I’ve been meaning to make this post for a long time – so I apologize for the length. Actually, not really. You probably need this as much as I did. Anyway, I want to preface this post by saying that I served an enlistment in the military, so I’m all too familiar with stress, fatigue, and burning out. But one thing I’ve come to terms with is that the stress, fatigue, and burnout in the IT world is not only something that comes with the job, but it’s also completely different from what I’ve ever dealt with. I had to adapt very quickly.
I’m one of those lucky few who have found their calling and passion in life. For me, it’s technology and the people who use it. I’m as equally fascinated by the latest 802.11 standard as I am by the latest social engineering methods. I can’t say I ever expected to be quite where I am (mainly interacting with the amount of people I interact with), but it has had the unintended side effect of amplifying my drive to improve and advance in my field even more.
But with great drive comes great responsibility, and that responsibility is ultimately to you to not drive yourself into the ground. One of my most relentless instructors in college always told us that we were best labelled as “network doctors”, and it wasn’t until my most recent position at an MSP that I came to fully understand this adage. When I get a call, it’s because something’s broken. Someone is not able to work efficiently, or at all. They are falling behind the moment they put a ticket in, and they turn to me for assistance.
You have to understand the psychology of this – asking for help. It’s 2016, and our society is as introverted as it’s ever been. To ask for help for anything is something people just don’t want to do. My clients pay for my services, and they still want to try to fix it themselves before they ever admit that they can’t do what I can do, or don’t know what I know. That should tell you something about the level of expectation, performance, and aptitude that every person I come in contact with puts on me. Oftentimes it’s smothering, and you have to know how to deal with it.
When I first started, I poured everything I had into my career to my own detriment. You can still be the best, you can still advance, and you can still excel without beating yourself up over it. After so long, the ramifications of operating at such a high tempo will degrade your performance, and you will fizzle out and lose your grip on the ladder you’ve tried so hard to work up.
This is all preventable though, so now I present to you my Top 5 Ways to Avoid IT Burnout:
- Work to live, don’t live to work.
This list can probably apply to every job, but I feel compelled to start it with a blanket statement. There is a whole world outside your cubicle – go and see it. Make the time. Save money and vacation days. IT never sleeps, but you’re not a machine. I joke about being a “walking time sheet”, but it is so easy to get caught up in that mentality if you’re not careful. Enjoy life while you’re younger and age and health are not that much of a factor. Life is not a race – it’s a marathon. Cultivate friendships and hobbies. Check off the bucket list. Study for your next certification. Moreso than anything, realize that the Earth continues to spin no matter how much time you spend in the office – don’t let it pass you by.
- Don’t set yourself up to fail.
Again with the blanket statements, but this is a little different for IT people. You need to know your limits and learn to delegate. If you’re stuck on an issue, pass it to someone who knows and move on, after you’ve given it your best. Call the vendor. Escalate the ticket. Ultimately the client needs to be fixed and if there is someone better suited to the job then it is in the business’ best interest for you to provide the best resource. What separates a solid IT professional from the shithead egomanics is knowing which solution is the best one, even when you’re not the one providing it.
You never want to pigeonhole yourself and make yourself a single point of failure for anything, I don’t care how badly you want job security. If you work for a company where you feel like you need to hoard information in order to keep your job, then you’re with the wrong company. Go somewhere where teamwork and collaboration is used for the betterment of the company as a whole, and IT professionals are not pitted against each other like some sort of arena to see who can wave their tech-savvy peens around in the air for others to envy.
Good businesses provide excellent customer service for their valued clients and will devote as many resources as are required for the task. Good IT professionals avoid situations where they can be singularly at fault for something with no one to back them up. Technology has a penchant for breaking, and if you have leveraged your connections appropriately, you won’t have to deal with the incredible stress of fixing your own screw-ups by yourself.
- There will always be more tickets.
Unless you’ve created the perfect network that runs autonomously without issue (in which case you should probably make sure you have a backup job lined up when corporate leadership comes to the well-informed conclusion that they don’t need you anymore), your job is one that essentially never ends. As such, it’s important to prioritize what’s been assigned to you and know what has to be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow.
This skill set is important everywhere, but critical in the IT field. So much stress is created in the IT world when tasks are not prioritized, assigned resources, and scheduled correctly. Some of this falls on your supervision, but the rest of it falls on you to know when to delegate, block off time, or multitask. If you suck at time management, I recommend this book.
- Tend to your health.
Probably the most important one on here, honestly. Humans were not meant to sit in a cubicle all day under florescent lights – that’s a fact. You absolutely have to make up for your sedentary lifestyle, and you really can’t half-ass it either. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, so it falls on you to not let your body devolve into that state. I’ll give you a couple tips that have worked for me:
– Spend as much time on the weekends outside as you can.
– Get a workout in before you eat dinner when you get home. Waking up early sucks, and you won’t sleep well if you work out right before bed.Working out right at around 6PM means that you’ll continue to burn calories when most everyone else is sacked out on the couch for the night… because who doesn’t like to sit after a long day of sitting?
– Bring your lunch, and pack it full of foods that aren’t terrible for you. You know what is terrible and what isn’t, just do it.
– Take a random day off in the middle of the week, and go do something fun while everyone else is working. It feels a thousand times more satisfying knowing you, by all accounts, should be working, but you’re out dicking around instead. I usually take a random Wednesday off every few months.
– Install f.lux on your computer and make your monitors have warmer light tones.
– Find your preferred decompression method to get restful sleep every night. Watch ASMR videos on YouTube. Take an Olly Restful Sleep gummy from Target. Get Spotify Premium and put on one of their bajillion sleep playlists.
- Find purpose in every day.
I have this horrible habit of quitting everything I really don’t want to be doing, because my time is money, friend. I had jobs when I was a young’un where I’d come in late, because I didn’t want to be there. I had parties I’d ninja my way out of, because I would rather be at home chasing the cat around the house. The list goes on, but the common theme is that I never really felt like my time was being used wisely. I didn’t care to be there – I wanted to be somewhere else. It felt ultimately meaningless. I wasn’t passionate about the situation.This is where finding your purpose really becomes important.
Let’s face it – there are a lot of people who are “good with computers”, and the lower tiers of the IT-skilled individuals are just saturated with them. So many of these people are there because they know how to Google okay, not because they want to help you or particularly give a shit at all. These are the ones who transfer you all over the place (Verizon), or really have no idea what the hell is going on at all (Charter). They’re there because they need money, which, by the way, is absolutely abysmal at that level.
Anyway, what I mean to say is you have to realize the difference that you make to the people you serve. To go back to the idea of being a “network doctor”, you have someone who needs you. The router doesn’t need you, nor does the switch, the NAS, or the server. There is a living, breathing person or people who are coming to you because you have knowledge and skills that they don’t. Maybe not all of them are grateful for it and maybe not all of them even know you exist, but it’s those times where you take pride in the fact that they’d be in a world of trouble if it weren’t for you.
Know that you have value, and you are valued. Know that you make an impact and touch the lives of the people in every organization you service, in ways often intangible, but omnipresent nonetheless. Be proud that you serve in a career field as ever-evolving and demanding as this one, knowing full well that so many others would never make it a second in your shoes. Find that reason to get out of bed, get yourself ready, and face the day with real intent.
That’s how you make it in the world of IT.