Why Do Developers Get Burned Out?
Running a lifestyle business is awesome, contrary to what the VC's say. Figure out your life goals and fit your business to achieve them rather than worrying about 10x-ing. The guys also talk about why developers seem to experience higher rates of burnout than other professions and share their own prevention and coping solutions. Let's FounderQuest!
Starr: 00:01 I had the voiceover guy, the voice of Barney who does our voiceovers. I had him do an intro that involves three guys trying to find personal happiness, and I may have used it once. I don't know, I just feel kind of lame putting it on there because I'm like this is too earnest. My 90s teenager self just won't let me be that earnest.
Ben: 00:22 We're pretty earnest, when you think about it.
Announcer: 00:25 Three developers, one mission. Build a business to nurture personal fulfillment. It's not stupid, it's FounderQuest.
Josh: 00:36 The Badger Life was the title of the blog post I did too that was kind of on this topic.
Starr: 00:42 Oh, that's right.
Ben: 00:43 Josh is the expert on that-
Josh: 00:45 I was just looking at it.
Ben: 00:45 We'll just have you talk the whole episode.
Josh: 00:47 No.
Ben: 00:48 Monologue.
Josh: 00:48 I mean, you want to have an episode, right? My talent is like just breaking the tension with the dumb jokes.
Starr: 00:57 Oh, I thought that was my talent.
Josh: 00:59 Well, clearly we're in trouble because Ben is the only one who can actually like talk cohesively.
Ben: 01:06 So Josh, what was your motivation for writing that blog post?
Josh: 01:11 I think just kind of sharing our view of the world. And I think we found a certain level of success with this now, and it's been something that we've been ... It's a kick that we've been on for a while, and I think it's one of the reasons we started the business was we were early starting the business to have, I think, like as a carryover from the last episode.
Josh: 01:38 We never really start the business to be some sort of like, to get us a bunch of fame and power, anything like that.
Starr: 01:44 Wait, what?
Josh: 01:48 Maybe Starr did, but yeah. I don't know, like we always ... I think the book that I had read and it's probably corny because this is .... I don't know if cliché at this point but I remember like I had just read The 4-Hour Workweek, and I was like, I want to start something that doesn't kill me and still makes a good living and all that sort of thing. That was for me to achieve my financial goals and stuff.
Josh: 02:19 I wrote this blog post, I think it was the last year. I think it's been a little while since I wrote it but-
Starr: 02:27 It's only been a year?
Josh: 02:27 Yeah, I just kind of talked about how we do things.
Starr: 02:30 Wow.
Josh: 02:30 I think it was already a year ago since I wrote that.
Starr: 02:33 I was going to say it seems like a decade ago, but ...
Ben: 02:36 Yeah, I would guess two years ago.
Josh: 02:38 Two years ago?
Starr: 02:39 That's because I have a small child so.
Josh: 02:44 Again, same here. So I don't have much of a concept of time at this point. But I have a feeling it wasn't as long as we're thinking, long ago as we're thinking.
Starr: 02:56 Yeah. So the post was called Badger Life and it sort of describes how we work, the things we value as company. And, man, the response to this was amazing like people were getting in touch with me. They're like, "How do I do this, Starr?" And I was like, "I don't know, man. Get lucky."
Starr: 03:13 Oh, no. I just ruined the podcast. No, everybody is going to unsubscribe now.
Josh: 03:19 Gosh, Starr.
Starr: 03:19 I know. I know.
Josh: 03:21 Well, I know like ...
Starr: 03:22 Ben is the one who knows everything. I'm just along for the ride.
Josh: 03:27 We had a few people mention when we were hiring, as we've hired a few people recently after being a company of three for a long time, and we've had people tell us that through that hiring process that they had read this blog post and it was one of the things that made them want to work with us.
Starr: 03:48 A question for you, Josh. Are we a lifestyle business? Are we a lifestyle business?
Josh: 03:54 I freaking hate the term but let's say, we probably are.
Starr: 03:59 Wait, what?
Ben: 04:00 I love the term. I will come out-
Josh: 04:02 You do?
Ben: 04:02 ... fully in favor of the term lifestyle business and I will tell you why. Because for me, this business is about maximizing the lifestyle that I want to have. And I totally embrace the idea of creating a business or creating an environment, I guess even in a more general sense, creating the environment in which you want to live.
