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Burning Out The Joy Of Work

Note: This entry is getting a bit personal - but there aren't only technical aspects of my Mozilla and SeaMonkey work, there's a flipside of the coin... somewhere.

Lately, I'm feeling more grumpy than usually, annoyed about every comment that makes m work more difficult or that causes me additional work - even more, if someone plainly suggests that I should do something. On the other hand, I feel like way too little is moving forward and questioning if all the efforts are worth it at all, especially as I fail to get much joy out of small achieved steps nowadays.
I sometimes have a hard time concentrating on work, and every little bit of "music" bass coming from other rooms in this house or trampling around of the girl living in the room above mine drives me crazy.
Instead of seeing ongoing changes in Mozilla as challenges for our project and looking for ways to master them, I get the impression of big problems coming up, roadblocks being (intentionally?) placed in our way and start doubting if this project and me trying to drive it is a good idea at all.
Frustration is a constant companion instead of a sporadic visitor in my life.

This could be attributed to my apparent failure in relationships, and it's right that in the short times where I have such relationships the symptoms seem to fade a bit, but then, I refuse to go that easy way to blame everything in life on that. I had my times where I tried that, and those resulted in realizing that this couldn't be the whole truth and tends to solve nothing at all.

The only way to deal with that part is to hope for the best - and I drilled myself for never ever giving up hope and always believing in the good and positive things in life, no matter how bad things look at times. I convinced myself that the future will always be better so there's always a reason to move on.

Still, this lately looks more like a desperate effort of keeping control of this mess I call a life than like a shining star to follow - even if I wouldn't ever lose that core belief even for a second.

The more I think about it, the more this all looks to me like some form of (starting?) burnout, and my average of 50-60 working hours a week (up to 80 at times), practical absence of a personal life as well as the complete lack of physical exercise seems to support that argument, after all, being stressed and strained is nothing unknown to me.

Still, the problem is what to do against this. Taking some time off sounds like a good idea, but there's not so much I want to do other than work on this project. And then, we badly need progress, someone (me) being absent for a while would be missing. Sure, handing off some work to others might be good, if I only knew where all those others that have too little to do are.
Maybe seeing the SeaMonkey 2 Alpha forming and actually getting ready to ship would enjoy me enough to fill up my energy reserves.
I feel I probably need to continue to walk the line between doing as much work as I'd like and breaking down with a burnout for a while, and I currently don't actually see clearly how to get away from the constantly being on edge that comes with that.

Perhaps those two weeks in California that I'm counting down to can ease that situation a bit. I surely hope for that.

Entry written by KaiRo and posted on March 8th, 2008 19:08 | Tags: burnout, Mozilla, SeaMonkey, stress | 12 comments | TrackBack


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Mike Shaver

from Toronto

burn out
I'm saddened to see this post and to hear that you're running low on reserves, but not entirely surprised -- you haven't seemed to be as much about "what will make it work" as you usually are, and much more about "what could go wrong".

I hope you get the rest you need, and that you find the SeaMonkey milestones as energizing as I find the Firefox ones...
2008-03-08 20:34

Shawn Wilsher

from Michigan

My Fix
At least for me, running does great at helping most of that. It's a bit painful at first when I don't run for a while, but it's nice to just jog around and enjoy outside for a while.
2008-03-08 21:38


I would suggest walking for 1 hour a day for at least 5 days a week (I use an MP3 player for more enjoyment). Jogging is a more difficult to persist in.
Also, I guess you live/work alone? I think that could be part of the problem (perhaps the main cause?). You might want to find a way to find some kind of companion during work or something.

I find it really interesting your description here, I certainly can see similarities with my feeling and well-being.
When I spent those weeks at Mozilla in Mountain View, those grumpy feelings completely went away, so I can tell you that those 2 weeks certainly will help!
2008-03-09 01:03

Ray Kiddy

being necessary
Very rarely is true that a single person is really as necessary to a project as they believe themselves to be. Even if you are that necessary, putting yourself into that position adds a special kind of stress to the mix. So, it is not just the stress of the work and of the time and of the attention needed, it is the "necessari-ness" of it that heightens the stress.

As bad as things could be if you walk away for a time to truly decompress, they will eventually be worse if you do not. You deserve to be at peace no matter what you do.
2008-03-09 01:42

Jonathan Watt

> ...breaking down with a burnout for a while...

That's the thing about burnout. It doesn't just last "a while"...if you really burn out you'll find you won't be able to face going back to the project (or even programing in general) for years, if not permanently.

You might feel that you have to keep going at your current rate, but the fact is that if you're burning out it won't be long before you stop contributing at all. It won't even really be in your hands when. We have to accept that the maximum we can do is not just capped by the number of hours in the day, but also by our capacity to cope with those hours. It'll be better for the project in the long run if you stay within your limits and maybe take some time off on your own terms, and it will certainly be better for you personally.

