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.
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.
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.