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Avoid Burnout by Understanding Motivation and Time Management

Personal growth
Productivity
Motivation
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

17 December, 2018

Sean Fannan shares how he personally avoids burnout through time management, and how he avoids the burnout of his engineers through identifying individuals’ personas.

Problem

Job burnout does not happen overnight. Burnout can be caused from a variety of factors including being overworked or having worked on the same thing for too long. Off the bat, I can tell you that there's not just one single method to deal with this problem. You need to understand your team, and figure out each individual's persona - what motivates them, what gets them excited, and what makes them bored. Be sure to also ask yourself these questions as you, too, are prone to burnout. Everybody thinks about things differently and so they get burnt out in different ways. Here are some examples of ways I've been able to keep the interest of my team and prevent burnout for them and for myself.

Actions taken

I have a young junior engineer with a lot of potential. He can work on random tickets for weeks on end but doing so would burn him out. What really excites him is something like building a machine learning framework. I recognize that he is the type of person that is motivated by challenging problems and so I willingly give him work that needs more focus.

In contrast, I have a mid-level engineer who is very smart as well, but who doesn't need to be working on super challenging problems. In fact, in a more challenging and chaotic environment he's honestly not a very good engineer. Instead, I identified that he is more motivated by understanding his role in the big picture of things. When he comprehends the pieces, how they come together, and his part in it all, then he becomes motivated knowing that a percentage of the project is relying on whatever work he is doing. Context is important to him.

Handling my own burnout has to do with time management. I think this is a very useful skill to have. Where do I put my time? How do I optimize my time? Be very diligent and aware of where you're spending your time. Personally, I go through a process every couple of weeks. I sit down with myself in a room and look at where I have spent my time in those weeks. I write down all the different things that I did and I order them based on what things are most important to me at that time. It forces me to self-analyze and think about where I see value and where I don't. I can then acclimate to the changing environment, re-prioritize, and get rid of things that are no longer serving me.

Lessons learned

  • You can't please everyone because everyone is a bit different. Frankly, you have to pick and choose where you want to put your time and effort. I'm not saying leave some folks out to dry, but if you had to place bets on certain members of the team, then do so.
  • Take a step back and have a greater appreciation for what everyone is motivated by and try to optimize for the team so that people don't become burnt out, and as a result, your team will continue to grow and stay with the company.
  • Surround yourself with people that you want to be someday. Ask yourself who you are exposing yourself to. This holds true for team members as well. Instill the idea of being exposed to the types of people that you want to work with and the positions that you want to grow into.
  • Time is finite. You can work a hundred hours per week and still feel like you're not finished. No matter how many hours you put in, there's always more stuff to do. Acknowledge this situation but don't give into it.

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