Glad I Took the Time

Hello Planet; This post isn’t about KDE specifically, but about taking time off to avoid burnout, and the importance of understanding when work has gone too far. If you’re a developer, please remember that rest is important, it’s an important part of developing great stuff. If you’re a user… You might get something out of this if you’re a workaholic.

In about an hour a few short minutes, I’ll be stepping out into the ice-covered Canadian landscape to once again wander towards the off-blue cubicle I call home for 8 hours a day. It’s a bit different than usual, because it’s the first day back from the first real vacation I’ve had in a number of years.

I’m a workaholic, and slowly I’ve also been burning out. I work when I’m in the office, I’ll work when I’m on break, I’ll work at home – and thanks to the all-glorious superphone – I’ve even found ways to work on the bus. May the dark lord Satan help me the day I get a tablet, because I know that too will let me do even more work. I’ve caught myself several times doing work at the office – and then waking up when I reach into the IT closet to be pulled in by wires vibrating “YOOOUUUU HAVENNNNT ZIP-TIEEED USSSS, THAT LIGHT ISN’T BLINKING HOW IT SHOULD, GRRAAAAHHH” – waking up to know I’ve been working in my dreams again. About the only times I’m not working in some way are during the odd card nights, and even those make me apprehensive. So, in the days leading up to my vacation, of course, I had planned some “light work”, “relaxing work”. I’d make one website, do a bunch of art, and get a jump-start on my January workload, among other things… Nothing major I told myself.

Then something weird happened. I had always planned to take the first day of my time off, off. I was sick, sick to my stomach that day because I wasn’t working – I had so much to do and I had promised myself not to do it for one of my sixteen days. The next day, all the work was still there – waiting – and while doing other things it dawned on me that I was actually a little burnt out, the smoke coming from my ears was pervasive enough to cloud my apartment and smog out the glowing silicon device waiting in the corner. I hadn’t realised just how mentally drained I was becoming – like an undead walking from keyboard to keyboard – typing arcane commands with so little passion.

A trend began and soon I realised I had taken some full days off, and family visits claimed even more. On the first Saturday of my vacation I once again opened Kate and started punching in lines of code. That day I had been something I hadn’t been in a very long time: rested. It dawned on me while writing code that maybe this vacation time was not the time for clocking-in, but for checking out. I fought my brain, I fought every impulse firing through my neurons, and I pushed my keyboard away from me. I was never so turned on by being shut down. I felt irresponsible sleeping fully, dastardly for sitting on messages calling on me to my computer, and vile for letting all that work fester and rot. My dreams involved endless pits of encroaching cords and demonic follies of co-workers demanding I resume my pursuits.

But the world still turned. Even without me dragging myself to the helm navigating choppy seas in the dark, everything kept spinning. I’m not a big “personal revelation” guy, but I had forgotten the importance of time off, that burnout is a grindstone which churns away at you, and one that’s easily preventable. All the work I had to do is still there – and some of it I did – but almost all of it waited without too much disturbance. There’s no need to damage oneself over a deadline, or a merge window, or a last-minute request. Sure, once in a blue moon it’s good to let stress focus you – but it’s not a state you should constantly keep yourself in.

I was irresponsible in how I left my work. I went fairly dark, and left no explanation to those who have been waiting patiently. This I could have handled better. But the more important fiddlybit I’d like to express from this post is one thing; Most of the people likely to read this are as – or far more – passionate about technology than I am, and today we almost all have technology at the holster allowing us to constantly be on. A single ‘ding’ in our pockets can call for hours of our time any time; it can hurt, it can be painful, it will make you sick… But take a few moments and really think about the last day you were really truly off, and if you can’t recall it, remember you have all week to examine your weekend – and really, really ask yourself if turning off your phone and shutting your workstation will really result in catastrophe. Will missing a merge window end the world?

So, tl;dr:

Burnout is a slow grind dulling the knife; allot yourself some real time off. After two weeks I already feel refreshed from years of constant stress and work. One day every weekend to yourself won’t kill your projects and undertakings, and you’ll be all the sharper for it.

I would also like to point out; the KDE VDG is awesome. I essentially disappeared for two weeks (in a very irresponsible way), but when things had to be done they got done. I wasn’t elegant in how I dropped the ball, and I should have said ahead of time when I decided to rest – but they handled it (Kudos, Uri!); trust your peers to handle things if you need to take some time for yourself.