- Jamison Dance (twitter github blog)
- Joe Eames (twitter github blog)
- Merrick Christensen (twitter github)
- Charles Max Wood (twitter github Teach Me To Code Rails Ramp Up)
01:47 – Burnout
04:57 – Pair Programming
06:19 – Burnout Guilt
- Thought-workers vs Laborers
10:15 – Positive Reinforcement
11:18 – Causes of Burnout
- Prolonged periods of high stress
- Crappy jobs
- Long hours
- Organizational challenges
- Difficult work environment
20:41 – Overcoming Burnout
- Do something else
- Talk to your boss
- Twitter / @bmf: Burnout is not caused by working hard. Burnout is caused by not shipping.
- Measurable progress
28:17 – Short-term Burnout
- You Are Your Own Gym (YAYOG)
- Take lunch
32:17 – Reaching out to others who may be burning out
35:50 – Preventing Burnout
- Positive environments
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
- [YouTube] Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us
- America’s Got Talent (Joe)
- Storm Front (Derrick Storm) by Richard Castle (Joe)
- Derandomized – Khan Academy: Machine Learning -> Measurable Learning (Jamison)
- Get On Top (Jamison)
- Ben Bernanke to Princeton Grads: The World Isn’t Fair (and You All Got Lucky) (Merrick)
- General Assembly (AJ)
- AJ needs a room to rent in San Francisco (AJ)
- You Are Your Own Gym (YAYOG)
- Run 10k (Chuck)
- Nike+ Running (Chuck)
[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at Bluebox.net.]
[This episode is sponsored by Component One, makers of Wijmo. If you need stunning UI elements or awesome graphs and charts, then go to Wijmo.com and check them out.]
JAMISON: Hello friends.
CHUCK: Joe Eames.
JOE: Hello there.
CHUCK: Merrick Christensen.
CHUCK: And I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.TV. This week we’re going to be talking about burnout, I’m assuming you’ve all experienced burnout?
MERRICK: Does anybody else feel weird saying hello into a microphone? I feel like Joe sounded like this Texan guy. Like you never know what you’re supposed to say.
JOE: Howdy, partner.
MERRICK: Yeah, exactly. More like a response coming, you know. It’s funny.
JAMISON: You’re just rolling the dice.
MERRICK: Yeah. I feel like [inaudible] or something, so people know it’s me.
JAMISON: You just never know what’s going to come out.
MERRICK: You really don’t. Sometimes, I’m like, “Maybe I’m going to go Little John on this thing and I don’t know.
JOE: From now on, instead of saying hello, I’ll do this one, [sound]
JAMISON: Let’s get a soundboard.
JOE: I’ve got a soundboard here.
CHUCK: Oh, nice.
MERRICK: We could really, really degrade the quality of the show, or improve it, with cool sound.
JAMISON: I think we just have.
CHUCK: I’ve thought about getting soundboards for the different segments, like the picks and stuff, but nah.
JAMISON: It took us 30 seconds to wander off topic.
CHUCK: I know.
JAMISON: Let’s talk about burnout.
JAMISON: Can we get a definition of burnout, to channel Josh Susser.
JOE: You define it, Jamison.
JAMISON: I was reading on Wikipedia, as one does when you’re trying to learn about something. It says it’s a psychological term for long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work.
CHUCK: Ooh, that’s very good.
MERRICK: I like that.
JOE: A long-term exhaustion. Okay.
JAMISON: So, it’s not just like, “I’m feeling lazy today.” It’s, “I’m feeling lazy this month or lazy when I’m at work this month.”
JOE: Do we have to keep it to that definition, because that’s pretty dull.
JAMISON: Heck no. What’s your definition?
MERRICK: If you do a define: burnout, it’s physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
JOE: [Expression] I like that one.
CHUCK: Yeah. I’m somewhere in the middle. Long-term pushing it and then it’s like, “Okay, I don’t want to work. I don’t want to do anything serious. I don’t even know if I want to play.”
MERRICK: The whole physical or mental collapse, I feel like I’ve been physically and mentally collapsed for years.
MERRICK: That I peaked at some point in middle school and I just think, “That’s it.”
CHUCK: He had a midlife crisis at 14.
MERRICK: I did.
JOE: Isn’t that about the same time you noticed the difference between girls and boys? [inaudible] that what it is.
MERRICK: It’s [inaudible] ever since.
JOE: My voice started cracking and all of a sudden I’m just not interested in doing anything anymore.
CHUCK: I went through a period of burnout about a month ago. And it was about three weeks, four weeks long. It was pretty bad. And I’d worked this project for nine months and it was a full-time contract. So, they wanted 40 hours a week out of me. Doing that along with the podcast and everything else that I’ve got going on, it was just too much. So yeah, I had a hard time bringing myself to want to do anything, any work, anything. I played a lot of StarCraft II during that period.
JAMISON: That’s an interesting story, Chuck. Because it sounds like yours was caused by a lot of high stress, right? It wasn’t lack of interest in your job. It was stress that then led you to that. Is that a good assessment?