I also strongly second everyone who's recommended more human contact and some physical activity. :-)

Take care and good luck.
2008-03-09 10:07

Zbigniew Braniecki

from wsw

I agree, burnout is not something you can overrun with longer holidays. Burnout is a psychological process when your brain re-evaluates your principles, satisfiers and motivators.
When you're working for too long, sacrificing too much, and at some point, randomly, you face too many factors to ignore stating that what you do may be not worth what you're sacrificing, your brain will try to fix this by assuming that what you did was entirely wrong and not worth, deprecating it's value, becoming cynical.
The problem is that the new evaluation is almost for sure mistaken. It's just that burn out gets you out of carefully built network of values and relations into pretty chaotic state when nothing gives joy

My advice would be to build a distance. Look around, find something which you've never been doing (in my case it was martial arts) and make sure you have time for it, then, from some perspective see if you want to work on the project, figure out how much time you want to spend on it, and do not work more.

It's usually safe to have 3 core life activities that you can switch from one to another, something that takes you at least one day per week - playing guitar, reading Buddhist books, attending to bartender course, writing book, playing games, political studies, religious activities, learning new language (not a programming one - freaks!) - it's best to get those far away from each other, but if you can't at least have some fun with computers, learning ogre3d/blender/crystalspace and writing a game, or something else.
Balance it out, even with cautious sacrifice of Seamonkey for some time, or all the browsers thing.
Take care man! We need you here for a longer run :))
2008-03-09 12:42

Kim Sullivan

Having had my own share of these kinds of problems, I sincerely hope that you'll get better :-) Unfortunately, these things take a lot time and effort and little steps (and there will be periods when you think you feel better, only to be proven wrong). This may sound silly, but don't be ashamed to seek professional councel before it's too late. Like Jonathan Watt already said - once you step over the line, it could be that you won't ever be able to fully return.

I found the two part series Demystifying Depression (second part here) on kuro5hin an insightful introduction into the actual neurophysical background of depressions.
2008-03-09 23:32

Axel Hecht

that vacation thing
Just coming back from vacation, and being known as the grumpy one, here's my 2 cts:

The trick about going on vacation is not that much being in a sunny shiny place for three weeks. It's the learning process of how to change your own work scheme so that you can actually go on vacation without being a nervous wreck there. At least to me, the whole concept of "I'm going on vacation, and we'll go into a beta without me" was a pretty interesting learning experience for me, and for the whole team, I think.

One of the things that I got out of it is trying to change my habits such that I can go on vacation again, and that might actually help across the board.

Oh, and yes, I got sunburnt slightly, which is cool. I saw a lot of great places and I had loads of new impressions.

One week wouldn't have done it - after 3 or 4 days, I found dreaming about just South-African locales to be an improvement to my not-so-sleep. There are rumors that vacation starts to kick in for real after 2 weeks. Depending on how disciplined you are, you may be faster or slower. Not being able to read emails helps, at least for starters.

Going through antibiotics twice in a month is one of the downsides of vacations, be warned.
2008-03-10 12:38

Ricardo Palomares

from Madrid, Spain

Take care
I'm not going to give you any advice; a nice bunch of good ones have been given already before. But I want to tell you an anecdote about you. ;-)

Three days before last FOSDEM, I filed a bug for ChatZilla and Venkman to be added to compare-locales in es-ES. When we met at FOSDEM, you apologized for not having worked on the bug. Maybe you remember that I insisted in that there was no problem at all, but you almost felt guilty about it, and you hurried up the next day after returning from FOSDEM to have it fixed.

Really, you stressed yourself in a completely unneeded way. In normal conditions I wouldn't ping a bug in less than a week (except if a deadline was due, which of course was not the case), but you were giving a presentation at FOSDEM!! Even if I had filed the bug a three weeks before your presentation, I wouldn't have dared to bore you with trivial issues. In the end, that's why BugZilla is, to let people prioritize without risking losing tasks, isn't it? :-)

I sometimes feel similar (I also live alone, do housework myself, no couple, no big hobbies besides spending time in front of the computer), though I don't spend so many hours in Mozilla-related tasks (maybe that's the reason why I don't move forward with the MT replacement).

I guess when you talk about "failure in relationships" you refer to sentimental relationships, not being rough in e-mail or face-to-face dealing. But in case you are talking also about this, I couldn't disagree more. I'm happy to say that I've got to meet excellent people thanks to Mozilla and, especially, FOSDEM, and I can only confirm you are a great person.

So, walk, go jogging, go to the movies, do martial arts (this can prove to be helpful for next FOSDEM!), :-) or ride a bicycle like I do. Get some time off the computer, after all, it is just an appliance.

2008-03-10 21:55



Thanks for all comments, including your advice, I'll look into those items out of it that I feel are appropriate and something I can get myself to do - I already found out that I need some more jogging to at least not feel completely exhausted after 2 kilometers of running ;-)

A good friend of mine told me yesterday that I can't have a burnout because I'm a workaholic and workaholics don't suffer from burnouts. :)
In any case, it probably isn't one yet, but I'm on the edge of at least something similar but I think I realized it at a point where I can still work against it and get out hopefully relatively unharmed and without quitting this job.

I'll probably go a bit easier on work, not take on too much more of it than I can actually handle and continue to count the days down to those two weeks of being away from my normal life.
2008-03-13 03:20

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