Ben: 04:23 I'm a big believer in the whole sphere of concerns, sphere of influence thing, and if I can grow my sphere of influence to encompass the things that I'm really concerned about, if I can make my environment, my world and universe exactly how I want it to be, boom! I'm all about that.
Josh: 04:40 I'm totally on board with you there, Ben. I just don't like the term and how ... It gets thrown around in a lot of different ways online. I don't know, it's kind of like the term growth hacker to me. It's just one of those terms that people kind of throw at anything. And it's used flippantly sometimes. "So you guys kind of more of a lifestyle business," implying that you're not a real business and it's kind of like, is this a full-time thing for you?
Starr: 05:11 Yeah, we're really like doing multilevel marketing.
Josh: 05:14 It's kind of like a passive-aggressive jab.
Starr: 05:16 Stay tuned everybody for a lovely segment about our essential oils that we're selling.
Josh: 05:24 And if you like those, I've got some candles for you.
Ben: 05:28 I'm a big believer in embracing those terms like I agree that that term has been used in-
Starr: 05:33 Wait, are we taking it back?
Ben: 05:35 What?
Starr: 05:35 Are we taking it back? Are we taking back the word lifestyle business?
Ben: 05:38 Yes, exactly. We're going to own it.
Josh: 05:40 You guys can't see this but the look on Starr's face is just pure joy right now.
Ben: 05:46 No, I agree. It's been used in a lot of negative connotation. And I hear you. I understand where you're coming from, but I am a believer in like you grab that by the horns, you just wrest control of that whole phrase. You'd be like, "I'm going to own this. I'm going to take it. It's mine. And I'm going to make it what I want it to be. So that's-"
Josh: 06:04 I'm on board with that. I'll take it back with you.
Starr: 06:06 I'm on this train, Ben.
Ben: 06:07 All right, excellent.
Starr: 06:08 I'm 100% on board.
Ben: 06:10 Some people may accurately say that I'm very opinionated, and I have very strong opinions. And some people might even say that I might be a know-it-all but I don't think I'm a know-it-all. But-
Starr: 06:22 I would never say that.
Ben: 06:23 But I do have very strong opinions about my work and the way my life should be. And if I can have things my way, why not? Now, that has caused me some problems. Interpersonal relationships have suffered as a result of my head strong nature, I can totally own that. At the same time, when I try to get things my way, and it actually works out my way, that makes me happy.
Josh: 06:49 Who would have thought?
Starr: 06:51 So, if we're taking it back, if we're redefining the phrase lifestyle business around us, what does that mean to us? What is our brand of a lifestyle business?
Ben: 07:03 To me, that's getting paid well to work on things that I enjoy doing and providing service to a great group of people. I really honestly believe in the whole service mentality that we're here to serve our customers. And I care very deeply about developers are chosen customer group, developers like us having a great daily experience with the tools that they have.
Ben: 07:29 And to me, like the ideal is I get to do interesting things, interesting work serving that community and I get paid well doing it. What more could I ask for?
Starr: 07:41 A private airplane?
Ben: 07:43 Oh, yeah, the private jet.
Starr: 07:44 Yeah, was that from last episode?
Ben: 07:47 If anybody wants to give me a private jet, I'll be happy to try that out and let you know how that lifestyle just goes up. Where would that put me on the treadmill? If I got the private jet, what would I want next?
Starr: 07:58 Spaceship. Obviously, I mean look at all billionaires now. They all got spaceships.
Ben: 08:04 That's true. I'll think about that. But really like, owning that lifestyle business to me is about, "Okay, what to you makes ..." I don't know. I mean it just simple. It really comes down to me being happy. We talked about in the last episode about that sandwich shop and how they'll be happy not having 30% growth. As long as they're having people coming in the door everyday getting their sandwiches and that they're on that business for years, they're happy.
Ben: 08:32 That's cool. That wouldn't make me happy because that's not what I'm interested in doing. But if I can make my business configured to my happiness, like I was the kind of person when I worked for other people before I was unemployable as a founder, I would always have opinions about how things should be. I would see how my boss is doing or what my boss was doing this or that, the other thing. And now, I think I could do that better, or I have a different idea. And no one was asking me, probably wisely. But I always had my ideas about how things could be better in my opinion, anyway.
