In contrast to many others, a lot of us engineers love what we do; we love building things that make the world a better place. Even so, engineer burnouts do happen. Fortunately, avoiding engineer burnout is definitely possible with proper work-life balance. Proactive steps to avoid burnout is beneficial first and foremost for your physical and mental health as well as for your career in the long run.
1. SEEM (Sleep, Eat, Exercise, Meditate)
If you’re not doing all of the below, you’re headed for a major burnout (or experiencing one already):
- sleeping 7+ hours a day (pet owners/parents: I know it’s hard, just do your best)
- eating 3 well-proportioned, preferably home-cooked, balanced meals a day (if you’re intermittent fasting, ok)
- exercising 2 times a week (weights, cardio, or sports)
- meditating for 10 minutes a week (or any form of calm, self-introspection would work)
There are countless studies that stress the importance of the above; they are proven to increase your happiness and make you live longer. Translation: skimping on these things makes you miserable and leaves you with less energy to tackle not only work but all the other shitty things in life.
Life is hard as is; don’t make it more difficult by not properly equipping your body and mind for its challenges.
2. Don’t work more than 40 hours
When I first started as an engineer, I overworked in order to:
- prove to others that I didn’t suck and
- prove to myself that I didn’t suck
While this helped my ego, overworking for extended periods was not worth the mental and physical toll on my life. You don’t owe your coworkers anything, and you don’t owe the company anything besides your required hours; at the end of the day, it’s a business relationship. When downturn hits and the company is forced to lay you off, the company doesn’t give 2 shits about your “loyalty” and “dedication” during your last project.
Instead, work the hours you have to work (40 hours for most office folks) and give yourself more time to do what you want to do besides work. Don’t think about work when you’re not in the office — the company will be just fine; Apple continues to release great products without Steve Jobs and I can call an Uber just fine without Travis Kalanick at the helm. As the cliche goes, no one goes to their deathbed wishing they had worked harder.
3. Take 1 solo and 1 together vacation per year
I love traveling with my girlfriend, but there is something spiritual about travelling solo; no one’s forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do, and you’re taking on new experiences which lead to some real self-introspection. Even if you’re not in tree-pose humming along in a cave in Thailand, I consider solo-traveling a form of meditation for this exact reason. Take a week to travel alone every year to a foreign place. New travel experiences have healing effects on the soul and broadens your perspectives on life.
Of course, if you have a significant other, take an extended vacation together at least once a year as well. Humans are not meant to be alone (while being alone at times has its benefits) and plus, your SO may start to get suspicious if you’re always going off on long vacations by yourself.
4. Pick up a guitar
Or a piano; or surfing, Spanish, or whatever. Just pick up a fun skill not related to work. Take time to do something you enjoy. Learning a new skill is exhilarating, especially if you enjoy it. This is another soul-healing activity that will raise your endorphin levels and enlighten your zest for life.
Life is short; spending 60 hours in an office, no matter how great that vision of the company/product/project you’re working on, is time away from you doing all the amazing non-work related things life has to offer: hiking the beautiful trails, enjoying the wildlife, watching a great basketball game, enjoying an exquisite meal, learning a new language, shopping for new clothes, a great car ride, a mind blowing movie, beautiful outdoor concerts, scuba diving in the tropics and million more joys of life.
You only live once; proactively take time for yourself, not only to help your career by avoiding burnout, but because you deserve to enjoy life and happiness.