After Hours

10 tips for avoiding IT burnout

If your job is driving you to the breaking point, it's time to look at a few ways to ease the stress. Here are some strategies to help you prevent a bad case of burnout.

IT pros know all too well that the long hours and deadline-driven stress of the job can take its toll. If left unchecked, excessive stress can lead to burnout. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to avoid IT burn out. Not all of the following suggestions are going to be practical for everyone, but some may help. Here are the techniques that have worked for me.

1: Take time off whenever you can

It's common for people working in certain IT positions to go for months without a day off. All those long nights and weekends can really run you into the ground after a while. One of the best ways to fight the inevitable fatigue is to take full advantage of your vacation days.

Over the years, I have had people tell me that taking a vacation is completely irresponsible and that it's something no true professional should ever do. However, I completely disagree. I have found that for me, there is no better way to recharge my batteries than to take time off.

I realize that this isn't an option for everyone. But if possible, try taking a really long vacation. I don't even start to unwind until about a week into my vacation.

2: Identify stressful tasks

Another way to avoid IT burnout is to identify your most stressful tasks. Oftentimes, one or two things make a job far more stressful than it would otherwise be. If you can identify the things that cause you the most stress, you might be able to find a way to reduce that stress. For instance, maybe you can delegate those particular tasks to someone else. Or perhaps you can set aside a certain time each week for dealing with the most stressful tasks so you don't have to worry about them for the rest of the week.

3: Unplug at the end of the day

Unplugging at night helps me relieve IT stress. Although there are some exceptions, I try not to check my email after 11:00 PM. That way, by the time I go to bed at 2:00, my mind has had time to relax and I don't end up going to bed thinking about work.

4: Blow off some steam

I have heard various people say that one good way to relieve stress and avoid burnout is to have a hobby. While I agree with that general concept, I have found that not just any hobby will do. Some hobbies are better at taking your mind off work than others. For instance, I used to play golf, but the people I played with always seemed to talk about work. Today, a couple of my favorite hobbies are racing my Cigarette boat and flying RC helicopters. Both of those activities require total concentration, which makes it impossible to think about work.

5: Eat well and exercise

As strange as it sounds, a proper diet and exercise can help you to avoid burnout. Anyone who has ever had a fast food hangover can attest to the fact that people generally feel better when they eat right, and feeling good can go a long way toward helping you to make it through the day.

6: Socialize

When was the last time you got together with your friends or family? Regularly taking a little time out and socializing a bit might help you to forget about work for a while.

7: Develop an escape plan

If your working conditions seem completely intolerable, take some time to determine what it would take to make your situation more palatable. Maybe avoiding certain people would help. Maybe it's time for a different job. Once you have figured out what would make your situation better, the next step is to come up with a realistic plan for achieving that objective. It might not always be easy to change your situation, and it probably won't happen overnight. But where there is a will there is a way.

8: Get plenty of sleep

Given all the demands that are placed on us, it can be tough to get enough sleep. Even so, getting plenty of rest is essential to avoiding burnout. When I am well rested, I'm a lot less edgy and I think more clearly, which ultimately translates to doing better work in less time. It isn't usually possible for me to get enough sleep during the week, so I make it a habit to sleep for most of the day on Sundays. I have found that resting on Sunday makes me better able to cope with Monday morning.

9: Cross train

Sometimes, what really leads to burnout is doing the same job day in and day out. If you are bored to tears with your job, why not start a cross-training program with some other IT staff members? That way, everybody gets a break from the normal day-to-day routine, and the organization ultimately benefits from the diversification of skills.

10: Learn to say no

This might be the most difficult suggestion of all, but sometimes you just have to say no to projects. This is especially true if you are already working nights and weekends just to complete the tasks that have already been assigned to you. Remember, there are only so many hours in a day.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

30 comments
lmng
lmng

As an IT prof for 16 years now, it is very difficult for us to get time for any activities or time away from IT. I used to be a programmer and do coding for like 18 to 20 hours per day. It's literally eat, sleep and work in front of the computer the whole day. The only time i'm away from the computer is the visit to the WC. I hated that kind of life and now instead i've switched to the less stressful but lower paying job of IT Support Engineer. Still bringing homework back to meet deadlines but less stressful.