Ben: 09:08 And so when I founded my own company, then I got to do that. I could say, "Hey, I think this should be done this way," and then I did it that way and I got to find out if it actually was better. I think, to me, a lifestyle business for someone who is a person that has strong opinions about how things should be, a lifestyle business is a business where I get to choose everything about how I work. I get to choose who I work with. I have awesome co-founders.
Ben: 09:36 I get to choose the technologies to work with. I love Ruby and I love Linux and I have built our stack around those things. And I love just working with developers and so I chose in this ... I don't know. I guess I'm all about optimizing my happiness.
Josh: 09:55 Yeah, is there a little bit of like a richer king in there too? Is that what it is, where you want to be king?
Ben: 10:04 Definitely.
Josh: 10:05 Yeah.
Starr: 10:06 Like when you talked about this before, somebody was like, "Do you want to be rich or do you want to be the king?"
Josh: 10:12 I think, yeah. It was Jason. It was Jason Cohen that wrote about that originally, yeah. We want to be rich and king ... Rich is kind of relative. So ...
Starr: 10:28 So, how does this work? Do we each have like our own kingdom? Am I like king of the North?
Ben: 10:33 Oh, I like that.
Josh: 10:35 We talked about this since we kind of like, we're little different and that we don't like collaboration at Honeybadger. We like our silos. We talked about that before. And I think we just need to take this one step further and each have our own factions-
Starr: 10:55 Tell me more.
Josh: 10:55 Ben has his hoard, or whatever. Or I have my hoard. I typically work with a lot of contractors and stuff, or our open source libraries and things. That can those can be ... That's like my hoard of open source developers and Ben can have some ... He got Ben Findley and Kevin kind of his like ...
Josh: 11:16 So we need to get Starr a-
Ben: 11:18 I think Starr gets a dragon-
Josh: 11:20 The dragons?
Starr: 11:21 Oh, that's nice.
Josh: 11:22 Nice.
Starr: 11:24 I might go with puppies instead. They're cuter. I don't really want a-
Josh: 11:28 Starr just has the puppies.
Starr: 11:30 I hear bad things happened to that woman with the dragons, so I don't really want to go that route.
Ben: 11:36 I have an admission to make. I haven't watched any of those. I have not-
Starr: 11:40 I haven't watched them since like three seasons ago.
Ben: 11:42 I don't know even know what it's about-
Josh: 11:44 Are we talking about Game of Thrones?
Starr: 11:46 Breaking Bad or something.
Josh: 11:50 I have watched Breaking Bad. I'll tell you one thing though, the Badger Life for me is not so that I can binge watch Game of Thrones in my free time.
Ben: 11:59 Yeah. Well one of the things that I felt strongly about like my entire career was not overworking, like not work ... I was never into overtime. I would go into a job interview and after I was reasonably sure that they were interested in hiring me, like I wouldn't lead with this, but later on in the conversation, I would say, "There's something you need to know about me, I'm not going to work more than 40 hours in a week."
Ben: 12:27 For some people, that's a turn off. They're like, "Well, we expect you to work 60 hours a week, so goodbye."
Starr: 12:31 Where's your passion? Where's your passion, Ben?
Ben: 12:34 Well, I don't know. My passion is not for working overtime, I guess.
Starr: 12:37 Don't you want to change the world?
Ben: 12:39 Yes. My world in my way.
Starr: 12:42 Oh, nice comeback.
Ben: 12:44 Yeah, thanks. So that was a big deal to me like that we create an environment where that's not an expectation. And honestly, I think the whole 40-hour work week is outdated. The idea that-
Josh: 13:00 Amen.
Ben: 13:00 ... you're in a factory and that's the maximum you can work, great. The idea that you are a thought worker or a developer or some sort of person that uses their brain all day long and you have to work at least 40 hours a week, I think that's old news. I just don't think that works. There are days when I can work 8 hours, 10 hours, boom and I have a lot of productivity. But those are rare.
Ben: 13:26 I'd say much more often, I have a good solid four hours of intense, deep, productive thinking time, maybe six hours and then I'm done. My brains is like, "Okay, you're done. You're going to go to think about something random or you can do some random tasks. Maybe some things that are useful and necessary but you're not doing that hard work of writing some awesome code or whatever, solving those deep problems. Not eight hours a day every day, no sir."
Starr: 13:54 For our recent job posting and hiring thing, what did we list? Like a 30-hour work week?
