When Contributing to WordPress Full-Time Leads to Burnout

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As a distributed worker, one of the toughest obstacles I face is burnout. It’s one of the reasons I took a month off from all things WordPress. According to Merriam-Webster, burnout is, “the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time.” Once burnout sets in, it’s tough to recover without avoiding the job completely.

Drew Jaynes, WordPress core developer, describes how contributing to the WordPress project full-time led to burnout.

“Here’s the thing: burnout is a real struggle. And when you’re working on something full-bore, 100 percent of the time, and you burnout, there aren’t a lot of good options to help combat that except to keep pressing on and try to get your groove back,” Jaynes said.

Recognizing the signs that burnout is imminent is an important step towards avoiding it, “I typically realize I’m burned out when I basically lose interest in whatever thing I’d been previously passionate about. Burnout is the result of going at something too hard for too long. And then when you stop, getting started again is a struggle,” he said.

Jaynes realized it was time to move on from full-time contributing to something new after experiencing burnout three times in seven months. Although he will continue to contribute back to WordPress, it will be in a more limited role as he focuses on products.

How Matt Mullenweg Avoids Burnout

People combat burnout differently based on their individual circumstances. When asked how he combats burnout in an Ask Me Anything segment in September 2015, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, responded:

Everything is connected, so if one of ( health | diet | relationships | family | work | soul | creative outlet ) is running on empty for too long, it will impact the others and you might end up treating the symptom rather than the cause. Recovery always comes from the people around you who give you unconditional love and support, which I’ve been lucky to have since I was an infant.

To avoid it now I try to take small mini-breaks frequently, be that a ten minute meditation every day, jogging a few times a week, or taking a few days to recharge once a month. I find that’s better (and less stressful) than trying to do a big blow-out reset or vacation once a year. Conversely, a lot of times when people think I’m on vacation I’m actually working as much or more than when I’m at home, just from a more interesting location (often with fewer distractions). Funnily enough I’m more likely to actually take time off and unplug at home, and more likely to be working when in an exotic location.

I work for a company that has an unlimited vacation policy. I took advantage of it by taking a month off to clear my mind to help me refocus and it worked wonders for my mental well-being. If you feel it’s necessary and your employer has a similar policy, don’t be afraid to ask for some time off to regroup. What do you do to combat burnout? Please share your advice in the comments.

17 Comments


    1. Thanks for sharing the guide, there’s a lot of good tips in there.

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  1. That’s the only way- take a step back, forget the job. Find something new, or, just relax for a while. That works- wonderfully.

    Only when you feel you’re missing it- come back and dive again. :)

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    1. This is good advice, but what if you find yourself not missing it after a period of time? I guess that would be confirmation that it’s time to move to something completely different?

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      1. In a way, yes- when you don’t miss it, it’s time to move to something different! You need the heart to pursuing things- for some reason, when that pulse is missing it’s not worth to stick with it. It creates more problem that you may not notice at first, and unless you face it with open mind, frustrations may become a frequent reality.

        Interestingly, it may take years to get back to. That happened with me- besides the burnout, realm of pain became a wall in between. After a long time things that I love most started enticing me to dive in, one more time. :)

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  2. I experienced burnout years ago when I worked on a fanzine (which is what some of us did before the internet)! I was one with typing, editing, writing and mail order 24, 7, 365. I always thought I had to keep up with the scene. On the cutting edge was the name of the game. When I look back over the 10 years, of my extreme ways, I realize that I could have paced my time better. Not worry so much about keeping up with others, and just make more time for me. Have a little more fun at the game. Whenever I hear that burnout horn blowing… I put on an old film noir and chill out. It is not worth it!! Quality over quantity is my motto! Besides I hate the feeling of being jaded. The worst feeling.

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  3. The hard part is to actually forget the work when you’re away. I know that different people find different activities to get their minds off work. I love windsurfing. I can’t imagine sailing and thinking about anything else.

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    1. This was difficult for me to do at first but now, it’s pretty easy. That tells me that I don’t like what I’m doing as much as I used to. I need to address this before it’s too late.

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  4. “unlimited vacation policy”, wow, I need to get my resume ready and join your company. :-)

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    1. Luckily for you, it’s the cool hip thing for companies to offer these days.

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  5. I still haven’t been able to completely figure out how to recover from a burnout I experienced years ago that soured my ability to produce content the way that I used to…

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    1. I remember those days. Between Blogging Pro and all the other sites you wrote for, I don’t know how you did it. I bet now that writing for pleasure on whatever topic you want on your personal site is a chore. It is for me and one of the reasons why I haven’t published anything on there in a long time.

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      1. The only blog I can write on is my personal site as it works as a journal of my life to help me because I have such a horrible long term memory… I’d love to write about WordPress and stuff again, but I just don’t know if I have it in me again.

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  6. Planning is key to be able to avoid burnout from my point of view. It’s extremely important to keep a good control of your activities and therefore projects and customers in order to allow you to have frequent breaks.

    When you don’t have a clear picture of what you are suppose to do in a couple of weeks, you find yourself in a difficult situation where anything can screw up your “break plans” anytime, and I’m pretty sure it happens very often with people…

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    1. Good advice. There’s nothing like taking a break and spending it worrying about what’s not getting done or what you’re supposed to be getting done. Then it’s not a break at all.

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  7. Burnout happens in blogging too. After the 2012 election cycle, I walked away for a while.

    When I first started blogging in 2006, many moons ago — I was doing it ALL.THE.TIME. It took it’s toll, weight gain, burn out; all of that. I had to step away for a while and take a break.

    We’ve lost a few bloggers in the political world from it too. Which is sad. :(

    Anyhow, Just thought I’d add my two cents from the blogger owner end of things. :D

    -Patrick

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  8. I have come close to burnout when learning all of the things associated with actually creating a website and getting it around the web. It is tough teaching yourself all the ins and outs and I am nowhere close to being where I want to be with it. I keep pressing on in my spare time and sometimes I go too far, but when you get stuck it can be easy to stop producing, the best thing to do is forget what you are stuck on and find another goal to figure out as you mull over the answer to what you were stuck on in the back of your mind and let the answer show itself, then you will be ready to go.

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