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Helping Remote Developers Avoid Burnout

This is a guest post from Debbie Chew of Arc.

Ever feel like the code you write is never good enough? Or that you’re constantly tired from working, but your workload doesn’t seem to ever decrease?

You’re not alone! Being a developer can be exhausting. To help rebuild your willpower and rediscover your sense of identity, there are lots of ways you can manage, overcome, and avoid burnout.

Burnout is a reality for thousands of developers, and it also affects those working remotely. In fact, DigitalOcean's recently published report, Currents: A Seasonal Report on Developer Trends in the Cloud – Remote Work Edition, revealed that 66% of remote developers suffer from burnout symptoms. And the percentage is even higher (82%) for developers in the United States.

The burnout problem is real

The report is worrying. It reveals that burnout is a slightly higher risk (+2%) for remote developers than for in-house developers. Fortunately, working remotely can improve work-life balance, with remote developers rating their work-life balance at 7.02 out of 10 on average (as opposed to on-site developers, who score lower at 6.95).

So what are the biggest contributors to burnout?

  • Working longer hours than expected
  • Feeling like management expects you to contribute more than in-house developers
  • Increased levels of stress and anxiety

The most significant danger is that burnout can creep in slowly and unannounced. You find yourself working longer hours, spending more time on work, feeling more stressed, and not knowing when (or how) to stop.

If you think this might be happening to you or someone you know, there is help available. This guide will help you understand burnout and give you practical tips that will allow you to prevent or overcome it.

Solving the problem of burnout

These tips will help you protect your passion for coding, be more productive, and avoid burnout:

1. Assume responsibility for your time

When working in-house, someone else is often responsible for directly managing you. But when you work remotely, this responsibility falls on you. If you don't manage your time, no one will (at least until it’s time for your performance review). Don't be your own worst enemy!

Everything your manager previously did for you, you must now do for yourself. This includes setting your schedule – deciding when you work and for how long, when you take breaks, and more. What's most important is sticking to the decisions you make: without being disciplined, you will create additional stress for yourself.

2. Set clear boundaries

You must understand your nonnegotiables. What are the things that, as a remote developer, you would not be happy doing? Maybe working in the middle of the night is one of them. Or perhaps you're not happy with your employer demanding that you work during specific hours.

In "A Programmer Burnout Story," Lorenzo Pasqualis recommends active communication to help remote developers remain on the same page as the rest of their team. This will help combat any potential expectation that you have to contribute more than you physically can.

Communicating nonnegotiables with your team will help set boundaries in regards to your availability and what you're willing to do.

3. Set a fixed working schedule & stick to it

DigitalOcean's report also reveals that 52% of remote developers find themselves working longer hours than they thought they would. One of the reasons may be a lack of time management skills.

The best thing to do to start learning how to manage your time better is to begin setting a fixed schedule. After you communicate your working times to your remote team, diligently stick to them. By doing so, you will avoid straying from what you need to do.

Also resist the urge to check email or lurk on Slack outside your working schedule. You may feel that doing so means you're contributing more, but usually this isn't the case.

4. Create a routine

If you don't establish a routine to help reduce the amount of information you have to process, your stress levels may increase. A routine helps you always know what you need to be doing next.

It's good to have a routine in the early morning when you wake up, and also before going to bed. This helps your mind separate work from other activities, while helping you maintain work-life balance.

Another good practice is not checking your email first thing in the morning. It's better to wake up and prepare your breakfast, and only then check email. You can also use this time to prioritize your tasks for the day.

5. Take multiple breaks

Making time for multiple scheduled breaks from coding during the day is essential to increase productivity and reduce stress levels. Planning these breaks will help you develop the discipline to actually sign off when the time comes. Even going for a short walk around the block or doing a small task in the home can help.

6. Exercise daily

Daily exercise is phenomenal for your health. You should set aside 30 minutes to an hour every day for exercise. It's a great way to de-stress and unplug – 61% of developers find that physical activity lowers their stress levels. Science backs this up. So take advantage of those endorphins!

7. Don't eat while you're working

Cookiong and eating are great activities to save for your breaks. Taking the time to eat will help your mind unplug from work and relax. Enjoy the process of making your food, and take a moment to savor it. You'll find that you return to your monitor more refreshed and ready to take on the challenges that await.

It's also a good idea to prepare healthy food, which gives you an energy boost and keeps your mind sharp.

8. Don't forget about friends & family

When you're in work mode, it's easy to forget to set time aside for friends and family. To avoid this, try to schedule social events ahead of time. They will help you disconnect from work and make your life about more than just what pays the bills.

It’s important to remember that keeping in touch with loved ones will make you more fulfilled, help prevent stress, and ultimately make you happier and more productive at work. According to the DigitalOcean Currents report, 67% of developers say spending time with friends and family is the best way for developers to de-stress. (And let’s not forget pets too!)

9. Make time for yourself

Don’t forget to have some "me time" too. Leaving some time in the day for yourself will help you do other things that you enjoy. Playing video games, reading, or listening to music are all great de-stressors.

Another thing to consider is pursuing a hobby or other creative endeavor and learn more in this time. You can even study a different tech stack and improve your skills – even if you’re an experienced developer.

10. Take vacations

Lastly, taking a vacation is a very effective way to disconnect from work and recharge your batteries.

Unfortunately, most remote workers take limited vacation, often out of fear that they are not working enough compared to their counterparts.

You should take a vacation if you feel like you need one. Your productivity will actually increase after taking necessary time off, making it a win-win for you and your employer.

Remote work should be enjoyable

By establishing healthy routines and boundaries, along with prioritizing your wellness, health, and both personal and professional relationships, you’ll learn to manage and overcome burnout – which will help you become a happier, more productive developer. You’ll get to truly enjoy remote work and all its benefits (flexible schedule, no commuting, ability to work from anywhere, and more) without the downside.

Arc (formerly CodementorX) is a platform that connects developers with top companies hiring great developer talent. If you're a remote developer looking for your next opportunity, consider joining the Arc network.