Burnt out? - It's not just you

Full Stack Creator - 013

Hello everyone 👋. Welcome to the thirteenth edition of Full Stack Creator. As always, thank you for your time and attention, it truly means a lot! If you’d like to share this letter with friends, family, or followers, I’ll leave a handy button below 😏 🤓.

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Last edition I talked about Hustle Culture, what it is, and if it is right for everyone. If you missed it, I recommend taking a few minutes to check that out, it was a good one! This week we are going to expand on that idea. Let’s talk about burnout.

Firstly, let us define burnout:

Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642

I would also like to preface that burnout is different for everyone and has many underlying reasons or triggers. Burnout is very common right now due to the current pandemic, racial injustice, and the constant pressure from society that everyone must hustle to be successful.

Now, let us get into the thick of it.

I write this letter, sitting on my couch on a Saturday morning. Exhausted, eyes red with blood vessels, and generally demoralized. This past week, like many others, has been exhausting – physically and mentally. As I have mentioned in the past, I am Head of Product for a software development company. I run product and design, but also have some overflow areas of focus – the troubles of working for a smaller, scrappy company. I also oversee QA and release management. Some of you reading this might not know what any of those roles are and that is fine, it is neither here nor there. What does matter is that I am doing way more than one role. Generally, all of those are entirely separate jobs, allowing one to focus on each of them in solidarity.

I am spread thin, getting slivers of time a day to focus on each. I use a productivity technique called schedule blocking, using a method of focus blocks. I schedule my time down to the hour, generally 2-4 weeks out. In theory this is straight forward. There is a finite amount of time in the day, you schedule what will be done in that time, in chunks of hours. My chunks of time can be grouped up to 2 hour blocks. This allows me to focus on the task at hand, while being in a flow state. But as mentioned, this is all in theory. In practice – I schedule this time in advance, over the days and weeks things get shifted, and so does my schedule/plan.

Lately, my superiors think everything is a priority. Everything except for their employees' wellbeing. This is where things fall apart. Time is not accounted for. Random meetings, calls, and messages in the plethora come bleeding into my days. This leads to me feeling the way I feel right now. The only word I can sum it up into is burnout. I will feel this way all weekend. I will spend the next 48 hours scrounging up energy, focus, and stability to just repeat the cycle again.

Some of you reading this are probably laughing, shaking your head, thinking that this guy doesn’t know burnout. He doesn’t know what it means to really work for it. He just types and mouses around all day on a fancy computer, while talking to stakeholders about pointless products. And yes, in some ways, you are right. I have a good life – I make good money, live in a nice apartment, and do not have to worry about things that a lot of people do. I get the option to work from home, allowing me to stay safe and reasonably comfortable all the time.

That brings me to my next thought. Do I even have the right to feel this way? Yesterday, I was in between meetings, thinking about the topic of this letter. I was jotting notes down on my iPad, while a landscaper was outside my window, cutting trees in 100+ degree Fahrenheit weather. Does that worker also feel burnout, is it similar? Does he feel mental burnout or is it physical? Is physical burnout even a thing or is that physical exhaustion? I know that mental burnout makes me feel physically exhausted, – maybe they are synonymous.

This brings up my bigger question – does burnout look and feel different for everyone? I see on Twitter – people mentioning burnout right and left. My Twitter is mainly people in design, product, film, photography, and journalism, so it is likely skewed to a specific demographic. But nonetheless, when burnout hits, does it feel the same? That mental exhaustion, that makes you want to stay in bed, makes you feel foggy and minuscule. Based on what I see, most symptoms are similar. It is clearly a version of depression, maybe even built on the back of it. It seems to be a very specific form of depression though, targeting our need to be fulfilled with work and the overextension of oneself to achieve it.

I mentioned the hustle culture piece numerous times because a lot of burnout seems to stem from it. How are you supposed to mitigate or recover from burnout if you are burning the candle on both ends? As a society, as a people, we seem to be putting too much pressure on ourselves. Not only for missing our goals, but for even setting them in the first place. Why are we still forcing this 40-hour workweek concept that was built for the industrial revolution? We are past this. We are smarter people that understand how to optimize time, how to automate, how to build and program machines to work.

I always say, work smarter, not harder, but I feel surrounded and trapped by people that think the opposite. Hours of meetings and calls do not equate to quality or even output. Delivering a product at 9 pm today, rather than 12 pm tomorrow does not mean you accomplished the goal any better. It just means that some worker or group of workers had to neglect their families, themselves, to deliver something that doesn’t really matter.

As much as I am affected by burnout and will be for the near future due to circumstance, everyone shouldn’t be. We need to stand up for ourselves, our coworkers, our friends and family. We need to realize that we are not achieving anything by spreading ourselves thin and exhausting our brains and bodies. You are entitled to work smarter not harder. If we keep working the way the business demands we will live an unfulfilled life that blew by us, just so we met a deadline.

This piece was not intended to be a soapbox of me telling you my woes, but rather sharing my experiences and hoping you can find some alignment with it. You are not the only one burnt out, especially in our current life where a lot of us are working and living in the same space where there is no clear line when work starts and ends. I hope this opened your eyes, knowing that you are not alone in the struggle, knowing that there are multiple kinds of burnout, and yes, this is likely a form of depression. This is ok, seriously! It is not ok if we keep allowing it to happen. We need to set a line in the sand and take back our time and energy.

I would love to hear from some of you. If you would like to keep it public, comment below, it could help others. If not, email me, I understand that it could seem like a lot to talk about.

I hope that you find a way to gain more control of your life, feel more fulfilled doing it, and reduce or stop burnout so you can be a fuller you.

This week’s links: