There is a huge difference between dedication and unhealthy work habits. If you're someone new to the dev space then I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot of folks who tell you - you need to be coding every day, you need to be dedicating 40+ hours on top of whatever else you might be doing and only then will you be successful. I see the same thing among indie hackers/founders and really anyone getting "onboarded" to anything by Twitter and LinkedIn thought leaders.
I've been thinking through the nonsense I'll always see from some people about giving up time with family or giving up time with really anything that might spark joy for you. Sometimes we feel like we don't have the time to sit back and enjoy those things because we have some goal in our heads to become a dev, or get a new job, or launch our fifth failed startup. I should probably stop referring to all my projects as failed startups haha.
It can get hard to remember that your mental health matters. I've been in that laser focus period where I've forgotten to eat, to take a break, get some fresh air or do really anything that didn't require me to look at a screen and make clicky noises with my keyboard.
Around the summer of 2019 I was working on a few different things in addition to my regular job. I wanted to move up and become a senior dev as soon as possible and get a higher paying job because lets be honest no one really gets in for the junior tech salaries and most companies won't care enough to try and keep us by paying us what we're worth all the time.
Money is plenty of motivation. I've got loans, mortgage, and a family to take care of so maximizing my salary was always going to be the top priority to make sure all of that is taken care of. I was working my 9-5 and then taking no break and immediately switching into working on what I think was failed startup number 2. We had some momentum going with the team and I didn't want to lose it. I kept telling myself I had to keep going we need to pick up the pace and get stuff shipped. All the unhealthy habits that were coming up could just be fixed later.
I didn't have time to spend one evening watching some Netflix, or an afternoon playing some video games. I didn't have time to properly sit and eat, I just had to scarf down whatever it was and get back to work. I needed to just keep moving things along and getting things to a point where it could all be shipped.
I didn't have time to lose my momentum.
The problem here was I wasn't thinking about momentum in the long run, only what I saw in there "here and now". I eventually crashed and for almost a whole year after that I was completely burnt out. I couldn't get things shipped properly and all the work I had done started falling apart because I started resenting it. I started hating the fact that it sucked so much out of me. I couldn't stand what I was doing anymore and the motivation to keep going was absolutely lost.
Now my momentum was gone.
I was stuck and I couldn't do anything for my side projects and my performance at my regular job was suffering too because of it. I worked so hard not to lose my momentum and yet it was that constant hard work that seemed to be the cause of why it was all gone.
I'm not going to give you a framework for getting out of burnout, I'm not really qualified to do so. It took me a lot of time and ultimately it was therapy, relaxing, spending more time with family and doing things that sparked joy that helped me get through it. It works differently for everyone.
One thing I do know however, is that the steps to mitigate the burnout can be somewhat universal. The biggest thing really is taking a break and understanding that a break does not destroy your momentum. In the long run a break doesn't slow you down, it actually makes you faster.
If I had just taken some time to step away and did something other than clicky clacky noises and screen time I might have been able to turn those clicks and clacks into something awesome. We're often guilting ourselves or allowing thought leadership to guilt us into thinking that we need to keep working at all times to get anywhere and we can't stop.
This is one of the unhealthiest parts of the tech industry. It's something we need to make sure anyone who is coming into the space is aware of. We need more acceptance of just taking a damn break. Acknowledging that consistent small steps are always better than large ones all the time that may not work out. Small steps can show you that maybe you aren't heading the right way and the thing you're trying isn't going to spark the joy you think it will. Small steps will help you discover other things that may end up being better for you in the long run.
To my past self: it's ok to catch up on you favorite k drama for one night. It's ok to play some video games. Don't forget the people you're doing all of this for, none of it matters if you can't spend time just enjoying being with the people you love.