How to Prevent Developer Burnout Featured Image

How to Prevent Developer Burnout (10 Strategies)

‘Stress’ is part of software developers’ daily vocabulary. 

Remember when Google’s glitch wiped out $135 billion in pension fund data? That’s the kind of destruction that keeps developers up at night.

And that’s not all. Software developers are also expected to stay current with the latest technologies. Advancements in tech, especially, add to the developer stress. Remember Devin, the AI software developer?

It’s no wonder that a staggering 50% of data science and machine learning developers and over 40% of DevOps engineers reported feeling stressed in a 2022 Spacelift survey

What you need is a first aid kit for your coding skills and your stress. That’s what this article is—a guide to tackle burnout before it tackles you. In this piece, we’ve explained: 

  • What causes developer burnout
  • The warning signs of stress
  • Proven steps you can take to prevent burnout

When you’re done here, you’ll walk away with tips to prevent burnout and strike a better balance at work and life.

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Understanding Developer Burnout

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that results from chronic workplace stress.

It’s not something that happens overnight but develops gradually over time. 

If ignored, even low or moderate levels of stress over a period of time can result in burnout, which can be deadly for both individuals and their employers. 

It’s also worth noting that burnout is an occupational phenomenon. In simple terms, burnout is stress caused by the work environment, not personal events.

Symptoms of burnout in developers

Software developers experiencing burnout may feel emotional, mental, and physical symptoms. Here are some key signs to watch out for:

  • Cynicism: Losing interest in work and tasks that once made you happy, with you ending up being indifferent to once-interesting tasks like debugging or solving complex code
  • Low sense of accomplishment: You always feel disappointed, thinking your work is never quite good enough, and even if you successfully do a task, the sense of accomplishment is not there, or it doesn’t last too long
  • Increased irritation: You easily get frustrated, snap at colleagues, and find it difficult to collaborate with others, with even small setbacks feeling like major disasters, further lowering your productivity
  • Decreased concentration: You get distracted easily, and a task that took you very little time in the past now takes forever to complete. You also start making more coding mistakes and zone out when solving problems
  • Lack of motivation: Getting work done becomes a battle, and procrastination becomes your ally, preventing you from taking the initiative 
  • Forgetfulness: Keeping track of code fixes, deadlines, and meetings becomes hard, with important details slipping your mind
  • Exhaustion: Fatigue sets in even after a full night’s sleep, and this tiredness becomes so common that it sucks the joy out of your hobbies and interests 
  • Changes in sleep patterns: You either sleep too little (because you’re overthinking) or too much (to forget your problems), but in both cases, you don’t feel refreshed or well-rested to face the day
  • Physical ailments: The stress of burnout can physically manifest as headaches, ulcers, changes in appetite, or rashes

It’s important to remember that burnout is a gradual process, and these symptoms may not all appear at once or affect everyone in the same way. 

Even experiencing half of these symptoms can be a warning sign that burnout might be sneaking in. In such cases, you need to deal with your stress levels immediately.

Causes of developer burnout

One of the primary drivers of developer burnout is the constant pressure to deliver new features and updates at a breakneck pace, as companies strive to stay competitive in the rapidly evolving tech landscape.

But that’s not all. Here are the top six causes of developer burnout.

1. Complex nature of software development

To stay competitive, developers need to continuously learn new languages, frameworks, and technologies just to keep up.

This perpetual need to upskill and expand one’s knowledge base can be daunting, leaving little time for rest and recovery.

2. Lack of autonomy

When you’re forced to work under strict rules and given tasks repeatedly, it can feel like your problem-solving creativity is being caged.

The lack of control and freedom, such as having little say in project direction or being constantly scrutinized for your choices, can be frustrating and draining.

3. Bad project management 

Unclear goals, unrealistic expectations, and poor management communication are some of the common productivity killers. For example, a manager changing project priorities can result in you wasting your time on rework.

Alternatively, projects with poorly defined goals leave you with unclear objectives and uncertainty.