CHUCK: Yeah, it was stress and the fact that I was exhausted halfway through the contract. And I still pushed. So, I was four more months after I was already worn out when I finally ended the contract. The reason that I didn’t burnout before then I think was mainly just out of sheer force of habit. I’d come in here. I’d get on the machine. I was pair programming with somebody remotely and that helped keep me on task. And then as soon as it was over, I was just done. I just couldn’t do anything. It was kind of funny because I talked to one of the other contractors that they downsized us at the same time. And he’s still not on any contracts. [Chuckles]
MERRICK: You know, it’s funny you mentioned pair programming because that’s been one of the most strong defenses I’ve had when I’ve come to work and I’ve just been like, “Man, I do not feel like doing anything today.” That to me is when of pair programming is most valuable because then, I have somebody else using their motivation. It’s a lot harder to command-tab and open up Twitter or whatever.
JOE: I think it’s funny because I think two burned out people pairing really are going to do a lot, it’s like neither of them all of a sudden has burnout anymore. You’re just continuing to be productive pairing, even if you’re both still burned out.
JAMISON: It’s social pressure. You don’t want to look like you’re burned out in front of this other person. You can’t pair and just be browsing on Twitter and your pair can’t just be browsing on Twitter, even if you both want to. So, I don’t know.
CHUCK: The other thing is that when I was burned out, it wasn’t that I didn’t have the desire to work because I really wanted to sit down and just crank some code, even if it was just code that I didn’t care if anyone ever saw. But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. And I think with that situation, you’re both feeding into the motivation for the other person. Because the desire was there, it was the motivation that I couldn’t muster.
JAMISON: That’s really interesting. I think I feel dirty admitting this. I feel like I’m trying to come out of a period of burnout right now and I have zero motivation, still. It’s sort of coming back, but it’s definitely not like, “I want to code.” I do not want to code. [Chuckles] I want to do anything else besides it. I’m trying to find other work. Not other jobs, but I’m trying to focus more on recruiting and other stuff just to get something useful done. But it seems like everyone is broken in their own special way when it comes to burnout. Do you think that’s true? That different people burnout in different ways?
MERRICK: Yeah, totally. I think it’s kind of interesting too because we live in the tech culture and like the art culture, it’s like, “Do what you love.” You know what I mean? “Pick something you love.” and you’ll never question it. But my problem is then I’m led to, when I get burned out, then I’m led to be like, “Aww man, I’m not sure if I love this. I better go be a sandwich artist or a forest ranger or something.”
MERRICK: Something so opposite of this, to see if I like it more. But I think a lot of that advice is pretty unfounded.
JAMISON: The other thing that’s weird about burnout is to me, maybe this is just me being guilty, but it feels really selfish. If you are working at a plant manufacturing cars or something, you can’t get burned out. That’s called get fired. We have this luxury of waffling and saying, “Oh, I just don’t feel like working today. So, I’m not going to.” I don’t know. I feel really bad about it because they’re into situations where they don’t feel like working and then they go pull a 14-hour shift in some awful fast food restaurant. They might be burned out but they just suck it up. I don’t know. It makes me feel bad about it.
MERRICK: Yeah. Really, it makes me just feel incredibly lucky. Because I think that in this life, there’s a lot less self-made situations and self-made people than people like to think. I don’t think that concept actually exists. And really, where you are is a matter of chance and good fortune. I think, I have this exact same feeling. I see my mom who’s the hardest worker I’ve ever met and she’s working two jobs because she can’t get enough hours at this other job. And that just boggles my mind because she’s worthy of waffling way more than I am. But just because I’ve got this skill set that doesn’t take terribly long to develop. So yeah, I totally get the guilt.
JOE: And there’s a difference between burnout in a thought-worker versus burnout in a laborer too, right?
JOE: In a laborer, if you get really burned out, you can still, in your mind, turn to something more interesting. In a thought-worker, if you’re burned out and you stop thinking about your job, then it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at the desk even typing. You’re not, “Keep doing what you’re getting paid for.”
CHUCK: Yeah, that was part of my issue too, was that I picked up another client and I didn’t want to work on their stuff. And I felt bad when I was working on their stuff because I wasn’t 100% in it. So, I kept discounting my time.
JOE: At least you can do that. When you’re working at your company, what are you going to do? I guess you can stay late and work to make up for the fact that you felt like you weren’t doing a good job during your 8 to 5.
JAMISON: Maybe that will make up for it, if you will.
CHUCK: It’s still that kind of negative reinforcement, right? Because I get in and I do it and I’m like, “I got something done. But I really didn’t get as much done as I want.” So, I’m telling myself I didn’t do good enough. Then I’m docking my own pay. And that wasn’t a positive thing either.
JOE: Yeah. You’ve got to find a positive way to get out of it. Negative reinforcement’s not going to help.
CHUCK: Yeah. Well, that’s some of what I did. It got to the point where I was like, “Okay, I’m going to work for an hour on this stuff and if I get an hour in, build, then I’ll go and I’ll play through a level of StarCraft.” And crazy as that sounds, I was looking forward to StarCraft enough to where I was positive and up to close enough to 100% to actually get stuff done for an hour.
CHUCK: And that worked out for me. So, what you’re saying with positive reinforcement, that’s exactly how I got out of it.
