Programming Burnout: How to Regain Your Lost Motivation


Have you lost the passion that you once had for programming? Is it affecting your motivation to get things done? Are you falling behind on all your projects and finding it difficult to catch up? If you feel burned out, here’s the good news: you can beat it.

Programming burnout is very real. The real challenge with burnout is figuring out the different reasons why you may find yourself lacking motivation. Finding the cause will help you recharge and come back stronger.

There are numerous ways to rekindle the flame, finding the one that you respond to is the challenge. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it’s certainly achievable. Here are some ways to tackle programmer burnout and regain your lost motivation.

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It bears repeating: you are not the first programmer to lose their fire, nor will you be the last. You are not alone in this struggle. Millions of other coders have dealt with this problem and many of them made it through to the other side. The best thing you can do is to learn from their experiences.

That’s why I highly recommend Apprenticeship Patterns by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye. This ebook is full of wisdom for programmers. It walks through the phases of programming expertise from newbie to veteran and the challenges that pop up along the way.

The underlying reason for burnout can vary from person to person. Were your expectations of programming different from reality? Are you rushing towards mastery and being overwhelmed by it all? Do you feel like you’re stagnating and not learning anything new?

Depending on your answers, you should check out the sections named “Sustainable Motivations,” “The Long Road,” and “Rubbing Elbows,” respectively.

Find Motivation With Programming Peers

Let’s be clear about one thing: this has nothing to do with whether you’re strong enough to pull yourself through. Being unmotivated doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s important to keep yourself grounded in reality, which is hard to do when you can’t see an outside perspective.

When you’re feeling indifferent and bored, the worst thing you can do is to suffer through it on your own. If you aren’t already surrounded by like-minded programmers, you would do well to seek some community. In-person conversations are ideal, but online communities have benefits as well.

The goal of peer-to-peer interaction is to find common ground with programmers who may be having the same struggle that you are. The objective is to share your concerns, vent a little bit, and ultimately pinpoint what might be killing your inspiration.

Get Inspired Learning Something New

In a lot of cases, programming burnout stems from boredom. If you’ve been grinding as a company software developer for over a decade, you might feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end job with no opportunity. Maybe the code you maintain is trivial and doesn’t challenge you. None of which even makes mention of other habits that can contribute to exhaustion at work.

What do you do then? You have to switch gears. Some of the enjoyment of programming comes from creative problem-solving. Without that, programming is little more than mindless busywork day in and day out – especially if you consider your day-to-day coding projects to be easy.

Code projects for programmers

Depending on the flexibility of your workplace, ask your superiors if you can transfer to another project. If you can afford the risk, it may even be worth switching to another field  (e.g. if you’ve been writing academic software on Windows, it could be exciting to try writing a social app on the web).

You can also pick up hobby projects that involve areas of programming that you’ve never explored. For example, try making a mobile game in your free time.

When you can’t get away from your primary programming responsibilities, you’d be surprised how much inspiration these personal projects can stoke within you. Just make sure you pick something that ignites your interest.

Improve Health to Beat Burnout

A lack of motivation could be a sign of health problems. These can be physical health concerns like dehydration, or mental health concerns like depression. Improving health can go a long way toward recovering motivation.

Don’t be hesitant to try an app that promotes positivity to recharge your mental health.

For computer-heavy activities like programming, there are three steps you can take to stay healthy.

  1. Exercise regularly (if time is an issue, you can try exercising at your desk while you work).
  2. Take steps to minimize computer fatigue.
  3. Enforce proper sleeping habits.

Routines can strain your mental health. If you’re staring at the same four walls every single day, it could grow monotonous. Monotony can lead to boredom and increased levels of stress.

You can remedy this by changing your scenery; whether that means rearranging your furniture, working from a new location, or something as small as changing your computers’ wallpaper. If you want to incorporate some exercise into your workflow, a standing desk can help.

Lastly, if your lack of motivation is closely tied to issues of procrastination, one thing I’ve found extremely helpful is the Pomodoro technique. This technique breaks up your workday into alternating periods of work, rest, work, rest. Never tried it before? Give it a go for a week or two. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Step Away And Refresh

It’s great to find a solution to burnout that helps you become a better programmer. However, programming is a mentally taxing career and at a certain point changing the way you program might not be enough to fix your burnout.

Sometimes the best way to refresh your programming is to stop programming!

Step away from the computer, give your keyboard rest, and get offline. Find a hobby that motivates you. Maybe that’s learning music or getting outdoors for a hike. There’s no shortage of hobbies that don’t involve any programming. Visit your friends, get out on the town, go see a movie or concert. Burning the candle on both ends is great for productivity but terrible for your mental health. Take some time to switch your brain off; stop thinking about algorithms.

When you take time off frequently, you have a better chance of keeping your mind fresh and avoid losing motivation.

Revive Your Motivation to Program

I’ve been there more often than I’d like to admit. Programming is fun! Programming is boring. It’s fun again!  These steps are the kinds of actions that have proven most effective for me over the years. Hopefully one or more of these tips can help you recover the motivation that sustains you.

Keep your energy strong by separating work from your personal life. Positive forms of entertainment are encouraged, find what works for you. For some that may be as simple as a playlist you enjoy or as engaging as one of these creative hobbies that can make you a happier person.

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