Ben: 14:05 Yeah. And that's an approximation because there are some weeks when you're really into it and you can do those 8, 10-hour burst and you're like, "Yeah, this is awesome." But that's not sustainable long term and so I think overall, it's more reasonable to expect a 30-ish hour work week.
Starr: 14:24 Question, actual business question. I don't think we put that in our job posting for the marketing position. Do we ever tell Ben Findley? I hope he doesn't expect that he has to work more than Kevin.
Josh: 14:39 Than the rest of us?
Starr: 14:41 Yeah.
Josh: 14:42 Maybe someone should mention that to him.
Ben: 14:44 Well, we didn't actually have a job posting for the marketing thing. That just happened.
Starr: 14:49 Oh, that's right. That's right.
Ben: 14:51 I know he's taking advantage of that non-40-hour work week for sure.
Josh: 14:56 Good.
Ben: 14:57 Or at least if he wasn't before hearing this episode, he's doing it now.
Josh: 15:02 Yeah, I think, for me like I want to be able to work when I want and when I'm productive so kind of like you were saying, it's just dumb to work when you're spent. And a lot of times, if I go and do something else or switch, do something else I like to do that maybe I'm fresh for. I'll come back and something will hit me during that or later in the day.
Josh: 15:33 And then maybe I'll have energy to go and work a little bit more or something but I don't have to. And then on the other hand, if I just don't feel like working, if it's not in me today for some reason, then again it's dumb to sit there and try to struggle through it when you're not going to produce your best work anyway. And you could use that time to enjoy something else.
Ben: 16:01 Totally.
Starr: 16:02 There are few things I hate more in life than being at a point where I can't do anymore decent work but having to sit in a chair and pretend like I'm working for another two hours or whatever until it's five o'clock and time to go home. God, I hate that. That's just, ugh!
Josh: 16:19 If I do that over an extended period, I think that's like what tends to lead to burnout for me where I just can't do it anymore.
Starr: 16:31 So talking about burnout. This is like I'm doing a very clever, smooth segue into burnout.
Josh: 16:40 And I was setting you up for that because I knew you wanted to there, Starr. So-
Starr: 16:43 Thank you. I don't know if I'll leave this in-
Josh: 16:45 We're both real smooth right now.
Starr: 16:47 Yeah, since you got a new microphone. I can't wait to hear what it sounds like under high quality.
Josh: 16:53 I can't too. Yeah, I want to see if it's-
Starr: 16:54 You're going to be getting all the fan mail, Josh. It's like, "Who's that smooth voice man?"
Josh: 17:00 Oh.
Starr: 17:05 Yeah, there's been a lot of talk about burnout recently. There's a big sort of discussion on Twitter. Lots of people sharing their stories about burnout, and developers ... It seems like developers tend to experience burnout more frequently than other. I hear about burnout a lot more when talking to developers and when talking to people who have sort of normal jobs. Is that just because developers are expected to have this sort of like all-in passion for the project, or is that just ... I don't know.
Josh: 17:39 That's a good question. I wonder if it's like, I think the whole thought worker thing might come into this because I think like there are some jobs that you can just do repetitively like, I don't know, I could go dig ditches for eight hours a day, like physical activity and just like routines and stuff and do that for a long time and I'm not expecting to move the needle on how good of a ditch digger I am or something.
Josh: 18:11 And that would be fine, I like routine, so I could get into a routine. It's not the ideal thing and that's obviously why I'm not doing that. But if I'm doing more of like a creative or, I don't know, like a problem-solving type thing, I feel like I start to get really mentally worn out after a while. Yeah, it's hard to describe but over time, that can kind of buildup and lead to a lot of self-doubt and just tiredness and-
Starr: 18:47 And one interesting thing I noticed from our own discussion sort of in the company is that it seems like when we ... I think this is common amongst developers. But it seems like when we are personally feeling burned out, one of the most clear options on the table, one of the things that we gravitate towards is doing more work, like doing more projects and taking on more. What's up with that?
Ben: 19:13 I think part of that is ... And maybe part of why you feel you see burnout as an issue more with software developers than perhaps other groups of people is there is this infinite backlog of work. Every software organization I've been in including Honeybadger has a backlog of work that could really just take a really long time to get through. And you know that-
Josh: 19:36 Interesting.