fkgaza
fkgaza

While I have seen these factors in situations of burnout, I have also seen teams work 80 hour weeks and NOT experience burn out. I am not advocating 80hr weeks, what I am saying is I believe burn out is caused by a belief that you will NOT SUCCEED, not by overworking. Proof? We are coming into that time of year when we all do the ANNUAL REVIEW. It is open season for criticism. Nothing like CRITICISM to ignite burnout. Why? Because criticism and a fear of failure are what causes burn out, not just overwork.

tom
tom

I have a ranch (20 acres) with horses and cattle. It was my excape. Bussiness has been good meaning no evenings and weekends to work on the ranch. Now I'm behind about two months of work at the ranch and havent thrown a leg over a horse in 2 years. My hand is starting to raise up with a towel....

birumut
birumut

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sukumarraju
sukumarraju

Like to article and completely agree with the tips. Good one!! Raju

Lucian777chain
Lucian777chain

I like the post, specifically for take a day off, I agree with this but more precisely by singing together with friends and colleagues was the favorite thing we always done

sandyman_2000
sandyman_2000

i may be reading this a bit too late...felt the burnout coming on and trying to fight it.. by completing yet another 'immediate' mission (very gratifying and completion is the only thing that takes the stress off of me and gives me motivation to tackle the next 'immediate' mission). Problem is, my company has too many immediate needs, crisis management, and somehow affords to pay others and waste funds even when business is down... yet , i am promised the big reward when we are out of the red. ... So, yeah, i can outsource some things.. and at the same time end up paying consultants for assisting them all the way through each need.. while they are getting paid big bucks, taking their lunches, dinners, walk aways, vacations and throwing the ball back in my court. I have a diverse set of skills , lots of years in IT.. have been on my own before, and i have a huge passion for all of it... I love what i do. but come on ... I am not the savior... and can make things happen.... but how do i get paid for it? I can't wait till some morons in the company do something smart to turn a profit... They've got the promotions and raises... but i am running myself ragged... and i have so much to do... had a handle on all of it till some consultants leave me hanging .... dangling... and too damn needy... When i was consulting.. i took care of my clients... if i committed to something i kept my word.. And i never just ran the clock.. I have some really good consultants however. Yet they all say 'no'... and live manageable lives.. Hiring more staff is not really an option right now as i figured that would be more costly and then the stuff i would have to train them, i could've done... Okay sorry to ramble and whine (wine is better)... but if anyone has any feedback for me... please bring it on... call me idiot if you want.. just be constructive about it... Thanks. sandy

tommyt61
tommyt61

Nice article ! I think the first thing an I.T. person has to do is be honest with themselves. Did you get into the field.because you thought it sounded like a great job and that it would bring good pay and respect from friends and peers. Do you find yourself thinking that you are not very good at this stuff. If you answer yes to either, then get ou now ! I have worked in the biz for over 25 years and i have to say that the only thing that has kept me going is that i absolutely love it ! sure i have my days when i feel like i would rather be cuttin grass, but i always seem to never lose my passion for the work. Here is a small list of things i have learned over the years that has helped me keep going. 1. Don't try to be an expert at everything. Try to steer your carrer towards doing what you are good at and hone those skills. there is just too much out there now to be an expert at it all. 2. Be very quick to admit when you have little or no experience with something. Do not try to BS your boss or employer . They will be more understanding than you think. ( I feel this one thing causes more stress than all others) 3. Do not become the bailout guy !!! other I.T. staff will put their problems on you if they know you will do it. ( it is your fault if you allow this to happen). 4. Do not let your ego cause you to insert yourself into solving other I.T. staff problems . ( You don't have to be seen as the guru of all gurus.) 5. Don't be afraid to let management know that you work schedule is not open- ended. Let them know that you are willing to put in some extra time to help get the I.T. department better organized so as to cut down on workload, but make it clear you are not going to continue working 14 hour days seven days a week. If you are good at what you do they will respect you and work with you. 6. Don't be too proud to ask for help from other I.T. folks !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it did not take me long to learn this one. 7. always try to educate users around you on all I.T. related stuff they work with. How many times have you just had to reboot a PC or turn a printer off and back on to fix an Issue . A very large number of users do not know to try these very basic troubleshooting tips. but it fixes a huge number of support calls you have to answer. 8. Don't be afraid to suggest that an outside expert may need to be brought in , if you have exhausted all your knowledge and resources trying to solve a problem. this is mainly when you don't have the luxury of time to keep workin the problem. Refer to tip #1 9. If you truly have a passion for this stuff, you have to make yourself read something or do something other than I.T. related . Make yourself get away from it at times. have you ever found yourself feeling like you were pushing knowledge out as you were cramming more in. When you find this happening it is time to get away from it . 10. Let management or your boss know when you need to step away from a stressful situation for a little while. sometimes just a few hours of not having to think can re-charge your battery. Hope these tips help , but remeber above all else if you don't have a passion for it, go find yours somewhere else . this business will destroy the fakes very quickly.