MERRICK: See that’s awesome that you can do that. Because for me, if I’m not feeling motivated or inspired to write code, I just can’t. The stuff I produce, it’s just terrible compared to what it would be otherwise if I actually felt motivated or inspired to do it. But obviously motivation and inspiration are cheap drivers because they’re so emotional and limited. But really, I work an odd schedule because if I’m inspired, I try to take advantage of it as soon as I can.
JAMISON: I don’t know that we covered the causes of burnout super well. We talked about prolonged periods of high stress. I think that’s a pretty common one. Are there any other causes of burnout that you guys have experienced or seen in other people?
JOE: Really crappy job.
CHUCK: Yeah, and a lot of that goes back into either stress or I’ve had jobs where I got burned out and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t feel particularly stressed, but I was working a lot of long hours. I worked for a company up in Draper in Southern Salt Lake Valley. They basically incentivized us to kill ourselves for a month and then the reward was a pretty nice bonus and an iPad. After that month, I enjoyed every minute of it. I loved working with that team. There were a lot of things going on. By the time I was done, I was burned out. And it wasn’t necessarily stress, but you can only take so much of that kind of thing before your body just starts to give up.
JOE: So, just raw hours is another cause of burnout.
MERRICK: So for me this is uber-personal, but mostly just OCD and the mental stuff has a total effect on my burnout. If I’m struggling more with the mental illness kind of stuff, it cascades like no other into the, which is the vice of being a thought-worker I suppose.
CHUCK: I’ve seen that and I’ve seen that with the physical illness as well.
JOE: I think there’s a category or classes of burnout that have to do with development-specific organizational challenges like constantly changing requirements or lack of clarity in requirements. I’d found myself burned out a lot.
MERRICK: Oh, yeah.
JOE: Organization keeps coming and saying, “Oh, thanks for all the work you just did. We decided to do it differently. Do it this way now.”
MERRICK: Yeah. Or I think people asking you to do something against what you know is best as a developer. So a lot of times, startups, or not just startups, businesses in general don’t understand a lot of the good engineering practices. They’ll try and skirt them by setting deadlines for you or something. And that is just an environment of total burnout for a developer because most of the value that you get is in the work that you create. And if you’re not creating the work that you want to, then you’re not going to be satisfied with your work. You’re going to wonder why you’re doing it in the first place.
JOE: That’s true. Another one is extra fighting that you have to do. One of them might be fighting against requirements. But fighting against coworkers, right? If you have it really difficult to work with coworkers, you’re constantly, not necessarily arguing, but fighting to work with them.
MERRICK: That’s me and Joe the other day.
CHUCK: Were you watching that nine-month project I was talking to you about? Because there were one or two people involved there that were really hard to deal with. And I know that some of those guys at home, that clients listen to this show, and they’ll know who I’m talking about too.
JOE: And it doesn’t have to be like you’re actually fighting and arguing, right? It can be just that you have to work or the extra effort it takes to work around them and deal with them [inaudible] blow up.
MERRICK: Just the energy that you have to put into the debates to prove that everything is objectifiably qualified. Every decision you make’s qualified. It can be exhausting.
JOE: Too much bikeshedding therefore is another good cause of…
MERRICK: What bikeshedding? I don’t understand.
JOE: There’s a classic reference. One of you guys could probably explain it better than I can.
JAMISON: So, bikeshedding is when you argue about small details. There’s this story of this government committee meeting and they’re deciding how much to spend on a nuclear power plant. It’s hundreds of millions of dollars and no one argues because they don’t understand nuclear power plants. So some expert says it costs this much, it costs this much. Then they’re arguing about how much to paint the bike shed outside of city hall and they spend hours and hours debating what color it’s supposed to be or something, because this is something they understand and they feel like they can contribute to, even though it’s such a tiny little thing that doesn’t matter.
MERRICK: Actually, that experience is exactly what I’m talking about.
JAMISON: Yeah, arguing about small details when in the long run, it doesn’t matter.
JOE: Well, that’s not necessarily true because there are also times when you argue about things that actually are really important, and the fact that we should test.
CHUCK: That’s true too. In this project that I keep bringing up, we would have discussions on the requirements for the project, the different features and stuff that they wanted built in. And I swear, we would have one, maybe two hours scheduled for planning meetings every week. And inevitably, it would go all day because the requirements were poorly written. We’d get in and we’d have to clarify everything. And then the scrum master, he would take years. He’d take us off on a tangent for an hour and then bring us back. It’s like, “Well okay. But we didn’t accomplish anything. We still have to figure out what the requirements are.” Stuff like that just made it really, really hard.
JOE: So, another good one is management. But really, just bad work environment, difficult work environment, that something external to even the development team. If you’re company is doing things with your benefits or with your job, you’re worried about losing your job. Those sorts of things can lead to burnout.
MERRICK: I have two things. One is Twitter. There’s just so much…
JOE: A cesspool?
MERRICK: There’s so much negativity on there and I’m always tempted to put negative stuff on there. But I really like Twitter, but the correlation of burnout and my Twitter usage are right next to each other.
MERRICK: So, Twitter is kind of a burnout for me.
JAMISON: That’s funny because you’re probably the most positive person on Twitter that I see that tweets regularly.
