I’ve been a developer and small business owner for 30 years. Before I sold my business I routinely worked 7 day weeks and skipped vacations. My longest stretch without a single day off ran 1005 days. I rarely felt burned out despite fighting through some tough times where I had to keep working hard despite not paying myself for a year.
After I sold my last business, I made a decision to do some other things so I adjusted my job to fit my desires. These days I work 45 hours or so a week and I take my time off with pleasure. I manage because I have to and I still write code because I love it.
I’ve thought about this quite a bit and I think it comes down to a few simple things:
1) Do what you love
I love building software. I really believe it’s a hobby I just happen to get paid to do. If you don’t love it, if it’ just a J.O.B. that you struggle with — Get out.
2) Know yourself. Find a work/life balance that fits you now. Be prepared to adjust as your life changes.
If I didn’t have kids right now, I’d start a business. However, I do have kids and I want to spend time with them so starting a business is out at the moment. Instead, I found a job at a place with a family-friendly culture. If the culture changes to requires tons of overtime on a regular basis, I will have to move on.
Knowing yourself sounds easy, but it’s not. If you take a job that doesn’t fit your life, something will break. Burnout would probably be the least of the bad things that could happen.
3) Get fiscally smart so you maintain the power of “NO” ( and its close cousin “YES”)
Too many people live one paycheck from disaster. As a result, they are forced to do things they don’t want to do like work ridiculous hours. That leads to burnout.
It’s very simple to avoid this. Live beneath your means. Delay buying the new car a few years. Stick with a small apartment for an extra year. Pay off all your debts including your house if you have one. Save up six months of living expenses in a simple savings account. Max out your 401K ($18,000/yr and ROTH if it is available). Cut back until your friends laugh at you for being cheap. If you don’t know how to start, try the Dave Ramsey plan.
As you do this, you’ll find yourself making good choices in your career. You’ll go places that excite you rather than places that pay you the most today. You’ll stay somewhere because it fits you even if you can get a little more money somewhere else. You’ll advance more in your career because you’ll maintain a passion for your work that will catch people’s attention. You’ll never burn out.
Oh, and you’ll be rich. Then you can enjoy some luxuries without losing your freedom to the bank.
4) Take care of your health
I’m no health nut but I do know that exercise relieves my stress and gives me more energy. When I feel better I’m more optimistic and feel happier. You can’t beat that.