Ben: 19:36 ... that even if you cleared through that backlog, while you're doing that, more backlog is going to show up. More feature requests are going to come in or things will change that you have to update whatever. There's always going to be more work and so I know for me, I'm feeling like I've got to get this thing done. And sometimes, not in our case, we don't have external deadlines. We don't have project managers telling us that we have a launch on a certain date, but I know in a lot of software companies, that is a thing where we have this deadline and we have to meet this deadline and we have to do the death march.
Josh: 20:11 We've got ourselves.
Ben: 20:12 Yeah, we push ourselves quite a bit and I think part of the problem is like versus the ditch digger. When you're digging that ditch, you know once it-
Josh: 20:21 Just there's a ditch right in front of you, it just goes forever. That's the nice thing about digging ditches. I was going to say that like-
Ben: 20:27 I think that's part of the problem. We feel like if I can just get ahead and I could just get this crunch done or whatever, but in reality, the backlog is infinite. And at some point, you feel like you just-
Josh: 20:39 It becomes overwhelming.
Starr: 20:41 So maybe that's why people want to move to like new projects because in a new project, there's no backlog. There may be deadlines but there's not an overwhelming amount of stuff like pressing at you from all sides.
Ben: 20:54 Yeah, right.
Starr: 20:55 It's like freedom and I guess it's even there and the words we use to describe it because we call new projects like greenfield projects.
Josh: 21:02 What about like ... I haven't spent a whole lot of time as a career software ... I'm actually employed moving from company to company but I hear that software developers change jobs a lot. And I imagined to some extent, it's not greenfield but going into a new company you're not familiar with their backlog yet and you haven't personally taken personal responsibility for any of it. So I could see how that's ... There's probably a little bit of that greenfield feeling going to a new job as well as like what you were just talking about, Starr, with like a greenfield project.
Starr: 21:39 That's a good point. Yeah, I was thinking about this other day and I think like among all my developer friends, I may have been at my job the longest, like by far.
Ben: 21:49 Yeah. It's rare for people in our segment of the industry startups, small businesses and so on to be in that one position for several years. And I think these issues are definitely at play there. It's taken me a while to really convince myself like telling myself, "Look, you know what? There's always going to be more work to do. As soon as you finish this thing, there's going to be another thing. And it will still be there tomorrow. You can go ahead. You can shut down the laptop and you can go do something else. And you can come back to work tomorrow and keep working on it."
Josh: 22:27 I think my career skill could be just to create backlogs. And so if I could just like start it ... I work at Honeybadger. I just make this awesome backlog and then just move to a new job that doesn't have a backlog yet. I could do the same thing for them.
Starr: 22:46 I mean, isn't that kind of more like a PM does?
Ben: 22:47 That's exactly what I was going to say. That's exactly the job description of a Project Manager.
Josh: 22:50 Are you saying I'm a PM? I'm not actually a developer, I'm a PM.
Starr: 22:55 I know I've to confess something too to you guys. This is a little bit disturbing for me to realize but we had had recently some talks about maybe doing a new product and stuff like that. And honest to God, the thing that was making me the most excited about it was writing the spec for it. I was just like, "Oh, no. Oh, no."
Josh: 23:19 It's happening, Starr.
Starr: 23:20 "What if I'm turning into a manager?" Oh, no, But I'm not managing anybody, but it's still happening.
Ben: 23:31 It's okay, Starr. I've been there. I've done that. It's totally fine. There's a lot-
Josh: 23:36 I mean, this is part … This is probably why we've built this freedom into the business so that we can all go work on specs for products that may or may not happen. And that can be fulfilling itself.
Starr: 23:47 Yeah. Maybe it seems nice because it's like the only time where I would actually fully understand the thing because once it's built, it's like too big and you can only really understand the part of it at once.
Ben: 23:59 Writing a spec is a very creative process. You have an infinite number of possibilities in front of you and you're formulating something out of nothing. It's pretty cool.
Josh: 24:11 Yeah, I like writing specs too. Well, I don't know, the past couple of weeks, I've been working through my backlog of GitHub issues that have been assigned to me for way too long. And some of the way I got through that was just unassigning them and some of the way was actually doing some work. But I can say that after having gotten through a lot of them, like not having those nagging in my subconscious is a little bit freeing.