MERRICK: That’s so good to hear. I feel like I’m such a hater all the time.
JAMISON: No way. You’re so happy all the time on Twitter.
MERRICK: Oh, good.
JAMISON: It’s a breath of fresh air, Merrick.
CHUCK: We’ve talked a lot about some of the things that drag us down, I guess into burnout. What are some of the things that you guys do to counteract burnout?
MERRICK: Can I make one more thing that drags me down to burnout because I think this is something that a lot of people fall into?
MERRICK: Theodore Roosevelt, that’s how you say his name, right?
MERRICK: Okay. He was quoted for saying that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. And that’s something I fall into all the time. I went to Fluent Conf and I was hanging out with Igor and Misko who were the tech leads for the Angular project. And the whole time I’m talking to them, I’m just saying to myself, “I am human garbage.”
MERRICK: Like the problems they’re solving and what they’re thinking about. They’re thinking about solving problems on the Internet as a whole. Or even when Tom Dale was out here for UtahJS, I’m just comparing myself to them.
JOE: The guests that we have on the show most of the time.
MERRICK: Yeah, the guests that we have on the show. Every time after the show, I have to go down a bunch of antidepressants because they’re so awesome. They’re so interesting. I’m just like, “Man, I don’t know anything about reactive functional programming.” So comparison is just, it rocks my world in terms of burnout. So, I’m just being mindful not to do it.
JOE: That’s not limited to just luminaries in the industry, right? You can compare yourself to a coworker and get that same kind of burnout. Anybody comparing themselves to Jamison feel that way.
JAMISON: Oh, jeez. Only if it’s the beard.
MERRICK: But if you look at TJ Holowaychuk’s, it’s like, “Man, this guy just never stops releasing code.” Like, “Oh my, gosh.” But when you stop comparing and start looking at it, you end up liking people a lot more because you’re not being bitter or envious. And you’re just happier.
JAMISON: In some ways, the comparison thing comes down to pride, too. Because if you’re comparing yourself against other people, the reason that hurts is because you want to be better than them and you feel like you’re not.
MERRICK: Oh, yeah. That’s because I’m [inaudible] for sure.
JAMISON: If you could just get over that and notice, use that as inspiration and not think like, “I have to beat Tom Dale in the race to be an open source wizard at age 26,” or whatever. It’s going to make you feel bad if you look at it like that. But if instead you say, “This is some really awesome stuff he’s doing. I want to learn how he does cool things,” then it can be a lot better. I say that because I’ve totally fallen into the same trap of comparison and notice that it’s when I want to be better than people that it hurts.
MERRICK: That’s dead on, man.
CHUCK: In a lot of cases, at least for me, it’s not only one of these things. It’s a combination of them that does it.
CHUCK: You have to be careful of all of them, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.
MERRICK: Burnout comes when you’re not thinking about the work itself but when you’re thinking about all of these things outside of what really matters in terms of the work.
JAMISON: So, should we talk about how to, it seems like there are three things. There’s the causes of burnout which we’ve already talked about. And then there’s how to get out of burnout if you’re feeling it. And then, maybe how to avoid even getting into it.
JAMISON: You want to talk about how to get out of burnout? Chuck talked about it already a little bit. It sounded like it was rest for you, right?
CHUCK: Yeah, mostly. And it wasn’t even just resting. I sit in my chair and I program. I sit in my chair and play StarCraft. Ultimately, I’m making a lot of the same motions. I’m just not typing as much. I’m moving the mouse and saying, “Go attack that thing.”
But a lot of the rest of it was just spending time with my family, doing the other things. For me, burnout has a lot to do with not being in balance. And the longer I’m out of balance, the worse it gets. And I realize that balance is kind of this thing of flux. Sometimes balance means that I’m spending a lot of time on work. And then a few weeks later, I’m spending a lot of time on family. And I get that. I get that balance can mean that and not just this constant I spend X percent of my time working and X percent of my time with family and X percent of my time asleep and whatever. But being able to swing the pendulum back the other way was really what paid off for me.
So, doing some of the leisure stuff like playing a game on the computer, spending some time with my wife and kids and getting out of the house and going and doing something fun. We went to The Living Planet Aquarium in Salt Lake and I know they went to the zoo a couple of times and we went and did some other things, went and played at parks and bike rides and all that stuff. Just being able to do something different and getting the fulfillment in the other areas of my life that are lacking, is really what paid off for me.
JOE: You know what? Just be clear that playing StarCraft II on the ladder is not restful.
JAMISON: Oh, man. That’s a sweaty operation.
JAMISON: That’s why I don’t play StarCraft II anymore because it’s just stressful.
CHUCK: I had just bought it. I bought it right when I got let go from that contract.
JAMISON: So Chuck, you’re in a unique position because you do freelance work. You have the opportunity to set your own hours and do vacation whenever you want and stuff. How do you deal with these issues when you’re not as flexible? Or say, even if you’re freelancing, say you’re in the middle of a project that has a tight deadline where you don’t have the freedom to just say, “I’m not going to work as much in these next two weeks.” What do you do then if you’re feeling burned out?
