Late Sunday night my brother told me to take a personal day and spend some time doing whatever I wanted to; perhaps spend some time in my workshop, or work on setting up my basement entertainment center, or maybe go hiking or biking. My response to him was simply: I have way too much to do and can’t justify taking the time off. Long story short, I gave in and spent the afternoon not working, and it was one of the best things I’ve done for myself in the last few months.

I am a workaholic and am always working. Even when I’m spending time on my own personal projects I’m working. Part of this is because I have the rare opportunity of doing what I love as my job: writing plugins. I’m tremendously fortunate to be able to spend the day doing what I love and make a living with it at the same time. But that also means that even when I’m “playing”, I’m working.

No matter how much I love writing plugins, I get burnt out every now and then, especially when it comes to handling the support load of the plugins I write.

When I’m tired or burnt out, it is really difficult to be motivated and to keep pressing on. I have been dealing with a bit of burn out for the last few weeks and each day has been a struggle in some form or other. Some days I just hate the idea of managing support tickets. Some days I just don’t want to look at code, nor do I want to look at code but can’t seem to write anything worthwhile.

Production quality when suffering from burnout definitely gets affected. Yesterday, for example, I spent nearly two hours attempting to build a new feature for Easy Digital Downloads, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to really wrap my mind around the problem. I knew what needed to happen, but the course of action to get there was foggy. I eventually gave up and left my computer alone for the rest of the afternoon.

I went to Lowes and purchased a new toolbox for my shop. Since moving to my new house in April, I’ve been wanting to get my garage setup as a wood shop, since fine wood working is one of my side passions. Up until yesterday, the workshop was a mess: tools were scattered everywhere, nothing had a “home”, and nothing about it inspired any sense of motivation. Simply walking through the workshop caused all motivation to work in the space to vanish.

I made the decision to invest in myself by spending a few hours organizing my workshop so that I could be inspired to spend time there, and when I was finished I was more motivated to work than ever, and not just to work in the workshop, but to work on my normal day-to-day tasks.

I invested in myself by taking an entire afternoon to do something that was not work related. Sure the toolbox was an actual monetary investment, but the price didn’t matter; it could have been $50 or $5000, or even $0.

Forcing myself to spend time away from the computer can be difficult. Initially it seems like I’m “wasting” precious time by not working, but in reality what I was doing was making the time I am working much, much more productive. I’ve succeeded in getting more done today than I did the last two days combined.

  1. Chris Christoff

    > I’ve succeeded in getting more done today than I did the last two days combined.

    Or for that matter an entire week on one item with help from the team πŸ˜‰

    I really think we ought to establish a team game night or something. Jigoshop does a weekly Battlefield game for instance. Fun with the crew, and a break from work.

    • Pippin

      Absolutely. I play Call of Duty nearly every day with my brother. If any others wish to join, I’m @mordauk.

    • Chris Christoff

      @pippinsplugins Which COD?

    • Pippin

      Currently Black Ops 2 but it changes.

    • Flick

      Now I want to get COD just to play with Pippin πŸ˜€

    • Pippin

      Welcome to join!

    • Chris Christoff

      Steam just earned like $100 from the rest of the core team thanks to him…hope he’s on commission πŸ˜‰

    • Pippin

      Xbox.

  2. Jason

    I know exactly how you feel (and so does my wife). . .I too am a workaholic, but it’s because writing code is both my hobby and my job, so when I get home from writing code for client projects, I want to write code for personal and/or side business projects.

    Learning to set the computer aside for a weekend has been a rewarding thing for me to learn as well. I certainly gain more focus and motivation to write code after I spend a weekend without touching the computer.

  3. John Turner

    This hit home with me, I’m a workaholic as well, usually 15 hr days.

    Last weekend I went with my family to the park and forgot my phone. I was frantic when I realized it but ended up having the best time. I was not constantly checking my phone and repling to emails. I was able to focus on my time with the fam. I’m planning on forgetting my phone more often. :)

  4. Brian Krogsgard

    Man, this rings true.

    WordPress was my hobby three years ago. After I made it my full time career, I lost my primary hobby. Now, I work a full time gig doing consulting. In my spare time, I write on Post Status. When I’m not writing on Post Status, I’m doing occasional freelance work. When I’m not doing that, I’m exploring Core WP or making my default theme better. All through this, I’m monitoring what’s going on in the world of WP via Twitter.

    It’s kind of disgusting how much of my time thinking surrounds my primary work passions. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a good job of replacing WordPress in my hobby space. I read, but that’s very hit or miss.

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to make sure I create time for me (and my family) that gets me away from the computer.

    • Pippin

      The hobby space is exactly what the workshop is designed to do.

      I used to spend a lot of time working on wood-working projects, as well as ceramics. WordPress work has pushed those passions aside, but certainly not killed them. The workshop will act as a catalyst to bring them back, hopefully :)

  5. Jake Caputo

    Hoagie and I were talking about this last night. I’m burnt out and my comic book pile has gotten out of hand. I need a good “do nothing” day.

