Thursday, May 20, 2010

Neuroscience: Burn-out Visible in the Brains of Patients

I just found this on Hacker News: Burn-out visible in the brains of patients. Since I've suffered from burnout for about a decade, this comes as no surprise to me.

Try to do pushups until you can't do any more. Now, wait a minute, and then do 50 more pushups. That's the best way I can explain what burnout feels like--my brain just feels like jello a lot of times.

I'm sure a lot of other programmers have to deal with this just like I do.

5 comments:

Donovan said...

Yep. It sucks.

Sam Rushing said...

I find that's the best time to take a break and kill some zombies.

Shannon -jj Behrens said...

Hey, Donovan. When I saw you at PyCon, your burnout was palpable. That's really a shame since you're such a creative guy.

Kind of like you, Sam ;)

Dan G Swindles said...

Not sure if you'll ever see this as its an old post, but your description of how a burnout feels is the closest to mine I've ever heard/read - 'how you feel after you've worked out too hard (and you come home and turn white)'.

You mentioned you've been burnt out for ten years, you've have no improvement? I've been burnt out for close to 2 years, I'm getting better, but very slowly

Shannon -jj Behrens said...

Dan, I'm still listening ;)

Now that I think about it, I've suffered from burnout since high school. I'm always a little burned out, but if I work too hard, it gets much worse--just like working out. If I actually take off multiple days in a row completely away from the computer, technical books, etc., I become like a coding version of superman for a day or two.

I've talked to a lot of people about their burnout experiences. I've heard of guys who took 6 months to 2 years away from programming, and that really helped. Since I can't afford to do that (I have 6 kids to feed), my approach is to continually mix it up.

Strangely enough, I get more burned out if I stop reading technical books for more than a few weeks and only do work stuff. If I'm always slowly learning something programming related in my spare time (e.g. Scala, Scheme, etc.), it helps keep me excited. In a certain sense, it's my sense of curiosity and need for order (clean code) that drive me when I program, so anything that contradicts those two things leads to burnout.

I actually have a long list of things that I do to help counter burnout. Here are a few of them:

1. I *do not* work on Sundays.

2. I keep a TODO file of everything I need to do. Sometimes I'm too burned out to fit the bigger picture of what I need to do in my head, but if I mechanically follow what the TODO file says, I can usually get some stuff done.

3. Exercise helps. I don't do that enough, unfortunately.

4. Users groups, conferences, etc. help refresh me (I'm an extrovert).

Best of luck!