To become a better developer, you need to build your habits and practice consistently. But you also need to be weary of a very real threat in our industry: burnout.
It doesn't matter how quickly you can learn new things, or how fast you can work, if it leads to burnout. Burnout is when you overwork yourself, to the point that you strongly dislike coding. The very idea of sitting down and writing code makes you anxious. And if you manage to power through and do some work, you don't feel good about it. Maybe it's too slow, or you just hate every minute of it.
All of this can happen to you. I'm not saying this to scare you off. I'm saying it so you can begin to notice the early signs of burnout, and use precautionary methods to avoid it altogether. If you start to notice any of the signs, take a moment to ask yourself why you're feeling this way.
Is it just because you're stuck on a hard problem, or can't find the motivation to finish the last 10% of a project? That's fine - it happens to everyone. This is the kind of stuff you just power through. But there might be a deeper issue.
If you feel this way for weeks or months, and the stress begins to build in your body, it's time to take a break. And I don't mean a 5 minute break to clear your head. I'm talking about a serious, several day-week-month long break, to fully reset your mind and figure out what's causing these feelings.
Sometimes all you need is a weekend without coding. Sometimes, you might need a week's vacation. Other times, you might simply be coding too much every day (if you work a 9-5, and spend 5 hours coding when you get home, it's probably too much)
Finding the balance between pursuing your dream of coding and improving your skills, while avoiding burnout, is a tricky one. It's very individual, but there's a few important points to always remember:
- Prioritize your mental health. You should never sacrifice your mental (or physical) health to improve a skill or for a job.
- Taking breaks is completely fine. Take the time you need - your skills won't disappear or become obsolete in the process.
- If you need a week or a month without coding, go for it. You can also take smaller breaks, by putting a limit on the time you work. Pick a time, like 9-5 for your job, or 8-10 in the evening if you're still learning. And don't do any work outside of that.
- You burn out from repeatedly doing things you dislike. If you get burned out often and easily, ask yourself if coding is really for you. If your only reason for being a developer is to make a ton of money, burnout will surface quickly. If your motivations for coding are more inline with building stuff, helping people and making a decent living of it, you probably just need a short break to rediscover your passion for coding.
I'm Mads Brodt — a developer, author, teacher, creator and blogger. To keep up with all of my writing, follow me on Twitter or sign up with your email above 👆