    And I have a coffee table to sand and stain… when are you coming back up here again? πŸ˜›

    • Pippin

      Bring it to Kansas and I’ll sand it for free πŸ˜€

    • Jake Caputo

      Kansas?! I want it sanded, not swept up in a tornado!

    • Chris Christoff

      lol :)

  6. Dave Clements

    This is such an important thing to force yourself to do. It’s most difficult when you’re self-employed and there’s a particularly blurry line between personal life and work life. It should be noted that it is equally as important to do the same thing with your family and to a lesser extent, your friends. If you neglect these relationships, all the money in the world won’t be of much use to you without anyone to enjoy it with. It’s definitely something to get into the habit of as early as possible.

    • Pippin

      Absolutely. Family is more important than anything else.

  7. Carlitoescobar

    As someone who works both a full time corporate gig building fairly awesome WP stuff as well as works pretty much a full time freelance gig doing mainly WP and graphic design. I find it essential to find that time at the very least once a week to decompress and put things back into perspective. I also feel people don’t realize how much stress factors into a lot of the very real health issues folks tend to accrue when working as much as a lot of us work.

    I force myself at the very least one night a week to do nothing but hang and do whatever I want that does not involve code or photoshop / illustrator. I also try to alternate weekend, to at the very least keep one day of the weekend free. Been doing this almost 15 years either independently or with a company, it is essential to recharge or risk growing stagnant. Not only in your ideas and passion but in your motivation to not just be someone who does work, but does great work.

    • Pippin

      “Not only in your ideas and passion but in your motivation to not just be someone who does work, but does great work.” – well said!

  8. Steven Gliebe

    This is good advice. There’s no doubt more can be accomplished in six days than seven. Just like a lunch break (a real one) sets up the rest of the day for more productivity, a day off sets up the next days for more effective, creative and less stressful work. Gotta push that reset button on sanity somehow. Woodworking sounds like a great way to do it.

    PS. I dare you to attempt three days without a single commit!

  9. Brian Casel

    Way to go Pippin. I know first-hand how hard it is to tear myself away from the computer and get that much-needed break. It took a long time for me to realize how incredibly important it is. I realized that I’m unable to do my best work (and sometimes not even functional) until I get a good nights rest, or watching a movie, or a periodic vacation.

    And keeping an alternate interest is so important too β€” even though we love what we do in our jobs. For me, it’s music. I initially set out to be a music producer before I got into web. I sadly don’t play as much as I’d like to anymore, but I do keep the guitar, un-cased, sitting right next to my work desk, in plain view. So it’s always within reach when I need to take a short break and do something completely different.

    Make it habit.

    • Pippin

      In plain site is so important. Out of site, out of mind.

    • Pippin

      Thanks John.

  10. Syed Balkhi

    Taking personal time is one of the most important things that I have learnt over the years. I hate the feeling of being burnt out. I mostly spend my downtime with family.

  11. Tom McFarlin

    Props to you for sharing this, Pippin.

    I think that anyone that is self-motivated – be it self-employed or those beyond their 9-to-5 – constantly have to battle this tension.

    We love ideas, we love experimentation, and we love seeing what we can come up with. On top of that, it can prove to be really rewarding (either via feedback or monetarily or both).

    Regardless, nothing can help spur creativity more than getting away from the very thing in which your creativity is manifested.

    FWIW, every single day, I try to get out and go for a walk, a run, or do some sort of exercise and/or watch some type of show (currently, I’m going back through all of the X Files :)) just to make sure that I’m giving my brain some time off.

    It really is amazing how refreshed you can feel from even just an hour or two away from your desk.

  12. Jeff Freeman

    Yeah, I’ve come to realize how important it is to take breaks as well. Sometimes I feel compelled to push through and do work but rarely is that my best work. Sometimes a break away from a particular problem is what I need to get the clarity to attack it in my best way possible. I

    I have a few things that are non-related computer stuff that keeps me balanced.

  13. Bradley Davis

    For me I have to get out and go for a ride being a keen mountain biker or I go a little nuts and it is a great way to clear your mind, stay fit(ish) and get some fresh air. I find lately that with uni taking up more time and trying to work as much as possible it is surprising how quickly a few days or a week can go before you notice you have not left the house (I study and work from home).

  14. Carolyn Pitts

    I was thinking “wonder how he does it?” when I wrote for support recently. I too provide customer support at our company and it can get depressing sometimes because it seems like it never ends. The only way to reduce the load is to continually make clarifications to the documentation and tutorials. I would like to thank you for your helpful and professional support and want you to know that I am inspired to learn this foreign language so that I don’t need to bug you! :)))

  15. RenΓ©

    I made the experience that when i am stuck into a big coding problem for hours, the best thing to solve it is to rest and to do something completely different than coding. I than go out, meet some friends, drink a beer, sleep some hours. Later when i am back at my desk the solution often appears with one look at the same code where i stuck the day before. (Sometimes i even dream the solution in the night:)) Coding is well, but doing nothing else is a bad thing and reduce the quality the own work.

    So keep up the good work and do other things regularly:)

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