15 responses to “Weekend Journal: Burn Out”

  1. Cherish The Scientist

    I see a lot of grad students go through this. You spend all day working on classes and homework, then you get to do a research project. A lot of them feel hugely guilty any time they take time away from their research, yet not staying away, even for small bits of time, kills their desire to work on it. It turns into a nasty spiral.

    Glad you’re thinking of ways to prevent it rather than waiting until it happens. I’ve seen people end up in the hospital before they acknowledged something had to be done.

  2. Eric Holland

    I recently started brewing beer, not because my day job was getting too stress full, but because I wanted a non-engineering related hobby to be able to talk about with my non-engineering friends… plus maybe have something other than the weather to talk about with my neighbors.

    I am sure I’ll dream about automated arduino based brewing equipment, but for the mean time just reading the “Brewing for Dummies” book is relaxing.

    So pick up that guitar and start jamming… I expect to hear some clips on the Amp Hour shortly 😛

    1. Chris Gammell

      The theme song is a Chris G original! I might try a refresh soon though.

    2. Ben W

      That is great hobby, brewing beer! Sounds like fun. Right now most all of my hobbies are engineering related, but when given the opportunity I often turn to gardening. It somewhat relates to engineering in that I like seeing how plant growth works, but it doesn’t require any design … its already in the plants.

      This is a great article Chris. Thanks for sharing and reminding us to pick our heads up out of the work hole to breathe the fresh air.

      Ben W

  3. Charles J Gervasi

    I was there a few years ago. I don’t have the solution. All of the things you suggest are true: staying healthy and all of it.

    I found a few years ago the amount of hours I was working was set not by some intelligent plan but rather by the amount my body plus RedBull was able to work. After working 40 hours or so, the amount of extra work I can do varies as the square of the effort. That model breaks down somewhere over 60 hours, and the slope of the out-vs-effort curve increases faster.

    The solution is to build structures to get engineering done instead of actually doing it yourself. I’m struggling to learn to this right now. The irony of this is discussed in the book “The E-Myth”. The idea is if you’re really successful at something, you end up not doing much of it. You’ll end up recruiting, training, and managing engineers. You end up doing a lot of accounting. You decide which risks to take. You’re not engineering.

    While the significant other is focused on some project is a perfect time to work all this out. You don’t want to work it out at 3am while working out how to feed a new baby. There’s more phony baloney and politics surrounding childcare than there is around anthropogenic climate change. I would thought that was extreme hyperbole eight years ago, but it’s a factual statement. So you are very smart to work out engineering business stuff at this time.

  4. Moiety

    Knowing your limits can be far more valuable than when you go beyond them just to finish a project. Not only is it a management lesson for yourself, it is a management lesson for when you manage other people. A good manager is one who will amongother things, realise that a worker is having difficulties and thus is able to offer support. My advice see your family more because when they are gone, they are gone. Living in another country to my family, I make sacrifices to make sure that I can see them for the significant one a year trip.
    P.S. I always find it amazing that some people in business can suggest that family is secondary to life. If one cannot be loyal to ones family, I doubt one can be loyal to the company. Very un-machiavellian.

  5. Matt Wilbur

    I find I go through cycles similar to what you are talking about (where you just stare at this mountain of cool stuff to try but just can’t get motivated). That being said, I’m in a different boat since I have 2 little boys who won’t be ignored, so working all evening is just not feasible.

    I started taking music lessons to force me to do something non-technical (and non-familial). This is qualitatively different than noodling on your instrument of choice in the evening, as you have time carved out every week for your lesson. It’s easy to blow off your playing when there are no consequences. It’s harder when you’ve got the lesson scheduled. I’d really recommend this as a way to inject something different into your life. If not music, maybe a run club or a sports team. I guess my main point is that if you are they type of person who easily pushes your own stuff down in the priority stack, committing to others that you’ll do something is one way to overcome that because now you have someone to account to. Hope that makes sense.

    I know it’s probably not something you’d want to do, but I’d really reconsider taking on too many consulting gigs. If you go into hard compression for too long, it won’t be pretty.

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  7. Robert

    been there done that
    I don’t have the answer nor does anyone else except yourself
    I found the engineering business a bit frustrating (I’m an EE) Technology was progressing so rapidly that I was constantly just trying to learn the new techniques. That was a drain as I seemed to never be getting on top of my chosen profession.
    So I did what a lot of engineers did and changed professions . (I went into support and then marketing )
    I look back now and I see that I gave up a lot of things that I now cherish for some dream. I still have my family (wife is very understanding and accomadating.) but I have changed my focus.
    Like Chris I played music and then gave it up. That was a mistake and I came back to music 20 years later and really enjoy it.
    I also got back into doing engineering projects algned to my interests.

    As I said I really do not have an answer. What I can say is that make sure the dream you are chasing is what you really, really (did I say really) want. You’ll get what you dream for but you may be on top of that mountain by yourself looking at a terrible abyss.
    And whilst money is nice, one can actually get by on a lot less than one thinks. I found out that I don;t need all the gadgets that are thrown at us by the media
    Good luck

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  10. yogesh


    I am a first year PhD student in Aero and I am deep in this situation myself. During my undergrad, all I ever did was think, dream and talk about airplanes, so much so that I was completely oblivious to the real world outside – family, friends, girlfriends etc.. I started working after my graduation and it happened that my computed hard disk, on which I had stored 7 years of effort into collecting videos, articles whatnot on airplanes went up in smoke.. since then, I seemed to be not at all interested in airplanes and since I did not have any other source of motivation (few friends, didn’t speak to family much), I felt completely disillusioned. I turned to philosophy and for 2-3 years I have been questioning every frickin’ thing and it has led me to a kind of downward spiral.. I still hoped that my attraction to airplanes was not a mere flicker since it lasted for close to 5 years and I got into a Phd program in Aero. Similar to your situation, I am surrounded by really cool stuff, airplanes, flight simulators and whatnot and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why I wasn’t getting motivated. At some points, I thought of quitting the program entirely. However, I have persisted and am very slowly realizing that my situation could be due to burnout and may not have anything to do with me having some psychological issues. Hopefully both of us are on the right track and things will get better soon. All the best to you!

    1. Chris Gammell

      Thanks yogesh! I have found my situation to be improving since I’ve eliminated things that weren’t all that important (in the grander) scheme and have focused on my relationships and that has really helped my life improve. I wish you the best!

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