I had a burnout

Journal entries from the time I took a break from work

Fire and Ice / Handpicked from my travel albums

Mid pandemic, I’d hit rock bottom. I was SO done with work but being the only person who could help a lot of people in the middle of multiple product releases on the way; I had no easy way out.

Since the lockdown began, the lines between work and home had completely blurred out. I lived in a tiny studio apartment that was quite close to work; and since it literally had just one room with a separate kitchen and bathroom, I just had about enough space to have a bed and a sofa. No space for a desk.

Before the pandemic

My usual day pre-pandemic would more or less look like this:

  • Wake up, cold shower and leave early to beat the traffic
  • Breakfast at work (I loved that my workplace was kind enough to offer us breakfast at the pantry)
  • Begin actual work by 10:30–11 AM
  • Not do much and head out to lunch by 1 PM
  • Chat for a bit, and run back to my desk cause I’m not exactly the chatterbox kind
  • Pray to god no meetings come in and finally get into the zone and start some real, Deep Work done.
Chill out work scenes / One of my desks at WeWork / Late Night scenes (with pizza of course)
  • Once in the Flow, nothing else matters — I’d sit and work without a break (At times stretching all the way up to 9PM even 3/4AM)
  • Return home and crash to sleep.
  • Repeat

Some days when I’d stay in late — the next day I’d just come in to work at noon or just pack up my laptop and work from home the next day (after, ofcourse catching up on the sleep).

You see I was already spending way too many hours not knowing something like the pandemic was enroute to turn the whole earth upside down in one slow and steady blow.

So.. that was me before the pandemic.

Pandemic en-route

Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

As soon as my workplace announced that we’re going fully remote, way before the Govt. put a mandatory lockdown; I was probably among the happiest ones!

I WOULD BE ABLE TO DO DEEP WORK WITHOUT HAVING TO DEAL WITH TOO MANY DISTRACTIONS.

Alone, in my zone, in my own time, at my own pace — *Lets go of a zen like breath*

Little did I know, this was just the start of the storm…

In my mind, I’d already made up plans on the things I had been wanting to do so badly, but just couldn’t with the whole commute fatigue and deciding on what to eat (for like an hour before each meal) and all that stuff.

Remote work begins!

Its been a really long time, since this started so I definitely have forgotten specifics. But thats not what we’re here for are we?

But lets be frank, for most of us it looked something like.. this

NOTIFICATIONS OVERDOSE!

This is where hell broke lose.

We had about 3 products in the works of going for a public release back then. I was the only one handling the infrastructure in my team. No One, was well versed with the do’s and don’ts of getting services live at scale back then.

Considering the dependency — I got dragged around quite a bit. Across projects, jumping ship from one place to the other over and over; constantly moving from meetings to meetings — it was like, the moment I’d get done with one; there was waiting out there to get to me!

Remembering that time alone brings a huge weight on my head.

Anyway, long story short — needing to be at 2 places at the same time forced me to work more hours than I did back in the day. I didn’t get the rest that I needed and I’d reached a point where I resented every other work related notification that I received.

I needed time to relax and take a break, travel and stuff but this was way too early into the pandemic. There were no travel relaxations inplace, infact there was a curfew in place.

A month or two went by and I had to hang in there, thats when I got a news. Someone from my family, someone really close passed away.

I was pretty well burnt out around the time I got this news — but this just made things worse. I needed an escape, and considering cops would beat me up if I left home for something that wasn’t essential services; I had to stay back at home. I found my escape the only way I could back then, drowning myself further in work.

I knew I needed a break from work, but sometimes we gotta make do with the options we have at hand.

Unlock X.0 / Travelling during the Pandemic

A month went by and restrictions started to ease up a little, I decided to move home. A place that lost someone very important, and hopefully being with them would help in some way at this time of need.

I travelled via a connecting flight DURING initial phases of unlock and, trust me. This wasn’t fun either.

Sweaty Outlook / My chariot / Foggy Visor about 70% of the travel duration

So, I had stayed in like I should have during the full lockdown and I sure as hell wasn’t ready to get infected, just because I decided to travel! (Also, mom insisted that I wear the PPE kit, so I wore that suit)

Wearing that monstrosity and travelling, brought an immense amount of respect for all the frontline workers who were wearing this on a daily basis and helping all those who were infected by the virus. Gotta say, I would NOT have been able to do what they did for so many straight.

