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The most common developer disease
Uncovering the reason for tiredness, fatigue and eventual burnout
We often discuss how to write code, but not about being healthy. We talk about technologies, but rarely about vitality. We put more energy into our setting rather than into our set. The hard truth is that our physical health strongly affects our performance and mental well-being. It’s not a coincidence that they say:
A sound mind in a sound body.
The mind and body are closely connected. If one aspect of your health is poor, it will affect other aspects as well. Bypassing this might work in short term, but in the long term, it inevitably leads to health problems and burnout.
The funny thing is that being healthy is not complicated. It is also not expensive. All we need is discipline and willpower to give up our bad habits.
How I burned out
The year was 2018. I was motivated and pumped as hell. I was hungry for knowledge like never before. I was spending all my spare time learning about writing clean code, studying different testing strategies, and exploring every corner of my tech stack. I firmly remember that I implemented the Repository pattern in 7 different ways for a solution, finding pros and cons for each of them. Madness. I wanted to be the best developer on the planet.
With time I realized that I don’t want to be the best developer. I just want to bring out the best in the developers I work with.
I was burning the candle at both ends. This had been going well, seemingly. Then one morning - after grinding the whole weekend, of course - I went to the office, sat down at my desk, opened my laptop, and wanted to touch my keyboard, then something bad happened: touching the keyboard made me feel utterly disgusted. I immediately felt that something is off. As someone whose favorite activity is doing aggressive code refactoring with hotkeys, it felt way off to being disgusted with the keyboard.
Something has broken. Brutally, in retrospect. It took me around two years to come back to normal. Outside work, I didn't do anything tech related. I had zero motivation. Luckily I had an amazing team and tech lead whom I could communicate my problems with. Pair programming sessions also helped to boost my motivation. The struggles I faced were not easy. I lost my passion for crafting software. But the struggles ultimately led to a period of deep introspection. Today I am grateful for all the lessons and I wouldn’t change anything. We learn the most from our failures.
Experiencing burnout was a wake-up call for me: forcing me to re-evaluate my priorities and take control of my life. Now, with this post, I'm dedicated to helping others to learn from my mistakes.
Mandatory rest day on Sunday
After that two years, I felt it was time again to make a difference, so I started improving my coding skills. But with one mandatory rule: every Sunday is a rest day. This became a non-negotiable since then. Exceptions might prove the rule. For example, a year ago I received a call on Sunday that a Kubernetes cluster I was in charge of was down. I could not continue my rest day without being anxious, so the only thing left was to fix the cluster.
Since then I got rid of that Kubernetes, too much complexity and too much overhead.
Once per year, it’s fine to work on Sunday. But apart from critical issues, I say no to every coding-related activity. I recommend everyone do the same.
And here is the trick: even if you feel super motivated to work on some cool coding project on Sunday, just don’t. The coding project will wait for you till Monday. Your health might not.
Intensive sport is a must
Doing three times intensive sports per week is crucial. Running, swimming, riding a bicycle, or doing martial arts. Anything that makes you sweat is great. People generally don’t like doing sports. It’s tiring, takes time, and results in muscle pain. The hard truth is that sport is not only about fun. It’s about both short-term and long-term benefits you feel afterward. Generally, you don’t do sport to have fun. You do sport to improve your health. In the short term, you feel sharper, happier, and more confident. As for the long term, here are some benefits:
Improved mental health
Better and deeper sleep
Improved cardiovascular health
Strengthened immune system
Improved cognitive functions
Regular exercise is especially important for people over 30 and developers who sit for 8+ hours per day. So for us all of us who read this post. After the age of 30, we literally start dying. As we age, our bodies naturally begin to lose muscle mass, undergo a decrease in metabolic rate, and experience a decline in organ function. They will all have a significant impact on our performance when writing code. It’s totally up to us to slow down the aging process and keep our bodies in shape. Doing intensive sports is the best way to stay healthy in the software industry.
