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How to avoid "hobby" burnout

March 8th, 2022

~6 minutes

It's often looked down upon when one values rest over constant hard work. At least, that's how it's been for as long as society has existed. However, things are changing.

This topic is closely related to any topic around "burn-out", "overworking", and "just generally working so much you forget your own reflection and your friends forget you exist". And I'm sure you've experienced these things before too. That feeling you get when you're tired of doing what you used to love and thinking about doing that in the future, puts a weird feeling in your stomach.

We've all dealt with this more than once in our lives. I've experienced it often enough to know how to avoid it, or at least keep it at bay and I'd like to share my process with you. I'm hoping it will help someone out there!

This is tailored more to programming than other hobbies, but nevertheless, the points here are transferrable.

A little back story

I've been programming for the better part of 8-9 years at the time of writing this (2022, future me). I've been programming for a while with tutorials, guides, courses, and just my own side-projects. I've tried to have other hobbies to occupy my time, but there's nothing quite like building your own little apps... anyways.

I've hit burnout more times than I can count and it's scary! I hate the feeling I get when I've clearly overworked and haven't taken breaks when my body was telling me too. Over the years, I've become much better at knowing when my body is telling me to take a break and I've become much better at listening to it.

Once I broke out of that mentality that told me I can't take break or else the world would fall apart, that's when I truly found freedom. Freedom from having to constantly perform, and freedom to rest.

In reality, if you take a day or two, even a week, from programming or whatever hobby you tend to do on a daily basis, for the most part, it's not going to hurt you. Life is short so be sure to take care of yourself and the things you love.

You don't have to program when you don't feel like it

I always thought if I took a day off, I'd be behind and my career would be pushed back further and further. Believing that, was a mistake, but I didn't know any better. I always thought that I had to be programming everyday, all the time, but I was wrong and all that led to were month long breaks and a lot of stress.

In about 2017/2018, I took up narrating thriller stories on my Youtube channel Stories After Midnight. I uploaded a video every few days for a long while. To date I haven't uploaded in two months for a few different reasons, but the biggest among them is burnout and a lack of desire to create that type of content. But, for the past year (before I quit/took a break) I had been dealing without burnout for a while. Reading stories felt like a chore and something I had to do every other day.

The problem with Youtube is, people expect regular content, at least in my particular genre. Dealing with burnout in a content-creator sort of way is a different kind of animal. There's a lot of pressure to keep creating content and pumping out new things regardless of how you feel. On the other hand though, a vast majority of people are forgiving and most encourage breaks and times of rest!

But after 370 about 1,000 stories read, I've taken a break; not that it matters in this context haha.

How I avoid burnout

Stop as soon as you feel like it's a chore

I've gotten to the point where if I don't feel like programming even a little bit, I'll close my laptop even if in the middle of something, or I just won't look at my laptop at all. Whereas I used to just program anyways, now, I don't ever do that unless in important circumstances. I've found that this gives me the freedom to back away without guilt and live to love my hobby another day. Taking breaks no matter if I'm in the middle of something, or not, preserves my love for the craft and my sanity. I genuinely come back to it the next day or two, happy to be back.

Find other hobbies to fill your time (optional)

I also have other hobbies related to programming which helps me further my "cause" without actually partaking in the hobby. I have books that I read that relate to programming or the mind, building a startup, or running social media. They all interest me and are applicable to my field. I'd encourage you to find something else related to what you enjoy that you can do when you need a rest. Even if you don't have anything, don't feel bad either, just take that break and enjoy it.

Work on projects that excite you

I've also found that projects can become stale in their excitement. I have a few different projects that are unfinished and usually serve as a distraction from the main project I'm working on. It's nice to have a few different ideas on the go as you can hop between them when one is feeling boring. I'd encourage this, so long as it works for you. Whatever project you can find that excites you, start it and take it as far as you want; don't be afraid to take a break or switch off that one either.

Just take a break

This is also an option. Don't do anything. Turn on Netflix. Nap for 8 hours. Don't think about your hobby.

I hope this has helped

In the end, you have to take care of yourself; there really isn't any way around that. If you're not taking care of yourself, the things you enjoy doing will start suffering. So when you're feeling burnt out and your hobby feels like a chore, step back, consider the points above, and decide the best move forward. This does come with a caveat. In the past, I have felt burnout for weeks to months and sometimes I've had to overcome that feeling by making myself do what caused the burnout to begin with. I've found this can be difficult to do, but I've also found that more often than not, the love comes back. Your milage may vary, so listen to your heart and consider the options.


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Tyrel Chambers

I'm a software engineer and indie developer living in Ontario, Canada. I love day-dreaming new ideas and using my free time to bring them to life.