Fastforward through the quarantine

(and finally reaching home)

I had few conversations with my lead during this whole time regarding the burnout and he’d insisted on me taking a break. But a break wasn’t going to come in easy to me.

My family involved a lot of doctors — they didn’t let me off the hook that easily. I had institutional quarantine for about a month and then had to stay at two otther “Doctor” relative’s homes to be sure I wasn’t a threat to my final spot of stay (the place which had kids and senior citizens). Also, I sure as hell wasn’t ready to lose any more people in this year so I agreed.

But since I was in quarantine for areally long time even after I reached my destination, there was nothing that I could really do during the quarantine even if I did take a break. I decided to push it further away and finally once I could settle down at my final destination, I decided. This is it.

I need a break and I can’t postpone this any further.

Preparing for the long break

Well, if you managed to reach all the way till here, you’re definitely one patient reader.
With that really long but (sort of) necessary intro out of the way, lets dive into what did I actually do during the break — Long intro since, I wanted you to know the state I was in during the whole pandemic.

Duration

I applied for a whole week off, almost 10–11 days in actual number of days away from work.

Getting an alternative distraction

Now, I was someone who basically lived on the internet. There was no way I would have been able to do just *Nothing* and not lose my mind. I needed a distraction, so I planned ahead and ordered a Kindle.

This way I had something to kill time with while not being easily available to anyone.

I ended up buying the Kindle Oasis thinking I’ll use this long term, but after a small brush with it, I ended up returning it and getting the Kindle Paperwhite instead. Read my review if you’re curious about the swap.

NO CALLS/NOTIFICATIONS

I told my mom, no calls unless someone is dying. I told the same thing to my work place colleagues and turned off my phone, kept an alternate number which I sent to trusted contacts only.

Even though I had one line open, I left this phone in the other room so that no notifications would reach me immediately.

ZERO COMMITS!

Now, most of my work/play is around code. I make atleast 2–5 commits on average every day, for work and learning something new.

This time, I decided. No matter how bad the urgency or desperation, I won’t open up an IDE, and I sure as hell am not making a single commit during these days (even for learning)

Rejuvenation Break Journal Entries

With all the ground rules/preparations out of the way, here’s the timeline of what I did during this time.

Day 0 – Saturday | 31st October, 2020

First day away from work, my uncle called me for some help at his backyard to collect the coconuts that were being dropped off from the groves.

Thats where I met this beautiful calf, and yes I used to be someone who totally judged people putting up pictures of cows and buffalos as pets

BUT LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL CREATURE!!!

He/she came right up as I went close and started licking like a pupper, totally couldn’t resist caressing!

Ended up staying close to the calf instead of helping my uncle with the falling coconuts 🤣🤐

Also, seeing that muzzle reminded me of a cattle identification project I had worked on during one of my Internships.

What I intially came to help with 😅

While I was here, my Kindle arrived and was waiting for me back at home.

First thing I did, run from here and set it up and start buying books that I always wanted to read.

Day 1 – Sunday | 1 November, 2020

Nothing too happening, I ended up tinkering around with the Kindle and read a few chapters from few books. Will publish the list of books when I am done with atleast one book.

Now I hadn’t been the best reader in a really long time. Probably the last book I finished was back in 10th grade (2010) and I got swayed by online content and never actually finished reading any books after that.

Checking how PDFs with illustrations looked like on the Oasis

But I’d made up my mind, I’ll start reading more often, especially during my off time — away from work.

Thats what triggered me into buying this Kindle.

Day 2— Monday | 2 November, 2020

I stayed holed in a bedroom, slowly picking pace with the reading. With the Air Conditioner on and room all dark, I cozily read through books jumping from one to the next one when I got bored.

My list of books that I was actively making progress on looked something like this

  • How to influence people friend and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
  • Warren Buffet — 9 Daily Habits of Warren buffet (Isaac Fox)
  • THINK STRAIGHT: Change your thoughts, Change your life (Darius Foroux)
  • The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

So, if you’re wondering why was I reading so many at the same time? The answer is simple. I get bored of stuff too quickly, and I have a very short attention span.

Reading was the only escape I had and I just had to make it work. Having options to chose from to switch to, made me read more than I did in the past 10 years.

In the evening grandma called me to help her roast cashews from the Yard, got a fire going and roasted them

After I was done, she was SOOO pissed cause I said they need to be roasted more and ended up burning a whole batch 😶😶

I didn’t hear the end of it for the next 3 days.

