How do you deal with burnout and low motivation?

rjpsyco009 profile image Ryan Norton ・1 min read

The past few months have been a no-code zone for me. I've literally gotten nothing done with Java. Most of that attributes to my being so busy writing papers for school, and my degree will be complete after my current course. It focused mainly on the documentation rather than actual code. I've been a bit overwhelmed and when I did have time to code, I just didn't. I was burned out. My candle was down to the nub.

I had a much needed break and am motivated again, but is there any advice for preventing this burnout from happening again? I don't want to waste another 3 months ever again.


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I recently experienced this (to a lesser degree still do). What I do is take a break from coding (apart from my day job which requires I code). Do something, different that relaxes your mind. When your ready to get back to it, don't jump directly into coding, first plan on what you want to do/make/learn. Get a clear plan mapped out and an approach. Also have multiple items that you can work on. If you get stuck on something for a while, jump to another item briefly, but make sure you return to what you were stuck on before (many times when people jump around they lose interest in what the were previously working on). All the best man!


Thank you! I'll remember this!

  1. Take a break (you did already, good! 😃) or reduce working hours to something different

    • Something different may also be coding, experience a bit with other technologies, do everything you have in the "I'll do this later, when I have time for this"-list – I do this right now and it feels great
  2. Write down all tasks on one place only, then organize them

    • Most stress comes having a constant huge backlog in your head (“I have to remember doing…“) and from switching context to often (“Need to do this quickly, to finish that…”).
  3. Accept failure

    • Really. You dont need to be the perfect code, write the perfect code, solve all tasks. You should aim for the best, but dont act under constraint.



Thank you. I feel that #2 should be an improvement area for me. I've got to get my todo list back in order.


One thing worth pointing out is that a lot of folks who haven't had any experience of mental health problems in their life (either themselves or someone close to them) can mistake depression for burnout. Now, they are quite definitely different things (and I've dealt with both) but I've found that a lot of the same strategies work for me (some of which have been mentioned here):

  • Diet - I find that when I'm feeling unwell my diet can slide and I find myself eating a lot of fast food and drinking too much coffee. Make a concious effort to get on top of it if that works for you.
  • Exercise - You don't have to sign up for the gym, but just going for a walk on the weekend is a good start. Make sure you get some sun on your face - it has been strongly correlated with improving mental health.
  • Non-code hobbies - When I can't bring myself to code I still need to keep myself busy or I get the sads. For me it's sailing and electronics, for you it might be cooking and mountain biking. Whatever works.
  • Ask for help - you've already done this, which is great. Talk to your loved ones about how you're feeling. They don't have to help - they just have to listen.
  • See your Dr - if it's really bad or continues for a long time then talk to your GP. It's entirely possible that there's a medical reason for your mood. Something as simple as snoring or not drinking enough water could be the problem.

To be clear; I'm not suggesting that you are depressed. I am not a Dr. I'm just sharing my experiences. You're already doing the right thing by talking about it here. For those of us who get paid to write code creative burnout (AKA writers block) can be very very disruptive to our careers. Good luck!


Thank you so much! Definitely important not to rule that out.


I'm experiencing this right now. The feeling has increased over the last 7 years for me. I'm sort of in a tough spot, since I was laid off and need to find work, but I've found something else to do I can enjoy and not feel guilty for putting my time into over whatever I'm doing.

Sometimes, I have to go so far as to not accept new work, because it turns out not being worthwhile.


I'm sorry to hear about being laid off. Do you know what started the burnout? 7 years is a long time to deal with that.


I wasn't necessarily burned out for 7 years straight. At that point in time, I

  • just became a father
  • was studying CS full-time (the burnout led me to switch to math that year)
  • working full-time at yet another job where I was underpaid
  • was jaded by how difficult finding a new job was

It took a few years, but I changed careers. After I got laid off from that job, I didn't want to keep doing sales, but I didn't want to be an employee (contract was okay), so I started a software business, putting lots of hours into it.

None of that worked out, so it all recently has come back. For me, I think I have to relegate actual development to hobby status, or I'll stay unmotivated.

