All of the signs have been visible for weeks and it's just been the last two days that I've observed that the doldrums associated with burn out have returned. Despite feeling tired all day long, sleep is not something I'm interested in doing until sometime after 2 o'clock in the morning. Interesting projects appear dull and without long-term viability. A blank page remains devoid of purpose for much longer than I'm comfortable with.
Why do I not learn? The symptoms of burn out tend to appear early, offering a month or two of advance warning that it might be time to slow down or disconnect for a little bit in order to re-align the mind. The reluctance to heed the signs has nothing to do with the amount of work at the day job, as I tend to control how much work I take on and output. It's also not necessarily the result of the stress of the day job, as I'm mostly removed from the politicking that creates 95% of all problems within organizations.
When the last deep bout hit a little over a year ago I did a bunch of reading on the subject and decided to follow some of the key advice that experts had to offer on ways to mitigate the cycle. One of the recommendations was to take up a new hobby so, me being me, I decided to invest in two hobbies: reading and writing. The theory goes that by consuming the mind with something that is not work, a person can generally go for longer periods of time before running on empty. This has proven true to a certain extent, but I've clearly been doing it wrong.
The problem runs deeper than distraction can counteract. Fact of the matter is that I've been thinking about work almost constantly for years. If it's not the day job, it's personal projects, or client projects, or something that I'd like to do in the future. The mind is forever in search of problems to solve and, so long as people exist, there will always be a plethora of suboptimal situations that could use some attention. While I've wound down the freelance work I do to reduce the range of projects that require attention, I've not done enough to actively distance myself from the subconscious problem solving that goes on. In the past I could do this with a few hours of video games1 or some long walks, but neither of these options are available anymore. They're unrealistic given the responsibilities that come with having young children. What's needed is a hard disconnect from the day-to-day routines.
What's needed is a vacation.
Reiko has been dropping hints that the whole family should go either to the Universal Studios theme park in Osaka or one of the two Disney parks just outside of Tokyo. Seeing as how the boy doesn't know any of the Universal Studios characters, it would make more sense to travel twice the distance and spend some time at Tokyo Disney or DisneySea … or maybe both. Going would mean staying at a hotel for two or three days, leaving the work computers at home, and actually being cognitively present while everyone has fun and spends several hundred dollars a day2 burning calories and forging memories.
The last time Reiko and I were at a Tokyo Disney theme park, we went on a whim and had a blast. This was easier back in 2010 given that we were living an hour from the park and didn't have nearly as many responsibilities. If we decide to go this season, planning will be required. Money and logistics aside, getting away from coding, databases, and the unending list of tasks to accomplish would be a welcome change. I have 39 vacation days banked and have avoided using them for the irrational fear of "falling behind". Given that the day job does not pay out unused vacation days, there's zero incentive for me to let more expire for the sake of getting things done … especially when the quality of my work during times of burn-out is so low that it's probably better for everyone if I disappeared for a little while.
Age of Empires or SimCity were excellent uses of time in this regard.
Disney isn't cheap. Not in the least. Three people going for three days would likely cost about a week's wages … and it would be worth it.