Day 3— Tuesday | 3 November, 2020

No entry, just a picture.

Monkey 1 sketching — Monkey 2 (me)

I’d been growing out my hair since about Feb 2020, never went for a haircut since, and my brother decided to sketch me out while I was on the couch at night reading. I was ready for bed, but decided to stick around for a little while longer since he started sketching.

Gotta say though, that was one hilarious picture indeed 🤣

Day 4,5 — No Log Entries

Day 6 — Friday | 6 November, 2020

I’d gone up to the terrace for basking in the sun (the sun is something I hadn’t been getting enough of and decided to get some morning sun) when I noticed the sky had been more vibrant blue than the usual mist/hazy light blue.

I was noticing things I usually wouldn’t have.

Out on the terrace at around 7 AM an hour of reading under natural sunlight while being surrounded by the trees. It looked really beautiful.

When I got down, I just couldn’t shake the thought of not capturing a moment this beautiful — so I ran inside, grabbed my phone and et. voila

Day 7 —Saturday | 7 November, 2020

Spent the day at my aunt’s place. Again, as always lugged around my Kindle and kept reading.

While there, I played batminton for a while with my cousins and played with the puppers

The Puppers , A Dashund(black) and a Dash-Pomeranian cross (brown) / One of the “explorer” monkeys saying “THis is a nice, TEleescopeE😐”

At this point I had finished all these books

Of these, I picked up the alchemist since it was easy to read and I needed something to get the ball rolling.

How to Win Friends and Influence People was a book I had started over 2 years ago, but never got around to finish reading. I managed to finish that too in less than 7 days!

Day 8 — Sunday | 8 November, 2020

I stayed over at my aunts place for a change in environment, and since the kids had a break too they were here as well for the weekend.

Games of Monopoly and Batminton ensued as the day before and I continued reading at other times.

Done with the old lot of books, I now had 5 other books that I was Currently Reading:

With my senses feeling slightly more heigtened and finishing up books (which was something I hadn’t done in ages) I realised, the break was doing its thing.

Exposure to nature and spending time alone with no one around, just the resting and sleeping in without doing anything helped a lot significantly.

Today was the last day of my break and.. I feel really energetic. Sad that the break has ended, but this is the longest I have gone without including work in my routine.

As the sun set over the horizon, I watched the birds fly home — again for the first time in a really long time.

It was time for me to return home as well, back to old routine.

After a hearty meal and packing I played my favourite playlist and drove back home on the now freshly rained wet roads.

The End

P.S. THE DRAMATIC ENDING WAS AN ABSOLUTE COINCIDENCE,
although when I saw the picture, couldn’t resist adding it to make it the perfect and beautiful ending.

Do leave a clap (or two) if you liked this writeup! 😁

This helps me understand which flavours of writeup are you guys interested in.

Discussions

Reflecting back upon the break, what are the things you think helped the most?

Reconnecting with the nature, working out, basking in the morning sun and breathing fresh air — these have got to be the most helpful things that helped me recover a significant part of my burnout.

Also, this helped me get back on
track with reading books cover-to-cover again — something I had been looking forward to doing for a while now.

Another factor that significantly helped was uninstalling all work related apps. It helped reduce notifications when my phone was with me (the times when I did capture pictures/thoughts).

Will you do it more often?

YES. Probably as frequently as every 4 — 6 months

Why just a week, why not longer?

I did want to take a longer break, but I was not in any state to travel and go back into another quarantine again. That took a bad toll on me and I really wasn’t ready to make a trip for this break.

This break is dated back in November 2020, why are you publishing this right now?

One line answer — I procrastinated and put it off.

I came around to writing it on my second long break of the year (25 December, 2020–4 Jan, 2020).

If you’re someone who procrastinates and has a hard time getting things done, you might like the folloing write up

Also, I wasn’t sure if this was something I should publish or not, but then I decided to hell with it. I’m definitely not the only one who got burnt out during the pandemic. If this helps even one person, so be it.

Helping atleast one person is the goal with being so honest on this story 😊

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I talk about real world experiences in Tech and Scaling Deep Learning based workloads | Reach out via @arjun921 / connect@arjunsunil.com

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Arjun Sunil

Arjun Sunil

I talk about real world experiences in Tech and Scaling Deep Learning based workloads | Reach out via @arjun921 / connect@arjunsunil.com

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