Another example is people mistaking agile methodology for rapid developments and tight deadlines. This can result in adding more features to the scope of work or expecting people to meet deadlines despite bottlenecks.

4. Always-on culture

Some companies expect developers to be available 24/7 to fix bugs or address customer issues. It can feel like a never-ending ping-pong match, with requests flying your way all the time. 

The pressure to be “always on” can leave you feeling stretched too thin.

Your managers may also use software to monitor your work hours or have unwritten rules that expect you to reply to any message immediately. This means you’ll always have to be alert, with no time to relax or unwind.

5. Lack of recognition

Imagine pouring your heart into a project only to have it attract little to no praise from your team or manager. 

Recognition is oxygen for motivation. The lack of it can chip away at your sense of accomplishment and self-worth, leaving you feeling undervalued and underappreciated.

Over time, you might start questioning your abilities, sometimes wondering if your contributions even matter.

6. Lack of community

When you’re flying solo as a developer without a support system, self-doubt can spiral out of control, causing imposter syndrome.

The lack of supportive peers or mentors, especially in the early stages of a developer career or in small teams, can magnify stress and feed burnout.

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10 Strategies to Prevent Developer Burnout

Let’s explore how to prevent developer burnout so you don’t reach this stage. But if you feel burnt out already, these strategies can nudge you in the right direction.

1. Manage your time efficiently

The first step to avoiding burnout is creating a schedule that sets you up for success. Depending on your work style and preferences, here are some time management tips that can help:

  • Task batching: If you like to focus on one task at a time, assign blocks of time for coding, debugging, code reviews, or responding to emails
  • Time blocking: If you prefer long stretches of uninterrupted focus, set aside time on your calendar for deep work
  • Pomodoro technique: If you have a perfectionist mindset of spending hours on minor details, the Pomodoro technique can help by having you spend a fixed amount of time (25, 45, or 60 minutes) on a task before taking a short break and moving onto the next one
  • Time-tracking: If you’re often trying to understand where your day went, start tracking the time you spend on different tasks; this can tell you more about your work habits and help you optimize your time

Bonus tip: Consider using a productivity-focused project management platform like ClickUp for Task, Time, and Calendar Management. This can help you understand how you spend your time at work and how you can optimize it for better productivity.

ClickUp’s time management tools
Manage your time efficiently with ClickUp’s time management tools

2. Join a peer community

When the going gets tough, the tough talk it out.

Joining a developer community means you have peers to learn from and people who “get it”—those who understand the unique frustrations and challenges of the job.

Here’s how you can be a part of a support system:

  • Connect online: There are many developer communities out there (e.g., Reddit, GitHub), covering everything from programming languages to specific tech stacks—just remember to practice healthy online habits like avoiding toxic spaces
  • Attend in-person events: Going to meetups and conferences is a great way to connect with developers, and you might even learn a thing or two in the process
  • Engage on social media: From LinkedIn to Twitter, there are many social spaces where developers converse, sharing their experiences and making new connections
  • Contribute to open-source projects: Open-source projects boost your career and offer an engaged community where you can work with other developers, learn something new, and maybe pick up some tips on how to manage stress

3. Leverage AI and automation

You’re often stressed because you have a lot of repetitive work. This is where you need to call in the digital cavalry: AI and automation. 

For example, when you pair a platform like ClickUp Software Team Project Management Software with agile strategies, you can avoid busy work and focus on tasks that matter. 

With ClickUp, you can:

  • Collect bug requests using intake forms and convert them into tasks so you always know where you stand
  • Use conditional automations (if/then workflows) to automate task handovers or run data syncs
  • Use agile frameworks like Kanban and Scrum to create processes that work for you
ClickUp Automation
Set up automation for repetitive work and free up your time to focus on core projects with ClickUp

Similarly, you can use AI as your pair-programmer-of-sorts to help you review and optimize your code, debug errors, give suggestions, and even help you find important information. 

With ClickUp Brain, you can summarize task comments, draft your messages, and search for information across your workspace, saving you time and effort.