nohi
nohi

T_T , don't suport Chinese...... please .....

nohi
nohi

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our_only_cisco _man
our_only_cisco _man

If you have a work mobile - record a nice message with contact details of the office and turn it off. its no fun coming back to 1000s of emails after a fortnights holiday (yeh right), but its better than talking someone through cycling switch ports while youre in a las vegas buffet - been there, done that, got the crab stained tshirt

Head_IT_Man
Head_IT_Man

The number of times I've been on busy projects and end up not being able to get to sleep, or, indeed, having very strange dreams in which, SOMEHOW that wierd little piece of code, or server configuration, or Application Deployment will work gets entwined into my dreams are numerous. The whole "get enough sleep" is a big one - but also being able to go to bed without thinking about work is very easy to say, less easy to do !!! It's not exactly a simple answer, but for me, avoiding burnout means avoiding the things that stress me out. Sometimes achieveable, sometimes not !!! (In October, I'm heading on my first 2 week holiday in 3 years.... !! Hope they cope here. If not, too bad, I'll be chasing the kids around a beach, and sipping cocktails by the pool somewhere where I can't be reached by work, no matter how hard they try !!!)

michaeljarome2008
michaeljarome2008

Thanks for the tips list how to avoid burnout...this is the problem most often with the IT people like us, sometimes even we already reach at home, we still keep thinking our work. We should find a way sometimes to relax and of course dont forget our family relationship...GODBLESS!!!

montanaredeye
montanaredeye

Homebrewing (All Grain) and photography, helps on the weekends, and you get to enjoy the benefits of your labors : ) judging county fairs and enjoy teaching people both hobbies???.Revitalizes you to return to work.

joeller
joeller

All good ideas. However, a quote by Steve Jobs back in 2003 really sums it up. "Love what you do." When you dread getting up to go to work, when you will create household emergencies to go home, or stay home from work, or when you refuse to turn on a computer, or look at a computer book when you are not at work, then you are not loving what you do. Taking time off is a great idea but with companies doing government contracting there is usually insufficient leave to take a really long vacation. In 1997, before I got involved with defense contracting I had a three week vacation and a week off for Xmas. Since then, most years I have not been able to even take a one week vacation. Other activities are a good idea. I am doing volunteer work in the community around envionmental issues. But you have to be careful to not get sucked in to over-committing yourself into spending all of your non-working hours in that as well. Then you will reach burn-out in two areas at once. But the main importance is to be in this field because you love the work and not for the money. I lost my best job ever when the railroad I worked for was mergered out of existence. I went into this field because it was the only thing for which I had any talent that made any kind of money. 15 years later I find myself longing for the old days and dreading going to work each day. So I say, if you don't love this job, get out while you are still young and free of commitments and find something you do love. Otherwise you will be trapped into doing something you have grown to hate.

tommy
tommy

Take lunch! It's not a tip I take up myself very often. Grabbing a sandwich and ploughing on while munching and slurping my (fifth or sixth) coffee is more the norm. However, taking the break your fully entitled to, strolling about a bit, getting the blood back in your feet, and some fresh air in the lungs makes the afternoon much more amenable.

bfunke
bfunke

You say you go to bed at 2:00 and then recommend to get plenty of sleep???

christophermorgan1
christophermorgan1

I have been an independent for over 14 years and I love the life, I have worked all over the globe, been able to take vacations when I wanted, no mortgage, no loans, I have never worked more than 40 hours in a week, never worked a weekend. I would never go permanent but thats just me.

gharlow
gharlow

I repair carpet for a living now and write Android apps in hopes of a big win. Cubicle me is now dead.

