We all want to perform better. We want to reach the goals that we have set for ourselves, we want to improve our quality of life, we want to socialize and build bonds that last a lifetime. So the natural conclusion is to squeeze every second of every day with the idea to do more. It is definitely a concept that is running rampant through the software development industry.
We create schedules and habit trackers and planners, all in an attempt to do everything all at once. So we have dedicated time for friends but we are too tired to be engaging constructively when we go through with our plans. We set aside the time for reading time, but our heads are overwhelmed by thoughts and nagging distractions.
This causes a feeling of guilt whenever we inevitably end up stopping to take a break, simply because our bodies are screaming for it.
Different people have a different capacity as to how much of a certain type of work they can handle. For example, I feel much better in small groups of up to 4 people. So if my work requires me to actively interact with dozens of people I end up feeling drained by the end of the day.
Additionally, I also have a tendency to take on more than I can handle. As a full-time student and a full-time employee I already have very limited time and energy that has not already been accounted for.
That being said, I have to be very careful about taking on hobbies and repetitive activities. I cannot reasonably assume I can allocate four hours a week consistently for reading, and hold myself accountable for it when I inevitably have to prioritize work or education over it. Yet, this seems to be a lesson I keep learning over and over again.
The term burnout has been thrown around a lot. Especially in the context of the current social situation. Now, from experience, I can say that it is a very real, yet invisible enemy. After months of trying to work full time as well as fit lectures and assignments within the same day, I reached a nasty burnout.
With me, I had increasing symptoms over the course of two months but only realized it after my condition was unbearable. It started with a headache that I could push through. Even though I still found value in my work, I experienced increased fatigue and my motivation to do things became close to nonexistent. I had no energy and I was also incredibly irritable to those around me.
By the end of it, I had no desire to get up or do anything. Working felt like walking through a fog, and it would take me so much longer to get things done. For example, it took me 40 minutes to compose an 8 rows email, whereas I can normally write a 1000 word article draft in under an hour. In addition, I no longer trusted that I was doing a good job and needed to repeatedly check my work for errors.
In retrospect, my body was screaming for a break. I was exhausted and overwhelmed for months on end and my performance and health seriously declined.
The more worn out you are the more effort it is going to take to get back on track. And if you are anything like me, the further behind you fall, the more you try to push yourself to make up for it. In an attempt to catch up with work I ended up working 7 days a week and pulling off all-nighters. Even though the collective work I was actually performing was you not only have a hard time getting things done but even attempting to be productive seems like a world-on-your-shoulders challenge.
It is, however possible as long as you admit the issue and take a step back to fix it. And the medicine is simple. Rest. Taking a break and allowing yourself to reset and re-centre your efforts are invaluable. When my condition reached levels I could no longer perform, I planned two weeks off. From the time to my request to the start of my holiday, I did as much as I could to close the gap between my deadlines and where I was currently at.
After that, for a week I did not do anything work or university-related. I took a trip with my sister, went to the beach and the mountains, read a book for fun. I slept as much as I wanted and did what felt right at the time.