Career Advice: Tips on Managing Burnout and Balance

Experts offer advice to professionals who’ve had it up to there with stress and work issues.

Written by Lisa Bertagnoli
Published on Jul. 14, 2022
Career Advice: Tips on Managing Burnout and Balance
Image: Built In

For 10-plus years, Built In has dispensed career advice via articles quoting experts from all corners of the tech world. We’re finally launching our own advice column, and hope to get questions from real people — our readers — and get cranking on practical, actionable advice for them.

The rules of engagement are simple: Send your question along with your first name, job title and basic geographic area to [email protected]

For this inaugural column, we scrolled career-advice columns on Reddit and FairyGodBoss and pulled three focusing on a crucial career topic: work-life balance. Here are the questions and answers from trusted Built In sources, including two career-focused authors and the CTO of a tech investing group.

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Tips for Software Engineers to Avoid Burnout

Q: If athletes do conditioning training to avoid burnout during a playoff season, how should engineers condition themselves to avoid burnout physically and mentally? (Via Reddit)

We posed this question to Gabriel Budisavljevic, CTO at Launchpeer, a Charleston, South Carolina-based tech startup incubator. “A few skills come to mind that help our engineers here at Launchpeer work efficiently and avoid the all-too-common software developer burnout: The ability to accurately estimate how long a feature will take to build and the ability to effectively communicate that with their product manager,” she said. 

One common misconception, she added, is that the initial effort to build features causes burnout, “but we see it more during quality assurance,” she said. One big tip to avoid burnout: Try to commit to only as much work as you can handle, accounting for the time to build it, fix bugs and work with quality assurance, she said. 

Adopting a healthy lifestyle — just as pro athletes do — can also help engineers avoid burnout, Budisavljevic said. Among her suggestions: Establish a schedule that includes leaving for/starting work at the same time each day. Take time to exercise and eat nutritious meals. Avoid multitasking. Work on getting proper sleep. Set healthy work boundaries. Carve out time for relaxation and take up a hobby. Working with your manager, set realistic expectations for yourself. And take that PTO

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Early-Career Stress Management Techniques

Q: Still fairly new to tech. I’m in my early 20s, still working on a degree and certs and will be starting a family in the near future. What tips and advice can you give me for managing my time and not feeling stressed out all the time? (Via Reddit)

“Because it sounds like you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, I recommend taking a step back to acknowledge, reassess and adjust,” said Octavia Goredema, career coach and author of Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women. Goredema suggests you create a system and approach that supports you and your goals; it will take time and adjustments. “That’s okay, it’s all part of the process,” she said. 

The steps include: Clarifying what matters to you most and deciding on what you want to accomplish in the near and far future. Decide what success looks like for you. 

To set yourself up for success, troubleshoot any roadblocks you are facing in the here and now, Goredema suggested. Write down your obstacles and challenges, then consider how they can be reduced. For those outside your control, be prepared to ask others for specific advice — and be open to letting go of activities that don’t align with your goals. 

Efficient time management is a giant part of stress management. Improve it while juggling many responsibilities with these tips from Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume:

Map out your day: Review scheduled meetings and then plot out your day with a strategic to-do list that itemizes both work and personal tasks. Then prioritize each item: What must be done today? What can wait until tomorrow or later in the week? List items for later in the week on another page so you can focus on what you must accomplish today.

Set time limits: Setting time parameters around your projects and tasks will help you remain focused and work more efficiently. Try the Pomodoro Technique: Work in 25-minute time blocks with a five-minute break in between. After four blocks, take a 20-minute break. This will help you resist the urge to multi-task. 

Manage your email: Dedicate a 25-minute block of time in the morning and another in the afternoon to attend to your inbox. While you don’t have to check email first thing in the morning, skim your inbox to identify anything that needs your immediate attention. Then return to your inbox during one of those dedicated time slots.

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Managing a Toxic Job 

Q: My job is affecting my mental health. I’m getting to the point where physically getting out of bed is draining and stressful. I am going to put in my notice at work without a job to back me up. It’s not protocol but I am starting to feel sick and have major anxiety. I don’t feel supported at my job and don’t feel as if my coworkers and I have much in common. Any positivity or advice will be appreciated. I don’t feel myself anymore, like I’m shrinking. Please help. (Via FairyGodBoss)

“Protecting your well-being is paramount,” said Goredema. “If your work situation is truly toxic and impacting your mental and physical health, trust your gut and get the support you need to take positive action,” including getting support from a medical professional. 

Whether you quit now or in the future, you need to identify what you need to do your best work, she continued. This entails cementing your career values, then building a career roadmap based on those values. Goredema suggests asking yourself a series of questions to discern your career values, including what matters to you most personally when it comes to your career and what makes you feel excited or inspired about work. 

In the meantime, you are stuck in a job you need to leave. The first rule on how to handle? “Own your decision,” said sport and performance psychologist Haley Perlus, Ph.D. Playing the “what if” game will only create more anxiety, she said. To avoid it, write down your reasons for leaving and have them easily accessible. 

Here are more hanging-in-there tips from Perlus:

Accept the new challenge: Changing your job situation will bring new challenges and that’s okay. Accept the new challenges so that you can maintain positive emotions and a clear and focused mindset.  

Lead with your strengths: Think of three words that best describe you at your best. As you apply for new positions and work through this transition, highlight your best self each step of the way. You’ll more easily stay confident, motivated, and focused.  

Be selective and prioritize: What do you value most when it comes to your work? Prioritize these values so that your new job has a greater opportunity to help you be happy.  

Let it go: Forgive everyone at your former company and also, perhaps, yourself. Anger and frustration keep us in the past. Be excited about the present and your future with a sense of peace.   

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