Kismuth
Kismuth

Sandy, that's tough. Some good comments here, and I hope the situation's gotten better since this post. Truthfully, I've seen a lot of this kind of thing while in Seattle and also the Research Triangle Park. Would love to share what I've discovered, if people here are still reading this thread. :)

Pragmatic Rich
Pragmatic Rich

Hi Sandy, For years I behaved as though the companies I worked for had my best interest at heart. Having been in IT for 15 years now as a software engineer I can tell you that if you could do a personality profile on an organisation, most would turn out to be sociopaths. You need to change your attitude and behaviour towards your organisation or it will eat you up and when they've finally made you lame they will spit you out. There's only one person that's on your side , and that's you. This means that you have to put your own needs ahead of the needs of your organisation, the organisation can and will look after itself and at great cost to you if you let it. You really have to learn to fight your own corner. Those clock watching consultants are not something to be criticised, they've learned the lesson, they're looking after number 1 because they've learned that no one else will. With regards delegating. It really is short term pain for a long term gain. It also allows you to move up or sideways when the opportunity arises, as you're not totally irreplacable in your current role. I know that sounds like you're possibly working yourself out of a your own job but so what, it sounds like your current role as it stands isn't something healthy for you to stay in. I always like to keep in mind that when it comes to dealing with people and organisations, "They will treat you as you let them". It places the responsibility for how you are treated in your own hands. Couple this with taking a broader view of your market value by putting your CV out there and talking to agents about other opportunities. This will allow you to see your full breadth of options including those outside of your current company so when it comes to you saying no you wont fear the potential consequences so much. You'll be decoupling yourself from the implied power your company has over you which is "do what we want or we get rid of you" and in so doing you neutralise their trump card. I hope you don't take this too personally. I've seen this anti pattern time and time again and have been there myself, burned out a few times, wondered if I still love what I do and I've come out of the other end charred and smoking but a little wiser......perhaps. Best of luck

davis11512
davis11512

Let me see, everything is needed today, your company has an endless supply of 'immediate needs', continual crisis management, big bucks are being spent on consultants who delegate work back to you, you're running yourself ragged, and to top it all off, they're not paying you anything, just promising some vague future big reward. Is that right? Well then, you are officially burnt out (even crispy, I would say). Unfortunately, I am familiar with virtually all the symptoms you describe, as I too found myself in similar circumstances. A couple of suggestions, based on my experience: - refer back to the article; pay particular attention to the Say No item - seriously, find another job. Kansas City is a nice area, there's got to be something else around -- dig for it. - a year or so after I managed to get myself to a (much, much) better place, I reflected back on my earlier 'job from hell', and realized I was mostly responsible for my earlier bad situation. Don't be a doormat, don't commit / give your word to doing the impossible, and start looking out for yourself, because no one else will. Your employer and bosses are happy to let you make yourself just as miserable and overworked as you desire or allow. You can love IT, and still not put up with unreasonable demands. Seriously. Best of Luck on your (long overdue) rehab. I hope you are able to get some balance back in your work life, and home life.

tommy
tommy

Yeah, that would be nice. Last couple of breaks I've had have been plagued by SMS from my boss. How the fell am I supposed to diagnose a one-off network glitch in Croydon from a beach in Lanzarote? Maybe that's tip 12: When you do manage to slip the manacles off and get out of the office for a well deserved holiday, switch off the phone, or leave it at home! ;o)

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

I kind of cheat on the home brewing, and use extract and partial grain, but my second hobby is blacksmithing. There's something really soul-satisfying about taking a piece of red-hot steel, and just pounding the snot out of it. And, as you said, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors.

joeller
joeller

And now I spend at least 3 hours each night laying awake worrying about databases, websites and stored procedures and schemas. I haven't had time to use the Indian Head Bike Trail on whose committee I work, and haven't done anything for pure fun all summer. Time to get out of this business.

ceso_softdev
ceso_softdev

I learned early on my career that skipping lunch/dinner in favor of something urgent at the office its not a wise decision. Stress + Hunger it's not a good mix. I take my lunch even if I'm not hungry. I also have a personal rule of no talking about work during lunch. It may seem silly, but it works wonders.

webster_z
webster_z

.. but then Brien says that he catches up on Sundays. Not possible for a married person with two children, which would be the norm for people at risk of burnout. That part sounded like he was trying to be funny. "Unplug at the end of the day, do not check my mail after 11pm so that by the time, I go to bed at 2(am)...." I thought that was some humor directed at the IT profession. :)

colleyryan
colleyryan

Well, good point. Maybe instead of sanity I should have said keep IT on the ledge instead of jumping over it with both feet?