I understand. Life takes its toll, and you have to know where this stuff fits, be it hobby or career. I personally have had struggles with finishing my degree as it hasn't always given me much extra time to code. Having a baby girl, wife and full time job keeps everything crazy!


It sounds like you're talking about burnout with personal time coding (although this may be affecting your day job too). At the moment there's this insane pressure from social media that people have to have huge active portfolios of code all written in their personal time, and a github profile that's a sea of green. That is not the case. You don't need to compromise your personal life by coding all day and all night. Do something entirely different - walk, cycle, work in the garden, watch a movie, make a pot, whatever. Coding is hugely mentally draining, and if you do it for 10 hours a day at work then don't be surprised if you don't want to do it at home all the time too.

If you're feeling lack of motivation and burnout at work, then it probably means your project is boring, your manager is bad, or both. Take mobility if you work in a large enough company, or if not, consider a new role. A change is as good as a rest, but also your team and manager will have a huge effect on your motivation and drive. Don't just keep slogging at it - for there lies the road to ruin.


"If you're feeling lack of motivation and burnout at work" - this hits me hard.
I'm considering your advice, actually I have a good manager, and a good company. I have no issues with them. But I am not receiving satisfaction in my work, sometimes it feels empty.

And right now, it's hard to motivate myself. I am lost. Sometimes, I will go out for a walk and after that I will be okay but it's only for temporary.


I swear I was in the process of replying to you in November.
Thank you for the great advice. My issue, though, is that I don't yet have a job in tech. I'm a welder for 40 hours a week, so personal time in coding is vital.

I learned now, that after I graduated in the summer that I had seriously exhausted myself. Lack of sleep and other life priorities coming up, I dabbled some in python basics, but for 2018... That's as far as I got. Most of my extra time has been job searching, and still is... But 2019 is the year that I plan to work at my own pace, making the most of my time. It's gonna be a good year!


Do something fun with code.

  1. Try something you've never done before with code.
  2. Explore a new language. Maybe poke around with a language like Go and attack some of your old Java assignments.
  3. Find a non-profit to help.

As far as doing something fun with code, here is a video example of a designer/developer that animates BB-8 from Star Wars with CSS:



Thanks a lot! I've actually started number 2 recently with python and it's a real refresher! I may actually stick to this language primarily.
That video is amazing!


I always feel better when I catch up/see/meet up/hang out with people, even if for a few hours over dinner or lunch. I feel less guilty spending 2 hours for dinner then 2 hours drinking or playing miserable cell phone games(2 hrs-been know to happen).

I believe the paradox of uni/school is that it can be both hyper-social and anti-social right on top of each other. You have classes, you work on group projects or you have long stretches of solitude, reading, writing, contemplating your navel...

I know that some ppl say that only extroverts get energized by groups while introverts do not. Bogus. Everybody needs to connect with at least one person from time to time. Sometimes, I have to force myself. Being trapped in your head for long periods tends to make me too self-critical, i.e. pessimistic.

Yea, your professor may seem like an ars but they really want you to be a better version of you. Your neighbour is an jerk, so laugh about it with your other neighbour...

Find those people that bring back your own humanity.


When I was finishing my degree I was in the exact same position as you, last year or so was just writing documentation about my code rather than actual programming. When I finished I couldn't bring myself to code so I took two months off away from development. Honestly it helped, I was able to re-evaluate what I wanted to do and figure out what languages/frameworks I wanted to learn and I'm back now working on my passion projects. Just my two cents


I appreciate that. The time away seems to have helped. Maybe I needed that in such chaos. Being done with class work is definitely going to help improve the situation!


The best advice is the fact that everybody gets burnout in some way or form. For me in particular it helped a lot playing with other technologies that I usually don't handle on a daily basis.


Thanks! I'll keep that in mind!


Get a hobby. Learn an instrument. Block out time at least one day a week to do something you feel is interesting or innovative.


Go easy on yourself, Ryan — you're doing a degree, it's not supposed to be easy, let alone with extracurricular activities. You deserved the rest. It gets easier!


Thank you. I'm trying to accept that I needed a time to stop. Having graduated and a new attitude for the year, I think 2019 will be a major time of progress.


I'll definitely keep that in mind. Thank you!


I guess be more playful like a child and less adult and business like about your code. Do I sound clear?