ClickUp Brain
Automate your busywork and save time with ClickUp Brain

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

With ClickUp as your digital helper, you can free up mental energy for the fun stuff, like problem-solving, design, and strategic decision-making, that impact the direction of your projects.

The best part? With ClickUp, you won’t have to spend every waking moment glued to your keyboard.

4. Set a clear project roadmap

A clear project roadmap keeps everyone in the loop, ensures that the workload is distributed evenly, and prevents you from becoming the project’s sacrificial lamb.

To create a project roadmap that works, use a tool like the ClickUp Employee Workload Template, which can help you:

  • Gauge the capacity of each employee
  • Get a birds-eye view of everyone’s workload and what they’re working on
  • Make informed decisions and assign the right developer when a bug fix or an impromptu task pops up
Get an overview of your team’s workload with the ClickUp Employee Workload Template

The ClickUp Employee Workload Template also allows you to:

  • Estimate the time required for various tasks using Gantt charts
  • Set clear milestones and deadlines for each task to avoid workload paralysis
  • Track the progress of work-related tasks to ensure everything is on track

Apart from this, here are some general tips for defining a clear project roadmap:

  • Establish a clear vision of the project’s goals and desired outcomes
  • Break down the project into smaller action items with clear deadlines so everyone is focused, and no one feels overwhelmed
  • Hold regular team meetings to discuss progress, address issues, and ensure everyone is aligned on priorities
  • Identify potential risks and have backup plans in place to address them 

5. Take breaks and disconnect

Our brains are not made for sustained focus. Constant work without breaks leads to mental fatigue, impacting concentration, memory, and decision-making.

What can you do instead? 

Pepper your deep work time with short breaks. Not only will it give your brain some time to rest and recharge, but it can also help you prevent eye strain.

Breaks can also help you with problem-solving. 

Ever heard people say they get their best ideas on a walk (or in the shower)? There are two reasons for this:

  • Exercising, meditation, or even warm showers can stimulate dopamine production, which can help boost your brain’s problem-solving capabilities
  • These activities provide an incubation period, allowing your subconscious to work on the problems and come up with unique solutions

So, take mini breaks throughout the day and completely disconnect from work to prevent burnout. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup. 

6. Prioritize sleep

Sleep deprivation significantly impacts cognitive function, including memory, focus, and problem-solving skills. As the famous author Mathew Walker pointed out in his book Why We Sleep:

If you don’t sleep the very first night after learning, you lose the chance to consolidate those memories, even if you get lots of ‘catch-up’ sleep thereafter. In terms of memory, then, sleep is not like the bank. You cannot accumulate a debt and hope to pay it off at a later point in time. Sleep for memory consolidation is an all-or-nothing event.

Mathew Walker

Sleep deprivation hinders your ability to make clear and rational decisions, resulting in bad-quality work. This can again worsen your stress, a cycle you can only break by getting good sleep.

If you can’t get eight long hours of sleep, the next best thing is a quick nap between work hours. Quoting from the same book, “naps as short as twenty-six minutes in length still offered a 34 percent improvement in task performance and more than a 50 percent increase in overall alertness.

While getting more shut-eye is vital to keeping stress levels in check, ensuring quality rest is equally important. Here are a few ways you can improve sleep quality: 

  • Create a restful sleep environment: A cool, dark, and quiet room can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer
  • Develop a pre-sleep routine: Taking a warm bath, reading a book, or practicing deep breathing exercises can help you relax and prepare for sleep
  • Avoid stimulants before bed: Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can keep you awake, so avoid consuming them in the hours leading up to bedtime
  • Ditch your screens before bed: The blue light from screens can disrupt your sleep patterns, so turn off your devices at least 30 minutes before sleeping
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can regulate your body’s internal clock and promote better sleep quality

Remember, getting enough sleep prevents burnout and keeps your mind and body healthy. So make sleep a top priority to break free from vicious stress cycles.

7. Set boundaries

Without boundaries, work can easily eat into your time. 