MERRICK: For me, it’s come down to two things. When I get truly burned out and I call if forest ranger mode, because that’s when I’m thinking about being a forest ranger, I just need to reframe it in terms of gratitude because there are so many people who work so much freaking harder and have not been given all the opportunities and good fortune that I’ve gotten. And so, when I’m trying to frame it from just an angle of gratitude, it helps me get through it. And get through it is really the term I’m using. It’s something that I have to buckle down and wait and pray until it passes.
CHUCK: One other thing that I want to bring up with that is that when I’ve had a full-time job and I’m burned out and I’m still working on a product or project like that, there’s usually some momentum that I can kind of ride. So I can still show up, get my work done and go home. In this case, I didn’t have any contract so I was just kind of not doing that kind of thing. But I’ve been in a couple of jobs where I was completely burned out and I just rode the momentum of the rest of the team and the project itself and just worked through it until I had a chance to recharge my batteries. And most places that you work, if they’re reasonable, will recognize, “We’ve been pushing these guys pretty hard for a couple of months,” and they’ll work something out so that you can get a little bit more time to recover. And if they don’t, then go find a new place to work.
MERRICK: And for me, pair programming’s done a lot. Before Joe came and started working here, I didn’t really know much about pair programming. I thought it sounded kind of ridiculous actually. But using pair programming in terms of dealing with burnout has been just really useful.
CHUCK: It ties back into that reinforcement that we’re talking about here.
JOE: Well, I do think it’s kind of funny because I find that pair programming is far more exhausting than programming alone. After eight hours of pair programming, I am just so exhausted and ready to be done. I don’t know if burnout is necessarily the right word, but exhaustion. I’m ready for a break. I need a break from programming.
CHUCK: I completely agree. But if I am having trouble getting the momentum or getting the desire to work, then having somebody else there ready to go, it gives me other reasons to do it other than the fact that I love my job because at that point, I really don’t love my job.
JOE: Yeah, I think it’s like a great workout. You can be tired at the end of a great workout but still be happy that you worked out and not able to continue to work out because you’ve completely exhausted yourself.
MERRICK: Yeah. The other thing is just to take it. Literally, take your job like you’re working on something that’s not something that will be finished. Treat it like an art form. Because then every day, you can measure what you did for the day and keep going. You’re not worried about this finish date. And it makes these really long-lasting projects, and I’ve been working on a project for about two years, and framing them like that is so much less overwhelming that, “We’ve got to get all this stuff in line by this date.” Even though you have that, taking it a day at a time is just so much more manageable.
CHUCK: The other thing that I want to put out there is that I’ve worked at places where if I was getting to that burnout stage and I recognized it, a lot of times I could go to my boss and I could say, “Hey boss. Look, I’m really struggling here with this. I’m getting a little bit burned out. I could really use just some time to recover.” And a lot of times, they’ll either cut me some slack while I’m at work or they’ll just give me the time off. And I’ve had both work and I’ve had both work out well. Then I was able to come back and be that much more productive when I was done.
JOE: That’s very [inaudible].
JAMISON: I want to go off on something Merrick said. I want to come back to what you said, Chuck, too. But he talked about taking it one day at a time and there’s this famous quote by someone, I don’t know who this person is. But it’s in the show notes, on Twitter, that burnout is not caused by working hard. Burnout is caused by not shipping. And I don’t know that that’s totally true, but I think there’s a key to coming out of burnout and that’s having lots of little accomplishments. Even if you’re not shipping a gigantic product, that can still help a lot. But you’re shipping something. So, you’re working on some feature and you ship a part of it and it’s measurable and you can say, “I got this done.” Because sometimes, it’s caused a lot by just feeling like you’re slogging and not much is happening from your efforts. So, if you can see measurable progress from you work, then to me, that’s inspiring and that helps me.
MERRICK: I really like that answer.
CHUCK: Yeah, there’s definitely some truth to that. And if you get some win that you really feel deep down in your little heart, it really does make a big difference. Because then you’re motivated by that, “I can get another success,” as opposed to, “I killed myself for two months and didn’t get anywhere.”
JOE: I think there are a few other things we can discuss quickly before we move on to that about how to deal with burnout, especially burnout in the short-term. Like, “It’s the afternoon, I’m feeling burned out. I don’t want to work.” That sort of stuff. I know I have a lot of techniques that I use to deal with that because…
MERRICK: Take an upper? I’m just kidding.
CHUCK: I get a bad case of that, the restless or the, “Gee, I could really use a nap,” around 2:30 about every day.
JAMISON: Why don’t you take a nap then? What’s wrong with that?
CHUCK: What I usually do is I just get up and go for a walk or something, even just down to the mailbox and back.
JOE: Yeah. So, going for a walk is an awesome way to deal with it. Working out, exercising, and taking care of your body.
MERRICK: I feel more tired when I do that. Of course, that’s probably because I’m so out of shape. But I’m never [inaudible]…
MERRICK: “[inaudible] I just worked out.” I’m always like, “I’m beating my body up and I’m not training for the Olympics over here.” I’m a programmer. What do I do? Blog or something like that?
CHUCK: People who’ve never met Merrick just added about 20 pounds to what they see him as.
MERRICK: That’s true.
JOE: Yeah. That would actually double his body weight.
