My Brain Is Empty

I've just done my 8 hours (no more, no less) in the office. Now MyBrainIsEmpty, that's the only way I can describe it. I feel like a zombie. Why would that be?

Have I been working hard, creating amazing new widgets? No. My current work is not the slightest bit taxing or creative.

Could it be ThreeOclockSleepies? Glazed is different to sleepy.

It wasn't always like this. I don't remember when, in the five years I've been there, that it started.


This is a warning that you are on the path to BurnOut (or maybe already at the destination).

Thanks (um, I think). Now [my boss] wants to know why I'm like this. I'd tell him if I knew. For now, it's time to SurfTheNet?.

My own history of dealing with this phenomenon is detailed in RecoveringProgrammer and RealStoryAboutDeveloperTurnedManager. I'm not sure about the quality of my advice, but I'd suggest that you do something to change the situation: get yourself moved to a more-interesting project, change to a different role, take a long vacation, get counseling, etc. Don't be afraid to quit, if necessary. Don't treat this problem as being unimportant. -- KrisJohnson


I'd like to second the comment that this is a warning sign not to be ignored. I found myself on the road to BurnOut some years ago, and was very lucky to avoid it. I felt like a candle being burnt at both ends. One significant landmark was a dream I had that the product wasn't ready yet, so instead the company was shipping a box with me inside it instead....

Something which helped me hugely was making a point of getting out of the building at some point during the day and going for a walk, a time shifted lunch break. I'd walk down to a park some distance from the office, walk around it once, noticing people, the trees and the grass and then come back. I don't know why it made such a big difference, but it did. For a time I had people to manage as well as my own programming work to do. I found huge satisfaction in finding ways to reduce the stress on other people, just talking with them about what they did, working out simpler ways to achieve the same ends, finding ways to automate their repetitive drudgery, making their jobs more satisfying. Sometimes this meant buying new equipment such as a high speed CD ROM burner or KVM switches, better scheduling of overnight tests, a flight to the UK with a device driver developer on the team to one of our suppliers to talk through issues with them face to face... Indirectly all these non-programming activities, particularly working with other people, made my own job more satisfying. I felt I was team building and that the team came to be very much behind me, rather than that I was single handedly carrying the team myself. I would have burnt out without this.

It's 90% likely you're experiencing a BurnOut symptom, but don't ignore the possibility of other causes. For four weeks at one company I worked for, I would feel ridiculously worn out at the end of each day, until I realized I was using a WobblyMonitor?, or rather a PC with a poor integrated video controller, and switched to a stable one on a different PC. I should have realized earlier. In another company I started bringing my own water into work, rather than use the company's. If you drive into work, a broken floor and exhaust conduit could lead to high levels of Carbon Monoxide for the driver - all these are possible causes. -- JamesCrook


Some advice from a friend whose brain was empty for nine months after he quit his job and stopped working,

See FeelingGood.

There isn't much there yet. Are you saying ImOkYoureOk?

Not yet, maybe, but give us time! There is no SilverBullet and it's by no means clear what the problem might be. To me, it feels like at some time you just fell out of love with what you do, but carried on in the old relationship out of habbit. But my brain is never empty...

Sorry, that probably came over as rude. My worry is that I'm hovering somewhere between "hypochondria" and "ignoring a real and serious problem", but I've no idea where and I don't know how to find out - except "the hard way".

RefactorMercilessly!?

Sure, I'll be refactoring myself as and when I can see how. I can refactor this ThreadMode when the dust settles a bit, and perhaps when I can see how PositiveNegativity relates to BurnOut. I still feel that a simple link to FeelingGood offers little more than "pull yourself together, man!"

PositiveNegativity suggests to me that, when MyBrainIsEmpty I need to realize that the airplane is in trouble. I then have to decide, based on something I hardly understand, whether it's just time to switch an engine off, or bail out.

My initial reaction to this page is summarized in PositiveNegativity. Why, I wondered, would the realization that MyBrainIsEmpty be perceived as a problem in the first place? Why would it be presented to a bunch of practical problem-solvers (this Wiki)? And why would it be immediately assumed that it was BurnOut? The PromptingStatement seemed designed to rule out both physical and mental exhaustion. Following the links reminded me how problem-focused our fellow WikiZens are: focused on the solution to the problem, that is, not on the problem itself. My stance was different: I knew I didn't know what the problem was, but I also suspected that reading of the difficulties others had had, whilst perhaps painfully necessary, was not calculated to make anyone feel any better.

The alternative opportunity I wanted to make available was one where the joy of software was celebrated rather than the constant airing of frustrations or discussing the number of angels that fit on the head of a pin. In keeping with that conception, I wanted the page name to be positive, and FeelingGood seemed the most appropriate. Unfortunately, my initial link to a positive page was incorrect (I linked to ThirdNormalForm instead of ExtremeNormalForm!) and our fellow WikiZens have not seen fit to contribute anything in a similar vein. (As an aside, I was almost wryly amused to see the page ComitSuicide? summarily deleted as a misspelling, but perhaps that was the author's action rather than an example of ExtremeCallousness?.)
Could it be that your job has just become routine? The initial new-ness has worn off? Maybe you are in a job that is not your "calling." I am blessed to have a job where someone pays me to do something that I love to do. That helps me avoid the MyBrainIsEmpty problem; yet after 29 years, it is getting routine. I have begun to shift my focus toward interacting more with my co-workers; becoming less TaskOriented, and actually getting to know and care about the people around me (PeopleOriented). It forces me out of the numbness of monotony, while simultaneously I am growing in an area of character development that I have long been deficient in. -- BrucePennington
I know the feeling. I started to walk to work, which takes me between 45 to 50 minutes. Maybe it is about the extra oxygen or just the extra time to think, but it really helps. Initially, I didn't do this because of my brain becoming empty - which it was - but because of the bad bus services around here. Nevertheless it really helped me to get on top of things, again. Just my personal experience. (An anonymous coward working in the silicon industry)
Right about now, I'm taking a PLC class on Saturday mornings. However, my schedule usually was: go to school on the morning, lunch, go to a bar with the guys, then go to a fiesta, return home very late in the night, and wake up at like 11:00 AM.

And now, with this PLC class I'm taking, instead of waking up at 11:00 AM after sleeping at 3:00 AM, I have to wake up at 6:00 AM. And not only do I get only 3 hours of sleep, but if you add the fact that I have a terribly difficult time waking up so early in the morning...

Right about now, my brain is emptier than empty when I return home, I'm completely burned out, and the only way this is going to stop is until this goddamn PLC class (which I have lost all my interest in) is finished.

-- DaNuke?

Clean up that schedule of yours. It sounds far too cluttered.

Very late edit: This happened back in 2008. Now it's 2012. Unfortunately, having a rational, consistent and uncluttered schedule in my major turned out to be a luxury. Over the course of the last two semesters I started smoking and I chugged about 500 liters of coffee. All I hope is that my first job will have a stable schedule. -- DaNuke?
Compare: MyMindKeepsWandering, WhereTheMindGoes, MyBrainIsFull.

See also: SelfReform?.

CategoryHealth, CategoryMind

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