Developers July 3, 2020

How do you prevent yourself from burning out on a project?


As you work more on a project, it gets easier and easier to feel burned out.

Excluding the case where your product is already launched and successful, what helps you to keep going until your project is complete?

For me, it actually relates to code: it's easier for me to continue working on a project in the long run when the code is clean, modular, and the startup time when you begin to work on it daily is as short as possible. Also, when you have a solid grasp of your code base--that helps. Even though we cut corners to move fast sometimes, I feel that it is not always a good workaround in the bigger picture

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    I like what I'm doing.

    I might sounds a bit cheezy, but it's true. If I like what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and if I have fun while doing it, I will be very unlikely to burn out, even if I work like crazy on it. The real question is: how to sustain the motivation?

    If the motivation is medium to low, I never work on something more than 2 hours. If I feel I'm in the flow, I won't even count my time anymore. If I feel I get bothered and angry because of blockers, I need to force myself to stop.

    Another thing I do is the "5 minutes rule". Most of the time, the most difficult is to begin. I do a pact with myself: if I'm still bothered to do what I "should" do after 5 minutes, I stop.

    Sometimes, I stop after 5 minutes. Most of the time, I don't.

    Accepting that you can't be at your maximum everyday is a hard work we have to do with ourselves. If I can't work for so long on my main project, I will alternate with other things which are often related with it, or, ultimately, I will read a book and try to learn things. If I'm really tired, I'm going on Youtube watching some people playing Mario Maker :D

    I can relate a lot about your need to be fast while coding. If you're interested, I'm writing a book to create a Mouseless Development Environment, which was THE discovery for me to improve my workflow, automate everything boring and be able to begin coding without frictions:

    About burnout, I published an article about it which had quite some success:

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    I'll echo @MatthieuCneude - I enjoy what I'm doing.

    Burnout is a result of overworking combined with a lack of purpose / meaning.

    There are many tools out there to prevent overworking. That's an area you can self-diagnose and self-medicate through using tools like pomodoro, or simply picking up a new hobby and making sure you spend time on non-work stuff.

    Lack of purpose / meaning is more difficult to medicate. I think it's natural to lose direction occasionally and to have to navigate back on track.

    That is impossible to do though, if you're working on something that you're not genuinely interested in. I am not saying this is you, I am writing this for others who may be reading this; but too often I see people on this forum falling in love with an idea because:

    • they see someone else is having success with the same idea
    • they think they can make a lot of money from the idea
    • they have seen some validation of the idea

    To those people, I would suggest - take a step back and ask yourself, are you even interested in the idea? Can you see yourself working on it for a year, 2 years? What if I told you it would be 6 months before you made any money, are you still interested in the idea?

    Personal interest, passion, motivation - this is how you avoid burnout.

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      I couldn't agree more. Very well said.

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    For me it is to make a really visually and engaging road map. I made one for my app, ( and it somehow really makes me motivated to keep going since I have interesting things planned. Also, it's visually pleasing, not just a todo list. You can see my road map here:

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    For me I always have a side project that I like to play with or experiment with. I’ll work on my main project most of the time but I have a project that I keep open specifically for experimenting.

    I find learning gets me out of that funk. And once I’ve learned something new I’ll hop back onto my main project with new vigor because of my excitement.

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    I like what I do but that is not enough. I think about it every single second.

    In order to prevent burnout and boredom, I play video games and it works pretty well. I cannot think about work when I play and when I end the game, it feels nice.

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    I feel like each of us should find whats works best for us when it comes to balance between work & life. Balance = No burnout.

    Sam Ovens mentioned some important advice. No matter what happens in your work, if you have a daily routine and work is specified time blocks, stick to that.

    For instance, I work to 9 pm and start very early in the morning. Even I still have the stuff to do that day, I'm finishing at 9 pm. Always. Respecting myself and knowing that the value of my work will be better when I continue it in the next morning. Plus I'll stick with the routine which is crucial for the future results. From this routine comes effectiveness, high productivity, and good organization - clarity what I will achieve each day/week.

    That I would recommend to everyone, seriously it change a lot in my environment. What else made a difference?

    • focusing on the one thing
    • having deep focus blocks
    • arranging day to have shorter breaks
    • connecting with the outside - nature
    • mastering sleep
    • having 2 hours morning routine before starting work
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    I used to take myself to beaches and movies every week to relax. Quarantine has ruined this for me and for the past three months, I am at my worst productivity accompanied by stress related headaches, back pain etc.

    All ideas are welcome.

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    What has helped me is being conscious of myself and what works for me; then be very honest and recognize the signals. I know this is not the style for everyone, but it is for me.

    I have max attention span of doing the same thing for about 1 week. If I work on the same thing for too long it becomes a situation of me having blinders on and not being able to recognize issues with what I'm doing because I have gotten too used to it. I also get bored which hurts productivity. Overall this is not an ideal situation so I have to take steps to avoid this.

    When I realize that this is happening I have to change projects. In practice this means I work like a round robin CPU. Honestly I have stopped counting the number of projects and things I work on but it is in double digits. This is what works for me and I have been working like this for several years now.

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    Launched and successful? Burnout can still happen then! SongRender feels fairly successful at this point, and there are times when I eat sleep and breathe it…. but then there are also times when I can’t bring myself to work on it for like a month. If you need to step away for a bit, that’s okay!

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      I like what you have created here - all the way from presentation to understanding what the app does. It is very clear and easy to understand and I like your CSS work as well. Not a musician, but this coming from a fellow dev, great work!

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        Thank you so much! 😊

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    Burnout, as I have experienced, happens when all your focus gets on one specific thing for too long past the point of exhaustion. This becomes less likely, at least it does for me, when you have multiple simultaneous goals that are at odds with hyper focus tendencies. This might include something as simple as having a stable sleep routine, or taking a walk or exercise once a day, cooking a meal. Creating a stable routine helps to eliminate this kind of thing from happening too often.

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    I take breaks the time frame varies but stepping away from the project even for a day. Helps me think about a possible solution or the project itself as in something I would want to continue working on.

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    The easy answer for me is to always have something else I can be doing, so that I don't feel "trapped," but that's really more avoiding the problem than dealing with it.

    So, I've started trying to measure simple things that might be proxies to how I'm feeling about a project (what time I start working on it, how late I go to bed, how distracted I seem, and so forth) in hopes that something in there might provide at least a rudimentary signal that I need a day off before I basically crash and watch TV all day instead of doing something I can enjoy.

    It has either been going well or I haven't been too stressed. But that's obviously all to say that I don't think you can avoid burnout, just catch it and treat it before it becomes a problem...

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    For me, burnout becomes a big risk when I’m working really hard and feel myself losing excitement at the same time. It can be a dangerous cycle.

    I find the best way to avoid that is to launch new features or updates on a pretty regular basis (like every month at least) and then spend a good week or so after each launch just talking to users. User excitement and feedback gives me another boost to make it through the next dev cycle, as well as more confidence that I fundamentally understand what the next priority should be.

    Beyond that, similar to what you say, spend time working on an aspect of the product that makes you happy even if it’s not a major priority. Whether that’s organizing the codebase, tweaking some small aspect of the design you’re proud of. Anything that makes you happy while still keeping you focused on work.

    Oh, and periodically take a few days or even a week off if possible. Risking burnout just isn’t worth it.