Josh: 24:48 But I think a key for me is to kind of limit my exposure to the backlog. Anyone or any given moment and try to have like a more focused ... Yeah, try to focus my efforts in like on a small number of things I'm trying to accomplish and just let the backlog like exist down there, wherever it lives.
Starr: 25:14 Yeah, I agree. I have a very hard time personally dealing with lots of things happening at once. And so my experience of our backlog of issues is kind of like that. There's like a thousand things all yelling at me like, "Starr, fix me." And it's hard for me to deal with, and so I tend to, almost to excess sometimes, trying to push away extraneous things and just work on a single thing, hopefully for a week or two.
Starr: 25:50 Do you guys have any techniques? How do you deal with burnout? How do you prevent burnout in yourself? Have you noticed anything interesting in your own work lives?
Josh: 26:01 I've definitely had some burnout over the last couple of years and at least been trying ... Maybe it's more like seeing that I could go there and trying to not go there. Usually when I start feeling like overwhelmed or if I'm getting to that place, I just have to stop working for a while. Maybe it's a couple of days, maybe it's just going on vacation. I'm probably getting pretty close to that point right now to be honest, it's about time for a vacation. But I think actually taking time off and not having to ... If you don't feel like you're stuck and that you got to keep trying and you can't just reset or whatever, that makes a lot worse for me.
Josh: 26:57 Yeah, I don't know. We've been pretty good lately about taking time off. We took almost the entire month of December off last year, and I took off a month. I think I actually took off ... I was out two months last year because of December and then, we had our second kid. Yeah, I did pretty good last year. But still I'm finding I need to take that time in order to maintain sanity.
Ben: 27:27 Yeah, it's similar. I've had times of burnout during the past few years. And those times looking back tend to come when I'm feeling very stressed about getting something done soon, something is broken or something is kind of broken. And I know what the solution is and it takes a lot of work to get that solution and I just got to power through it.
Ben: 27:54 The times where I let myself just get buried in that kind of work tends to contribute to your feelings of burnout. And then as far as solving it, I found that ... I know my body is telling me or my mind is telling me when it's time to take a break. It's like I start thinking about, "Maybe it's time for a vacation." And when I start having those thoughts, it's time to get a vacation. And if I don't, then I'm going to get increasingly more burned out. If I just try to push through it, it just doesn't work. It just makes it worse.
Ben: 28:25 And vacation for me doesn't have to be to two weeks in Hawaii. I know a lot of people often think about. That's really not a great vacation for me. I don't like being idle. I don't like doing nothing. So for me, a vacation is I maybe take a Thursday and a Friday off in addition to the normal weekend. And in that Thursday and Friday, I go work on my yard or I go for a long bike ride or you see stuff around the house. Maybe I go for a long drive and go see something different. It's not going to Iceland, for example.
Ben: 28:57 So, just taking a time and really being conscientious about not thinking about work, because work comes back in. It happens to me like I think about it all the time. And so I have to actually actively ... I guess it's the behavioral therapy, the cognitive behavioral therapy where actively it's like, "Okay, you're thinking about work. Stop thinking about work. Put that aside. Put it in the box and you'll be able to come back to that on Monday."
Josh: 29:24 Yeah. I actually do like Hawaii. But I like it because, one, I like the weather and the tropics and all that. But I like to go ... If I go on vacation, I'd like to go somewhere where I'm not attached to work, where there's not an agenda or a structure to it. I don't like going on vacations where you feel forced, you have to be making the best of it or something or making the most of sightseeing or something like that. I don't do tourism, so really not well anyway.
Josh: 30:01 When I go on a vacation though, I don't like being idle either, so I totally make ... I have personal goals and things I want to do and all that sort of thing but it's just not work-related. I spend most of it ... I love to read on vacation. I just go and just churn through books basically. That plus active things. You like bike riding. You can just give yourself a schedule of reading books and bike riding and that would be ... That's my vacation right there.
Ben: 30:36 Yeah, that's awesome.
Josh: 30:39 Yeah, and then the other role is just like to get away from ... If you are sitting on a couch or something, you're going to want to pick up the laptop and look at Slack or whatever. I just don't bring the laptop or just bring it but leave it under the bed or something. I try not to even turn it on unless obviously, if we're on call or something, you might want to bring it for that reason. But that's what your SMS is for. SMS works most places in the world, and you can just leave the laptop under the bed.
