Burnout is a very normal part of my professional life as it is something that has come aruond every 18 to 24 months since high school. I get into periods of high output creativity that sparks a great deal of work and motivates me to push hard to eke out as much as I possibly can. Unfortunately, pushing hard often results in pushing too hard, which leads to exhaustion. Exhaustion leads to reduced creativity. Reduced creativity leads to a loss of motivation. From here, I can either slip into a self-defeating, seemingly nihilistic attitude towards my efforts or extreme indifference ... which is quite similar to other1.
Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to be part of a project at the day job that involves dozens of colleagues from offices across the globe. The project is ultimately in line with the sort of things that I tend to do within a corporate IT department, but there's just something about this project that does not give me the satisfaction that I typically look for in my work. Yes, the people I'm working with are quite smart, meaning I can learn quite a bit while coordinating with them. The ultimate goal of the work is good for everyone within the organisation as well as our students. The payoff at the end of the project2 is also quite good. But I've lost interest.
All the Thinking. None of the Doing.
Some mild introspection helped me come to the conclusion that I'm likely worn out because I'm doing a lot of thinking, but very little doing. When creating things, a person will often alternate between the two, with a good deal of thought up front, then lots of activity with moderate amounts of thinking up until a task or sub-task is complete. Then repeat. This variation of work allows a person — such as me — to remain interested in something longer. With the current project, I'm not in a development nor data management role anymore. Instead, I am writing reports, outlining plans, defining requirements, and following up with people for as many as 14 hours a day. A vastly different set of skills where the feeling of accomplishment is much harder to achieve. When the start of every day's task list looks the same, how does one find the motivation?
In an effort to shake myself out of the mental rut, I've started to invest a bit more time during the day into 10Cv5. The core elements of the system are mostly complete and now what I really need is a series of tools that will allow people to interact with the service. This means native applications, not web apps. As these will be the first applications I've written in two years, dusting off the mental cobwebs should be good to help rekindle the creative energies that seem to have dwindled in recent months.
Burn out usually costs me between three and six months of time. Perhaps by switching things up a bit and not thinking so much about the day job, this round of negativity can be reduced to just a handful of weeks.
While it's true that a whole lot of good has happened in my life the last few years, mental exhaustion and a loss of motivation cannot be avoided. These things happen, particularly when people are sleep deprived or feeling constantly pressured for time.
- Some people don't call this burn out, but pedants are often as fun to communicate with as conservative religious dogmatists. Burnout is typically defined as a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. ↩
- It's not a financial payoff, but a career-development milestone. From here it's completely within the realm of possibility that I move into senior positions for the rest of my time at the day job. ↩