you decide it’s time to move on, try to build in some downtime between jobs. Taking a long vacation will help you feel rejuvenated before diving into a new position.


Now Get Back to Coding!

Imagine your future self in a few years starting work on a Monday morning.

As you start, you feel a sense of anticipation and thrill. The kind of thrill you experienced as a newly minted developer working in your very first job. A thrill that propels you through the years and sticks with you during the most challenging of code releases.

With these new tips, you know this scenario is feasible. You have the tools to avoid burnout and experience a satisfying career.

Start by building breaks into your routine.

Then establish boundaries so you don’t end up working too many hours.

The future developer in you will be a much healthier, happier human as a result.

Author: Lauren Shetler

More Related Insights