Josh: 31:15 I've gone on vacations where I literally just never even turned it on, powered it on. It's been there as kind of a safety net. But, yeah, it doesn't have to consume you.
Starr: 31:27 Those are all good points. And I just wanted to add that I think it's really important that I think in general, developers are probably terrible at this. You have to ... Vacations are great and stuff. But that's a way to respond to something once it's happened. It's a way to put out the fire and maybe you can keep the fire from starting or longer or something. And so I think it's really important to take time in your day for self-care because maybe vacations aren't possible. If you don't have your own business and you can't be like, "I'm heading out next week. See you." Maybe get fired if you did that. But it's possible to sort of check in on yourself on a daily basis to do self-care, to take some time for yourself to work through whatever feelings you're having and stuff like that. Yeah, I think that's very important too.
Josh: 32:28 Yeah. Well, I think one of the reasons back to the Badger Life thing, one of the reasons that we've designed things like they are and over time we've been trying to automate more systems and make it easier for us to take vacations and be outside of the business is so that we do have the opportunity to use that sort of time, use vacations as more preventative versus ... I forget how you put it, but as a response to a crisis that you're already having.
Josh: 33:03 Ben was saying ... You said you take the vacation when you see the symptoms of the end result, which would be burnout. If you're starting to feel like, "Man, I need ... I really wish I could take a break," go take one because we set the company that way. We set up the company that way.
Starr: 33:27 That's great. I would say not everybody loves the Badger Life.
Josh: 33:30 Yeah. But I mean, we're kind of like saying this is the new way, like this is the way people should live. That's kind of what we're saying.
Starr: 33:42 Yeah. But some people can't, they'll get fired.
Josh: 33:43 No, I know. I totally agree with you, Starr, like yeah, it's nice to get practical advice for people who don't have the ...
Ben: 33:51 Yeah, so here's a suggestion if you're in a situation where you don't have that flexibility. At a company that I worked for several years ago, it was a consulting company. We did software development and our primary client was Microsoft. And at the time, Microsoft had a reputation for being very hard driving with their contractors, and so were under a lot of time pressure all the time.
Ben: 34:17 And one thing that I learned from that situation, the owner of our company actually had a policy in place. It is called mental health days, and the idea ... A lot of people are familiar with this. This is not like new stuff, but it's a small thing that you can add to your organization if you don't have it or something you can advocate for. And that is you don't have to take a sick day. You don't have to take a vacation. You can just take a mental health day. We had the ability, the flexibility to say to our boss, "Look, you know what? I got to take a break. Tomorrow, I need to take a day." And that was always okay.
Ben: 34:57 And obviously people didn't abuse it or else it wouldn't have been okay for long, but it was really helpful to have that release valve and to say, "I just need a small break today and I'm going to take it." And that was great and that really helped alleviate a lot of pressure that we had in that environment.
Josh: 35:15 Yeah, I like that. That can also be kind of a way to ... Because I think for a lot of more typical employee situations, it's harder to signal. If you're having a hard time, it's hard to signal to people that you are, because it's a little bit stigmatized. And if there's no system for dealing with it in place, you feel like, what do I do? There's not really anything you can do where you don't feel like you're putting the rest of your co-workers out or whatever. At least that's how I assume they would feel.
Josh: 35:55 Starr, what kinds of things ... Do you have any specific things that you think are good to do on a daily basis versus taking large chunks of time away? What's the more routine maintenance daily stuff that people can do or that works for you?
Starr: 36:15 I guess it just depends on your individual situation. But I think taking some time, trying to practice some mindfulness, maybe trying to take some time to think through your day and to do whatever makes ... Burnout to me is like exposure to stress for too long. You don't necessarily have to be working 80 hours a week to get burned out. You could work 20 hours a week and get burned out if those 20 hours are extremely stressful. And so pretty much anything that will reduce to your perception of that stress, I think, is very useful. And it's just going to vary depending on your circumstances and all that.
Josh: 36:58 DHH [David Heinemeier Hansson] said an interesting thing in his RailsConf talk when he was talking about how he got burned out working on Basecamp at one point. I think, as I recall, it's before they had decided to build version three. And he said that in 37 Signals, they're at the time ... Well, really all along, it's always been like this sustainable ... They started this sustainable work movement, so it's weird for a CTO to be having burnout and if he's living this dream life in this low pressure organization.