MERRICK: It’s true. I hope no potential future partners are listening to this show.
JAMISON: Merrick, you’re training for your career in the forestry service though, remember?
MERRICK: That’s actually a good point.
JOE: I like to go to the gym and swim. And man, I feel so much better at three on the days that I swim than I do on the days that I don’t.
JAMISON: I’ve noticed that as well.
CHUCK: Yeah. You’ll feel better on the days that Joe swims too.
JAMISON: I think there’s truth to that, just in keeping up some healthy routines like eating well, exercising. I’m kind of an introvert, so sometimes, I’ll lock myself in a cave and that’s bad for me in the long-term. So, seeing people and having social interactions and stuff, those things all work together to make me [inaudible].
CHUCK: I’m going to give away one of my picks, but there is an app for the iPhone that’s called You Are Your Own Gym (YAYOG). Anyway, it’s basically body weight exercises that you can do without any equipment, or maybe with just a chair or something. And you can do ten minutes just in your office or whatever. And you just turn it on and do what it says.
JOE: That’s cool. That’s very cool. I think another really valid tactic to overcome short-term burnout is actually meditation. Structured meditation, not just go out and be quiet for a minute, although that’s probably helpful. But different kinds of structured meditation, yoga meditation and things like that, even though I’m actually not an expert on any of that stuff, clearing your mind can let you go back to a problem a lot better than you think.
JAMISON: I totally agree. I’m really bad at it but I’ve been doing it the last couple of weeks and it’s been really nice when I do it. Not that I do it regularly, but when I do it, it’s a big difference.
JOE: Yeah, for sure.
CHUCK: Yeah. One other thing. Sometimes, I just need to get away from the office for a little bit. So, I’ll go get lunch with somebody. I did this when I was employed, too. I’d be like, “Alright. Well, we need a break and we need to be able to talk and not be in the office because we need to talk about what’s going on in the office.” Just to talk through it and process it and get around it. So, we just go to lunch. Or, “Hey, we’re going to go down to 7-Eleven, get a Slurpee, or whatever.” And usually, that was enough. If there was something stressful or something that was leading us toward not being able to be as effective in the afternoon, we’d just get out. Just change contacts for ten minutes.
JOE: Yeah, totally. Breaks are a good way.
JAMISON: So, what do you do if you see a coworker and you feel like they might be experiencing burnout or are going into that? We talked a lot about what to do yourself but…
JOE: Try to get them fired.
JAMISON: Clearly, they’re not worth having around.
JOE: And then, they’ll do the whole burned out at their new job.
CHUCK: One thing that I’ve seen is that if you have somebody on your team that is getting burned out, they’re not usually the exception. Usually, you’re going to have several people on your team or all of your team burned out or close to it. And I think that’s really symptomatic of the environment you’re working in or the way that the organization works. And you need to deal with it on that level. I don’t know that you can necessarily convince somebody to change too many things about what they’re doing, but you can change the environment as whole much more easily and make a difference that way.
JOE: Yeah. That’s a good point.
CHUCK: Then the other thing is if you’re really worried about somebody, just say, “Hey dude, let’s go get lunch,” or whatever. Then just tell them, “Hey, I care and I’ve been watching you and you seem a little bit burned out or whatever. I just want to make sure everything’s cool.”
JAMISON: That’s such a great point because we already talked about this a little bit. It feels like this is a taboo subject. I think this was before the podcast started, like the pre-chat stuff. It feels weird, like we’re admitting these weaknesses. And people aren’t going to want to hire us, like we’re…
MERRICK: Yeah, it totally does.
JAMISON: So, it’s definitely nice. It feels like I’m taking the weight off my chest, that I experience these things, that sometimes I’m not as productive as I should be. And just talking about it with other people can help a lot. Maybe this is podcasting as group therapy.
CHUCK: I have to say that in all but maybe one instance of where I was employed, I worked with somebody who was, it was pretty obvious that he or she cared about everybody on the team and was interested not just in getting the job done but recognized that if everybody’s at 100%, we all get more done and everybody’s life is more enjoyable at work. So, having somebody around like that and then if they asked, I’d just tell them if I was burned out. Or sometimes I’d be like, “Dude, I don’t know if I can take this anymore,” because it felt like I could confide in them.
So just being that person in the office where it’s very obvious you’re the first person to look at somebody and go, “Dude, I can tell that you’re exhausted,” or, “I can tell that there is something going on here. Go home. Have a nap. Deal with it.” Whatever. But recognize that your family or your life or whatever is way more important than this job.” And the second you start helping people recognize that you value them as a person and that adds to what value they bring to the team, it really pays off. And then, you can kind of be the impetus to help people to go, “Okay. Well, it’s okay for me to take care of myself because everybody here cares. When I come back, then I can come back 100% and do my thing and just rock it.”
JAMISON: That was well said.
CHUCK: And sometimes, you’re going to be in a work environment that’s just toxic. If you can change the culture, then great. And sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do.
MERRICK: I think as an organization to help prevent burnout, largely it comes down to the level of autonomy you can give people. The more control people have over what they’re doing or how they’re doing it, the less likely they are to be burned out.
JAMISON: I really agree.
