ding – Subject line: Reminder to complete your student’s school registration.
A new email arrives.
Right, I need to get that done as soon as I finish work for the day.
ding – Subject line: Your domain names expire in 3 days.
Ack, I forgot to renew those last week. I need to get that done before they expire.
ding – Subject line: Did you get my email from last week?
What email? (scroll, scroll, scroll) Oh, there it is. Not sure how I missed that…
It starts to creep in, slowly at first—just a passing thought.
Oh yeah, Ticket #323 has been on the list for a while. I need to get that off of the list, but it’s not a high priority, so I have to do this one first.
A few days pass.
ding – Subject line: Have you had a chance to look at Ticket #323?
You can’t help but internally roll your eyes.
I thought you said Ticket #323 wasn’t an emergency, so why are you nagging me about it.
But externally, at least, you manage to say, “Yes, Ticket #323 is on my list, and I will get to it as soon as I finish projects x and y.”
ding – Subject line: Help! Our site was just hacked!
Ugh, hackers who break things on Fridays are the worst.
Evening plans are delayed and then canceled. You finally finish mid-Saturday. Your eyes are blurry, and your head hurts, but you have to get to the post office before it closes. You are just going to wait a minute to make sure everything really is…working…correctly…
ding – Subject line: Email doesn’t seem to be working
Oh no, I fell asleep, and now the post office is closed. I’ll have to go Monday morning before standup. Email isn’t working? I wonder if we are getting blocked because of spam sent out during the hack last night.
ding – Subject line: Second Reminder to complete your student’s school registration
Right, I still need to do that, but I have to check on the email issue before I do.
At standup on Monday, you apologize for being late because the line at the post office was really long. You try to get out of being assigned anything new because you have a bunch of old tickets you really need to clean out, but since none of those are priority tickets, you are assigned a “quick” task to do first to set up a coupon for the marketing department.
ding – Subject line: Any updates on Ticket #323?
Oh no, another email about Ticket #323, which I haven’t had a chance to do. I’ll get it done as soon as I finish what I’m in the middle of, and then I can tell them it’s done when I write back.
ding – Subject line: Need an update on project x from you ASAP
You look back through the tickets for project x and put together a recap of where things are which you present at the meeting. Ok, I’m back from the meeting, and I can finally get some work done.
ding – Subject line: IMPORTANT – SALES CAMPAIGN SENT OUT BUT COUPON CODE NOT WORKING
WHAT?! Why would they send it out before I marked the ticket as done? I haven’t even started it yet!
You scramble to get the details of what this coupon code is supposed to do and frantically try to get it done as quickly as possible. At the same time, fielding questions and bug reports from each person in the marketing department and help desk individually telling you that the coupon code is not working. Meanwhile, Ticket #323 is long forgotten for yet another day.
And so it goes. There are tons of internet memes and commentaries making fun of people who can’t get simple little things done. A lot of it is targeted at Millennials who can’t “adult,” but the truth of the matter is that this is not laziness, a lack of intelligence, or an inability to prioritize the important tasks. This is burnout.
We are constantly inundated with communications. Finding quiet, uninterrupted time to complete tasks is akin to a quest for the Holy Grail at this point. When things are constantly interrupted, it becomes so difficult to complete even small tasks on time, and once we hit burnout, completing simple tasks becomes overwhelming.
There is no simple cure for burnout. It takes time to heal, sometimes a very long time. You can avoid it, though. Take a moment and evaluate how things are currently affecting you:
- Are you avoiding things you used to take care of easily?
- Is it becoming more common for you to get interrupted and never get back to finish your original task?
- Are you forgetting things that you normally have no trouble remembering to do?
- Are you having trouble sleeping at night? Do you fall asleep during times you don’t normally sleep?
- Do you feel physically exhausted the majority of the time?
- Have your eating habits changed, eating way more or way less than normal?
These can all be signs of burnout. So what can you do? First and foremost, contact your doctor and mental health care provider. If you do not have a mental health care provider, talk to your doctor about the best options for you.
Next, take a look at what is going on in your life? Is there a way to eliminate anything causing you anxiety or stress? Are there places where you can step back or decrease your involvement (even temporarily) to give yourself some time to do something relaxing and enjoyable (and no, that does not mean time to get caught up at work – it means a hobby or something done just for fun)?
This month can be rough for many people. While sources disagree widely on what month is the toughest on mental health, February is when most people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions and is considered a major low point for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, supply chain issues, and employees buried under extra work due to staffing shortages, watching for burnout is critical.
Want to help? Now would be a great time to pass around a burnout quiz at work or host a learning lunch on identifying burnout. Remind everyone to keep an eye out for signs of burnout at the end of your next meeting. Even just a simple reminder in Slack that burnout is a real thing can help. Keep an eye on yourself as well as your friends and co-workers. Mental health is important, and so are you.
- Resources from Open Sourcing Mental Illness (OSMI) https://osmihelp.org/resources
- Your Body Knows You’re Burned Out from The New York Times https://phpa.me/nytimes-burnout
- Workplace Stress Survey from The American Institute of Stress https://phpa.me/workplace-stress-survey
- Burnout Test from Psychology Today https://phpa.me/psychologytoday-burnout-test
- Burnout Quiz from The Wall Street Journal https://phpa.me/wsj-burnout-quiz
Originally published in “World Backup Day”, the March 2022 issue of php[architect] magazine.