Josh: 37:37 But I think his point was it wasn't because he was working too hard, it was because he was not working on the right things and he wasn't feeling fulfilled in what he was doing. I assumed he was just looking at this backlog like we've been talking about. Just nothing is really doing it for you. So, it's not necessarily about overworking. It could also just be about not being creatively engaged or just not being fulfilled in the work that you are doing.
Starr: 38:11 That makes a lot of sense, like feeling that the work that you are doing doesn't make any difference.
Josh: 38:17 Or doesn't matter, yeah.
Starr: 38:18 Yeah. And I mean, it's similar thing to a whole infinite backlog. Why does it matter if I fix this bug because there's just a thousand more bugs to fix?
Ben: 38:28 Yeah, I think the phrase that I remember from that keynote was it was not he was overworked, is that he was under-purposed. He didn't feel he had that purpose.
Josh: 38:38 Yeah, that's good, under-purposed.
Ben: 38:41 Josh, you reminded me when you asked Starr about those daily maintenance things. One thing I learned from Starr a few years ago was go take a walk. I remember seeing it on our Slack, Starr would be like, "I'm going for a walk." And I'm looking at the clock and it was, I don't know, 12:30 or whatever, just some random time. It doesn't matter when it was but I was, "Oh, that's a good idea."
Ben: 39:00 And he comes back and he's ready to do some more work. And I'm like, "I'm going to try that." And so I started doing more walks and that's good stuff.
Josh: 39:09 My problem is that I go for the walk and then I just don't want to come back. I just want to keep walking.
Ben: 39:17 Then keep walking.
Starr: 39:18 Well, it helps to have like a set walk, like you're walking along a path and then you get back to your car or whatever.
Josh: 39:24 I have a couple of good loops from my house that I like to take which end up bringing me back eventually.
Starr: 39:32 Yeah. Well, I think we will be coming up on time. Okay with you guys if we wrap up?
Ben: 39:41 Sure.
Josh: 39:42 Yeah.
Ben: 39:42 We don't want to burn ourselves out. No? Okay.
Josh: 39:46 On podcasting?
Starr: 39:47 God, I'm so sick of podcasting, guys.
Josh: 39:49 We want to be doing this for a while, right?
Starr: 39:51 Yeah, we're going to ... I don't know, man. You got to feed the beast. It's one a week, the people demand their FounderQuest. If they don't get it, I don't even want to know what's going to happen, pitchforks, torches, probably.
Josh: 40:04 Probably. I mean we've been doing pretty well so far. And actually we're recording another doubleheader or whatever today.
Starr: 40:16 As always, it's been great talking to you, guys. And, well, we'll see you later.
Ben: 40:21 All right.
Starr: 40:26 What's something I can say? I'm running out of-
Ben: 40:30 Tune in again next week. Save bat time. Save bat channel.
Josh: 40:35 In the spirit of Badger Life, I could repeat some of the core values that we had outlined in the article that we mentioned earlier, which I think for me kind of summarizes how we do things, and that is that these are kind of in order of significance. Family is more important than work. Health is more important than success. And financial independence is more important than being rich.
Ben: 41:02 I love it.
Starr: 41:05 What a great sentiment to end on. And I've got to ask, are we too legit to quit? I don't think so. I think that was pretty good, wasn't it?
Josh: 41:16 That was good. I'll start dropping this too legit thing so we can finally get that shirt done.
Ben: 41:23 Right. Yeah.
Starr: 41:24 Oh, yeah. We have too legit to ship.
Josh: 41:26 Yeah.
Ben: 41:27 Yeah.
Starr: 41:27 Okay. Well, it's great talking to you, guys. And I'll catch you next time.
Ben: 41:33 All right.
Josh: 41:34 That was good. See you, guys.
Ben: 41:35 Okay, bye.
Announcer: 41:39 FounderQuest is a weekly podcast by the founders of Honeybadger. Zero instrumentation, 360-degree coverage of errors, outages, and service degradations for your web apps. If you have a web app, you need it. Available at www.honeybadger.io.
Announcer: 41:54 Want more from the founders? Go to www.founderquestpodcast.com. That's one word. You can access our huge back catalog or sign up for our newsletter to get exclusive VIP content. FounderQuest is available on iTunes, Spotify, and other purveyors of fine podcasts. We'll see you next week.