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Your body is a temple
Your body is a temple, not a trash can. Don't pollute it. Candies, processed food, snacks, and excessive alcohol. All of them are your enemies. They are poison to your body. A poisoned body will corrupt your mind. A polluted mind will lead to declined mental functions when writing code.
Most people have a tendency to overconsume processed sugar. It adds 0 nutritional value to our bodies. They just result in expensive insulin spikes. Eating processed sugar causes a temporary feeling of happiness, but it's followed by a crash that makes us feel worse than before. Feeling fatigued after a sugar crash can make it harder to do our coding tasks efficiently. Is it really worth it? One can be better off eating fruits. That’s what I always do. Every time I have a desire for some sugar, I grab a fruit. They are full of vitamins, antioxidants, and good kinds of sugar.
The same thing is true for cola and other kinds of sugared sodas. When we drink them we feel awesome, and once we stop them, we feel awful and crave more. And these are just the short-term effects. As a solution, just drink water and you will have sustainable and long-lasting energy throughout the whole day.
Drinking alcohol has evolved into a widespread social norm. We enjoy a glass of wine during dinner, use it to celebrate special occasions, and drink it when socializing with friends on weekends. It’s deeply rooted in our cultures.
Alcohol's negative impact on our health is bigger than many realize. Consuming none is far healthier than having even two drinks per week. Negative health effects accumulate. They make us stressed. They cause brain fog. They screw up our sleep. All of these ultimately contribute to burnout. I know it can be hard to cope with it, we just all got used to drinking. But one thing is sure: if you stop your alcohol consumption, your overall health will significantly improve. Just give it a try and you will see.
If you’re interested in what alcohol does to your body, I recommend a podcast from Andrew D. Huberman. Recently, this guy has become the most reliable source of information on modern health issues. He is a legend when it comes to the health of our bodies.
Before I pull the trigger: I am not fully against coffee. Everyone is drinking coffee around me. My family members, friends, my colleagues, and probably you as well. If I fought against it, I would fight with my loved ones. So feel free to drink it after this post. Coffee is tasty and does its job well. I’ve been also a regular coffee drinker. Till the point that I realized how much impact it had on my performance. Drinking coffee can cause fatigue and drastically hinder your productivity. It's a fact, and avoiding it can help you feel more energized.
Caffeine is the most consumed drug worldwide. It’s the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. A moderate amount is still healthy. Max 2-3 cups per day. Coffee can improve heart health, reduce disease risks, and stimulate the mind. But it’s a sort of illusion that coffee gives energy. Drinking coffee is a paradox. People drink it to feel more energy, but the caffeine will lead to feelings of exhaustion. People drink coffee not because they are just normally tired. They drink it because they are tired from the negative effects of caffeine. Drinking coffee in the afternoon can have lasting effects on the bloodstream for over 10 hours, which makes it difficult to achieve deep and restful sleep. Bad sleep will have a direct impact on our performance. Bad performance will result in bad coding habits.
Starting our day with coffee is also counterproductive. We sleep 6-8 hours to rebuild and energize, not to kickstart our day with a stimulant drug. The withdrawal from caffeine is also brutal. If someone thinks that coffee doesn’t have an effect on them, they should just try to live without it for one week. It’s a challenging addiction to cope with. But once one ditch coffee completely, they will experience increased mood, better sleep, and more energy. All of these will help prevent burnout and enhance productivity. Pure energy is the best.
I don’t say that you should totally get rid of all of these things. We all have the freedom to choose what we do with our health. From time to time I also enjoy a bar of chocolate, a cup of ristretto, or a tasty craft beer. Cheat days are fine, keeping the balance is important. But the reality is that every time I consume these, I always feel a decline in my productivity. Always.
Never forget that if you don’t have health, then you have nothing. Poor health can limit your ability to enjoy work, family, and money. Remember this: a healthy person may desire a thousand things. An unhealthy person wants only one thing: to be healthy.