Emails, calls, and messages outside of work hours create constant pressure, making it difficult to truly relax and recharge. 

Setting boundaries is key to striking a healthy balance in your day-to-day as a software developer, especially for those who work remotely. Here are some simple ways to draw the line:

  • Be clear about your working hours, including when you’re available and when you’re not 
  • During vacation time, set up an “Out of Office” automated email and turn off notifications on your internal communication tools that signal to your team that you’re taking a break and shouldn’t be disturbed 
  • Once you’re done with work, turn off work-related notifications or set your devices to Do Not Disturb mode, which gives you the freedom to enjoy your time

Setting boundaries isn’t about being inaccessible or uncooperative; it’s about knowing when to switch off and take a break.

Did You Know: Without a proper unplugging and retun to work plan in place, even holidays and vacations can also cause stress, resulting in physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion called holiday burnout (festive burnout).

8. Learn to delegate

Learning when to delegate is important for preventing burnout. 

Delegation is a powerful tool that allows you to assess and prioritize where to focus while allocating specialized or detailed work to colleagues with specialized skills or better bandwidth.

Not only does delegation lighten your workload, but it also frees you up to focus on leadership, collaboration, and communication skills. 

Other benefits of delegation include:

  • Increased productivity: You can concentrate on high-value tasks while your team handles routine tasks
  • Team development: Your junior colleagues get valuable experience and learn from you, helping them improve their professional growth
  • Better teamwork: Delegating tasks promotes collaboration and trust within your team, leading to more effective and efficient work
  • Long-term sustainability: By sharing the load with others, you avoid burnout and maintain your ability to perform at a high level over a long period

Delegation takes time to master, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice.

9. Meet with your manager regularly

Weekly meetings with your manager are like a safety net against burnout. 

Such conversations give you a dedicated space to communicate openly and honestly, ensuring you are on the same page about deadlines, expectations, and potential roadblocks.

However, for the meetings to be effective, you need to level with your manager and set an agenda for seeking clarifications about your action items. 

Weekly one-on-ones are just as important (if not more) in remote teams, but they can be challenging to schedule. A great fix for this is to create a shared document (like ClickUp Docs) for asynchronous communication.

This way, you can share your thoughts, questions, and updates. Your manager can review and add feedback at their convenience.

ClickUp Docs
Create collaborative documents and ensure productive 1:1s with your manager using ClickUp Docs

With ClickUp, you can avoid scheduling hassles and keep conversations focused, assuring free-flowing two-way communication.

Always remember that your manager is your go-to person when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck. They can provide support, guidance, and extra resources to fulfill your goals as a software engineer

After all, their role is to help you succeed, not make your life difficult.

10. Create self-care rituals

Another great way to manage stress and anxiety is by creating a self-care ritual or routine. 

It doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, such as spa days or resort trips (though they can greatly benefit you). 

Here are some simple ideas you can start with:

  • Short mid-day walks
  • Chair yoga (or stretches)
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Quick naps
  • Coffee or tea breaks with colleagues

Remember, self-care is not selfish. Rather, you’re investing in your future self and sustained well-being. 

Start by incorporating small changes and gradually introduce these practices into your daily routine for a burnout-free life. 

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Prevent Burnout, Create a Sustainable Career Path 

Your developer career isn’t just defined by your command over programming languages and bug-fixing capabilities; it’s also about investing in yourself. 

To focus on self-care, AI-enabled productivity and project management tools like ClickUp can be invaluable. You can use it to:

  • Automating repetitive tasks
  • Managing your time more effectively
  • Organizing your timelines, checklists, tasks, and projects 

Investing in your well-being is an essential aspect of professional growth.

To quote Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress:

Taking care of yourself is more important than getting that last little bit of work done.

Matt Mullenweg

This couldn’t be more true for the software engineering industry, where stress and burnout is almost a part of the package.

Of course, it can’t be done in a day. But you can start by finetuning your organizational skills. Sign up for ClickUp today and start optimizing your work to keep burnout at bay.

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