CHUCK: Yeah. It’s really true. The other thing is it’s not just about autonomy or control, but really just making it a pleasant place to be.
JAMISON: I think that maybe flows from autonomy though.
CHUCK: Yeah, but that it’s quiet or that it has music that everybody’s okay with playing or things like that. And make it not just so that people can express themselves however they need to, but specifically that everybody’s involved in making it that kind of place.
MERRICK: I think another thing is to have a mission. It seems like people who have a mission in terms of what they’re doing are much less likely to get burned out because the motivation comes from a different place.
CHUCK: I agree.
JAMISON: Can you expound on that? What do you mean? Because when you say mission, I think mission statement like, “We want to actualize key shareholder metrics.”
MERRICK: [Chuckles] No. When I say mission, I mean some people have a drive to give back to the web because they feel like it’s what made them, or because it can be a tool for good. Some people have a drive to simplify development for the web because it’s just simply too complex and we could empower more people to build meaningful web apps. And that’s a lot more than, “I’m trying to get paid because I’m doing this for this client.”
JAMISON: What if your motivation is just caremad, that everyone is wrong about everything and you must show them.
CHUCK: Hey, if that works for you.
CHUCK: But the thing is that, and we have to realize too that everybody, and I’ve kind of alluded to this talking before, but everybody has lives outside of the office. And a lot of times, that brings our stress level up and then it’s real easy for them to burn out when they’re at work. So, recognizing those kinds of things, it really does make a difference if you recognize that people are people.
MERRICK: Yeah. And also, that just makes work way better. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Oh, absolutely. And if you you’re working with people you trust and that are your friends, it’s awesome.
MERRICK: Oh yeah. It just makes it more meaningful and your relationships are better. Everything about it just feels better.
JOE: And understanding how people get motivated really helps. There’s an awesome book, ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink, which is about motivations, surprising truth about what motivates us. And there’s a really great YouTube video. It’s ten minutes long. It really gives pretty much everything that’s in the book. It basically says ‘autonomy, purpose, and mastery are what give people motivation’. So, if an organization can provide that. I’ll give the link for the show notes. It’s a great video for those of you — probably every one of us has seen it. But for people who haven’t seen it, it’s an awesome video about how people get motivated.
CHUCK: Yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s pretty cool. Alright. Well, is there anything else that anyone’s dying to add before we get to the picks?
JOE: I just want to say that my friends and I were IM. We have a special code that we use whenever we’re feeling unmotivated. And that is we use the line from Star Wars when they’re buying the units, when Luke and his uncle are buying the robots from the Jawas and the one blows up and Luke says, “This one’s got a bad motivator.”
JOE: No, I think there’s another really good tactic for dealing with burnout and that is with the Internet age, with YouTube, there are so many videos out there that are actually very inspiring. Watching inspiring material can really be a great way to get over burnout, especially in the moment. Seeing things that are inspiring and motivating, you to find whatever it is that motivates you.
MERRICK: [Chuckles] But then, you end up getting pulled into the deep wells of YouTube.
JAMISON: I was going to say, yeah, that leads to cat videos.
MERRICK: [inaudible] fight videos in Russia and…
MERRICK: [inaudible] videos. It’s a dark tunnel, man.
JOE: Wait, is it Russian dashboard cams?
JOE: Or talks on TED that are inspiring. Anyway, if you can avoid those, the cesspool it leads you into. But just stay with the motivational pieces, I think that’s another great way. Just stop for a little while and watch something motivational about getting things done and accomplishing things. Like last night, I was watching America’s Got Talent. And there are all these ordinary Americans trying to do something they don’t know if they’re going to suck at it and fail or win. Seeing those people do something amazing, I found very motivating. I wanted to go down and program again and solve the world’s problems.
CHUCK: Joe’s got talent.
JOE: Actually, I don’t.
JOE: Looks like I’ll never go on that show.
CHUCK: Overall, I think this conversation’s been very helpful. And I think it’ll be helpful for people who are going through something like this. Honestly, the last thing that I want to add to this is just that burnout is a symptom of something being wrong, whether it’s that you’re out of balance or that you’re exhausted or whatever. If it’s an organizational thing with the place that you’re working and you can’t get out of the burnout without getting out of your job, do yourself a favor and find another job. Find another job that will fit you. And realize that it’s not that the job is bad. It’s just that you and the job don’t fit. So, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal.
But I want to make sure that people understand that everybody’s a little bit different. Everybody’s going to experience this a little bit differently and we’re all going to go through different things when we experience it. Depending on what your situation is, there may be different ways to combat it.
Anyway, let’s get into the picks. Joe, what are your picks?
JOE: Alright. So, my first pick is going to be what I already mentioned. America’s Got Talent, the TV show. It just barely started airing a couple of days ago for this season. I think it’s a great show. Love watching it. So, I pick America’s Got Talent.
And then, there’s a book that I just barely started reading written by Richard Castle, who’s not an actual person. He’s a fictional character on TV. But he’s published. This fictional character on TV played by Nathan Fillion. And what’s great is the books have pictures of Nathan Fillion on them.
