Home Blog The elephant in the room: burnouts

Meditation I dislike all the negative images about burnouts, so here's a calm one

The elephant in the room: burnouts

Programming languages are evolving lightning fast, businesses are ever demanding, and employees are being pushed to the edge. Today's businesses are increasingly built to push people towards a burnout, and it's tragic how people seem to accept this to be normal. Employers expect their employees to slave away to make (unrealistic) deadlines, instead of scaling down scopes to make the deadline more realistic. SPOILER ALERT: There is a positive message in this post, keep reading. Also, the advice is at the bottom.

The problems

I've been on the brink of a burnout three times in 2018, three times. After the third time, I stopped accepting the fact that nothing was being done to prevent this from happening. So I took matters into my own hands and learned to say no. "Can you do this for me right now?" "No, I'm working on something else right now. I'll get to your task after I've finished mine." This helped, but also caused irritation and is not sustainable in the long run. Sometimes tasks just have to be done "right now".

Dealing with the high demand on you as an employee

To be able to keep up with this speed, I had to find hobbies that had nothing to do with computers or sitting still in the same place for a longer period of time. I started to do things outside, just anything, and this worked really well. But obviously didn't solve the root of the problem. The root of the problem was that work was draining and unpleasant. That's where I've tried to work with other departments to make it better for everyone.

To avoid irritation between the departments, I've tried to make clear that every single time we're being interrupted with a question it doesn't take just us the time to listen and answer the question to get back to what we were doing. It takes an additional 5–20 minutes, depending on how challenging the task is we're working on, to get back to work. To put this in perspective: we have three developers in one room if one of them gets asked a question, 3 x 5–20 minutes gets wasted. So the solution (for now) is to send the question through slack, this will still disrupt one person's concentration, but at least not all three.

Team check-in meetings

To come up with some ways to solve this problem, we had a team meeting. We're asking tough questions and expect tough answers. So for example: what didn't go so well this week and what would need to happen to make this better next week? Putting all frustrations on the table has, ironically enough, made the team tighter and work better together.

We've concluded that we're all feeling very similar about our current work situation and that we should put in an effort to get more work done while being less stressed, and having a good working relationship with your colleagues. The main goal: how can we do this together?


Make communication asynchronous, have quiet periods of time in the office, make it clear that interruptions are unacceptable. Those are just some of the solutions we've worked out.

Moving from Slack to Basecamp

One of the things that distracted us and often did more harm than good is the constant synchronous communication between everyone. Sending files and finding them later one was impossible.

Since we've moved away from Slack, we've been able to work much more efficiently. Nobody expects an answer right away anymore and instead just waits until the other person has some free time to check the messages and formulates a thoughtful message. The fact that you can upload files in a specific spot, instead of a chronological chat, it helps to avoid irritation. "I sent you that last week", doesn't really happen anymore. The internal communication has become much more pleasant.

Library rules

To minimize the interruptions, even more, we've worked out a few hours per day when it's quiet. No talking, no interruptions, quietness. We've implemented library rules (quiet times) in the morning hours and the late afternoon, so when people get to work and leave to go home, it's quiet. These were always huge moments of interruption because there is a lot going on. But now it's quiet and people can work on things. This really helps to focus on some of the larger tasks, while still giving people a chance to talk during the hours in the middle of the workday.

We've also made it clear to everyone, that interruptions are unacceptable. Everyone's time is valuable and you have no right to decide that your time is more important than others'. If you put it in this perspective, people will think twice about interrupting you. So far, it's helped a lot, people just send messages, and e-mails instead of coming to your desk, and this is great.

There is no golden rule to preventing burnouts

There is no golden rule, but there are definitely things you can do to make it less severe.

  • First, get a hobby that has nothing to do with your job. If you're in an office, go outside, do things outside. You need variation in your life, so figure out what's opposite of your job, and take that up as a hobby.
  • Breathe, do meditation. Your head is constantly racing and stressed, this is the best way to get burnout. So do meditation, clear your head, relax.
  • The last thing is, try to influence your coworkers and office environments to be calmer. In large companies, this may be impossible, but if you work at a small company, this is definitely a thing you can do. Smaller companies move more quickly.

If you've ever had burnout, what have you done to make it go away? I'd like to hear from you! Contact me on Twitter and share your story.

I'd like to give a huge shout out to my coworkers for embracing the changes I've implemented. It makes a work day much more productive and pleasant. Since the start of writing this post and with all the implemented changes, I haven't felt anything but productive at work.

Posted on: February 22nd, 2019

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