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Usually I save all my PTO for a few events in the spring that are of great personal importance. This means I tend to go 9+ months without a real vacation. However, last week I realized I was burning out, and fast, so I scheduled a week long vacation. Unfortunately the soonest I could make this happen was the first week of the new year... 3 weeks away.

I don't want to just checkout for the next few weeks, but I'm also finding it very hard to be productive in any sense of the word. What is the best way to handle this? Is it something I should talk to my boss about? Should I just muscle through it?


Relevent information: I'm a programmer working in the US. I have burned out in the past, though with a different company.

  • 3
    Why do you need a week long vacation? If you're burning out and need some recovery time, would a 3 or 4 day weekend by taking Friday and/or Monday be possible sooner? It does seem like it would be better to take some time off now before it becomes an issue, but I would try to come up with options on your own before going to your boss about taking a week off. – Thomas Owens Dec 11 '17 at 18:48
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    Because the extra long weekends provided by recent holidays in the US do not seem to be helping. – amflare Dec 11 '17 at 18:49
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    Possible duplicate of How to deal with less productive days? – Dukeling Dec 11 '17 at 21:44
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    Eat well, do exercise and go to bed early – Marc Dec 12 '17 at 14:31
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    It's nice to see how cultural is this question. I work in a country (Brazil) where you earn your vacations on a yearly basis. That is, first you work a full year, only then you are allowed to take any vacations. Most people take vacations all at once, like 20-30 days on a row. Being 9+ months without vacations is just everyone's normal year down here. – gmauch Dec 12 '17 at 20:41
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How to address decline in productivity right before vacation?

Short Answer: Suck it up, buttercup.

To have a decline in productivity between long stretches with no break is normal. My advise to you going forward would be to take more frequent breaks, even if they are shorter ones like a 4 day weekend. Taking regular breaks off from work is very important to your mental health, so find a way to do it more frequently.

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    Short answer made me laugh but really it is straight to the point, fight through it. – JoeCo Dec 11 '17 at 22:01
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    Having been in a similar situation to OP (saving my leave for a long holiday), a tip that has helped me: try to allocate some of your leave to make mini holidays. E.g. if Wednesday is a national holiday, plan Mon+Tue or Thu+Fri. It's a 5 day holiday at the cost of 2 leave days; which will net you the most bang for your buck. Doing things like that makes a notable impact on your stamina. – Flater Dec 12 '17 at 8:55
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    The one delightful thing about this answer is how ironic it is in light of your username. Chris G's answer is pretty obviously more helpful, and many of his suggestions have helped me, so there's good reason to think he's not just making it all up. – Todd Wilcox Dec 12 '17 at 16:57
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    Someone is asking for help preventing burnout. "Suck it up" is not a useful response. The idea to propose methods to avoid burnout is sound, perhaps the attitude could be removed and the burnout avoidance advice could be fleshed out. – jorfus Dec 12 '17 at 22:05
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    @MichaelKjörling Just because an answer's "unhelpful" doesn't mean it's a bad one. OP said they couldn't take a vacation until 3 weeks from now because of company goals and short staff. Do you really think going to their boss and asking for the time off again anyway is going to help? OP even asks in their question Should I just muscle through it?; the answer here is yes. – Lord Farquaad Dec 12 '17 at 22:11
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Step 1 should be to try and identify the source of the burn-out.

Step 2 should be to come up with a short-term remediation.

Step 3 should be to come up with a long-term remediation.


You mentioned that recent long holiday weekends hasn't been enough. It's possible that it's not time-off that's the issue but something different. (It's also possible that holiday long weekends are MORE stressful than work.)

There are a variety of different stressors that could cause burn-out:

  • Insufficient days off
  • Long hours
  • Insufficient breaks throughout the day
  • Increased or overwhelming responsibility
  • Work that is too challenging
  • Work that is not challenging enough
  • Interpersonal issues with co-workers
  • Issues outside of work (problems in our non-work lives often manifest at work - relationship problems, money problems, housing concerns, car trouble, etc.)
  • Time off from work doesn't provide the opportunity to actually decompress
  • A medical issue (depression often manifests this way)

Step 1: Talk to someone in your personal support system (a spouse, parent, friend, mentor, etc.) or a professional about what's been going on.

  • If your company has something like an Employee Assistance Program, they may be able to help give advice (many large companies offer these benefits free of charge, but few employees take advantage).
  • A therapist is a great resource for helping discuss these kinds of issues. (I burnt out about 7 years ago and a few months of regularly seeing a therapist did wonders for me)

Step 2: You now have some understanding of the underlying problem. Work with your boss/manager/family to come up with a short-term accommodation.

Maybe that's just powering through until your scheduled time off, maybe it's an adjustment to hours or responsibility in the near-term. Maybe it's the next couple Wednesday's off (I find that two-day weeks are easier when you're burnt out than 4 day weeks. The extra day of recuperation isn't adding as much.) Maybe it's a Saturday to yourself doing something you enjoy.


Step 3: Find a long-term, sustainable solution. It could mean a job change (internal or external), a permanent change in hours, a regularly scheduled long weekend, a quarterly Wednesday spa day, a new hobby, ending a toxic relationship, meditation, medication, etc.

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    +1 for the notion that time off might not solve the burning out. If it doesn't it might come back doubly hard because you thought taking some days for yourself would have "fixed" your issues. – Pieter B Dec 12 '17 at 11:38
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You could try just doing something different for a few weeks instead. Doing something else, being somewhere that isn't your desk, talking to some people you don't normally talk to.

You can ask your manager/team for a change of pace.

Practical examples:

There are normally a lot of planning meetings where a developer is normally invited to help explain what is technically feasible and explain what solutions would take longer. Ask to be that person, freeing up other, more productive (at the moment) devs, basically reassign tasks for a bit.

Volunteer to be the scrum-master or do dev-ops.

Ask to do some training in preparation for some upcoming work and spend a few days/hours per day watching training videos.

Train to be the office first aider.

Pair program with a junior dev.

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Your manager might be able to move a few days from your next scheduled vacation to sometime sooner. Ask if they are flexible enough to move 2 or three days to give you 3- and 4-day weekends over the next couple of weeks. In my experience, "long weekend" requests like this are more likely to succeed.

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