JOE: Yeah. They have his picture on the jacket. And then, a biography about Richard Castle who doesn’t even exist. I assume that all the novels are written by the screenwriters of the show. The show is about a novelist. And then, they’ve actually been publishing novels that the novelist in the TV show’s publishing. And they’re publishing them in real life.
Anyway, this one just came out. It’s called Storm Front and it’s sort of a James Bond, Jason Bourne type of character story, super spy. I read the one on Kindle. There’s one that’s out just for Kindle. Then this one just came out and it’s actually published and hardbound. The Kindle one was just awesome. So, I’m really excited. I’m just barely starting this other book. It’s called Storm Front by Richard Castle. Again, a book by a fictional character.
CHUCK: Alright. Jamison, what are your picks?
JAMISON: I have two. Well, like I said, [inaudible]. My first one is this blog post by a person working at the Khan Academy. It’s talking about their experiments with Machine Learning. If you’ve ever used the Khan Academy, they have these exercises that go along with the videos. They’re trying to determine when people have mastered the material. And based on what material they’ve mastered, what things they should look at next. Before it was pretty dumb. Oh, go ahead Merrick.
MERRICK: Sounds awesome.
JAMISON: Oh, it’s sweet. So before, it was just this list of exercise. You do them, then you get a little check mark for that subject. But if you did differential equations, it would still have this giant web of other exercises and addition would be like, “You should try addition since you did so well on differential equations.”
JAMISON: It was well-meaning but not the best. And they just detailed the techniques they used to learn when people have mastered things and from there, extrapolate what they should already know if they’ve done things and what they should try next. So, it was a really good read.
My next one is a game by the maker of that QWOP game where you control the guy’s thighs and calves to make him run, just a hilarious web game. This is a similar one. It’s called Get on Top. It’s two players, multiplayer but on the same computer. And you’re just these two stick figures that are holding hands and you’re trying to knock each other over. And it’s so simple. This guy’s games are all just one mechanic. Very simple, but super fun. So, this is our new competitive pastime at the office.
My last pick for myself is just, if you are feeling burned out or you want to talk about stuff, you can totally just Email me or DM me on Twitter, whatever, and would love to talk to people about this. Because I’ve been helped by friends lending an ear when I just wanted to gripe about things or when I was feeling down. So, those are my picks.
CHUCK: Awesome. And AJ in the chat asked you to pick his picks. Did you want to do that?
JAMISON: Oh, yeah. I’ve got to scroll back up to them. So, go on to someone else and then I’ll come back.
CHUCK: Alright. Merrick, what are your picks?
MERRICK: My first pick is this video from, I’m going to butcher his last name I think, but it’s Ben Bernanke to Princeton grads and it’s a commencement speech. The title is ‘The World Isn’t Fair (and You All Got Lucky)’. When you watch that video, just the fact that you’re able to listen to this podcast would put you in more of a frame of gratitude. I really liked that. I guess I’m going to post a link to that.
The second thing is mostly that I just feel super vulnerable after this show and I feel like I could totally be judged. So, I might be taking Jamison up on that offer. But if people want to Email me or tweet me too, I’ll love that.
JAMISON: Give Merrick hugs. That’s the pick.
MERRICK: Yeah. That’s all I want guys.
CHUCK: Awesome. Jamison, what are AJ’s picks?
JAMISON: So, AJ has two picks. One is a company called General Assembly. I think they do training in technical stuff. So, he’s really up on that. And the next pick is AJ’s plea for a room to rent in San Francisco.
JAMISON: So, get in touch with him if you know anything about that.
CHUCK: Awesome. Alright. Well, I’ll go ahead and do my picks. I’ve been getting back into shape, which is one of the ways that I combated burnout and we talked about that. So, one of the picks I already mentioned is You Are Your Own Gym. I’ve already put a link to that in the show notes.
The other ones that I’ve been using lately to get into shape, I’ve been doing a lot of running. And so, I’ve been using the Run 10k app and the Nike+ Running app. And the reason that I use them both is that the Run 10k app only uses the GPS in your phone to determine how far you’ve gone. So, when it’s raining outside and I don’t really want to run in it, I go down to the gym and I run on the track, which is a big loop. So, by the time I’m done, it says, “Great. You ran for 1 hour and you got 0.25 miles in 1 hour.”
CHUCK: Because I didn’t go that far. The Nike+ Running app uses the accelerometer in your phone along with the GPS. So, when I run on the track with it, it actually tells me that I ran four miles or whatever on the track. So, I tend to use them both and I really like them. So anyway, those are my picks. Those three.
And one last thing that I want to mention is that we ran into a problem with Feed Burner. It’s the same problem that Ruby Rogues had. So, you’ll notice that the first ten episodes of this podcast are no longer in the feed. I’m working on fixing that. But just be aware that over the next few weeks, I’m going to transition it back to the main feed that’s on WordPress, that’s hosting this podcast. And then, I’ll set it back so that it shows all the episodes.
In a couple of weeks, if you stop getting episodes, you’re going to need to re-subscribe. It’s not a big deal now, but I’m going to announce this at the beginning of the next episode. And then, when that episode’s released, that’s when I’m going to make the major transition. So, just a heads up that things may change here over the next few weeks.
And with that, we’ll wrap it up. We’ll catch you all next week.