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I feel this way about once every two weeks. I'll wake up and just feel out-of-it all day and I can't focus on anything deeply. I can't think through my work well at all. I'll lose my train of thought talking about something. I have trouble listening in meetings and my work suffers. I have a few techniques that usually help me get over this, like meditation, but there's no private space for that here. Is there a common professional way to deal with this?

closed as too broad by gnat, user90809, Jim G., OldPadawan, Rory Alsop Jan 21 at 15:05

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    Have you sought professional (medical) help for this? Given the frequency, duration and severity, this may very well be an indication of some underlying medical problem. It could also be related to your diet or exercise habits. – Dukeling Jan 18 at 22:47
  • Sounds to me like you are experiencing burnout, which accumulates every two weeks it seems... are you heavily burdened in your job lately? When was the last time you took vacations? – DarkCygnus Jan 18 at 23:34
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    Could it be sleep apnea? Have you talked to a doctor about it? – user1666620 Jan 19 at 0:42
  • Please do not vandalize your own post. Thanks. – scaaahu Jan 20 at 4:05
  • Just a heads up that a B12 deficiency can cause brain fog, you might want to have that checked. Best of luck. – TeddyTedTed Jan 21 at 10:22
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The best way to deal with it professionally is to plan for it.

Since you know this happens every two weeks or so, you can pace yourself so that you are ahead of your work, and schedule minor tasks for the days you know you won't be at your best.

People with chronic illnesses and/or handicaps do this all the time. I have Asperger's syndrome and have to deal will occasional "off" days myself, so I try to keep a bit ahead of my work so that I can allow myself to drag a bit on days when I'm not quite right.

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    Yep, plan for it if you can, only thing I would add is get medical attention on an actual day when it occurs, it's more than likely a just dietary issue, but pays to check, it could also be environmental. – Kilisi Jan 18 at 23:17
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    The only problem with this is some people struggle to keep up. Getting ahead may simply be unattainable. – bruglesco Jan 19 at 1:08
  • @bruglesco you've had this problem? I'm sorry. perhaps you were in the wrong job – Retired Codger Jan 19 at 1:24
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    So just for the record. Your message for everyone who comes by this: "If you fall behind in your job you shouldn't be in that job" Period. End of discussion? If it is I have to vocally disagree, but I will no longer belabor the point in the comments of your answer. – bruglesco Jan 19 at 2:24
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – bruglesco Jan 19 at 3:18
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Regularly occurring brainfogs may be just off days, but they could also be symptoms of a real condition, such as a painless variety of migraine. If you truly feel hampered in the way you describe, the professional action is to see a doctor. Some of these things can be mitigated by dietary or behavioral modification, or even prescription meds.

If your issue is simply that you are not as focused certain days, you are sleeping and eating properly and you have no medical condition... then welcome to the real world. We all have ups and downs. Just do your best that day, next day will be better.

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I got here from your other question and based on that information I'd like to offer my educated guess. I see that you are taking full responsibility for all the tasks of a lone "programming guy" in a team of not-so-technical data scientists. For five months you've struggled with a huge C++ project alone, as a junior. Great teamwork...

Your problems are most likely psychosomatic. Your body is telling you that you've taken far too big responsibility for too little recognition.

What a junior "programming guy" can do nowadays is to work within an organization - surrounded by tech leaders, product managers, testers, project managers, business analysts, customer advocates, CEOs and CTOs. For example the C++ codebase is documented because other people took responsibility for that. Only a very small responsibility is on the programming guy.

A scientific project could secure a grant (of more than 50 times your monthly pay, whatever it is) and take their C++ stuff to the software house.

Don't want to be a programmer? Want to pursue a career of a data scientist? Then assume as much responsibility as other junior data scientists around you - no more, no less. Treat yourself with professional respect.

Above all, stop acting perfect and force yourself to admit your weaknesses to others starting today. Aren't feeling all too well? Don't know C++ all too much? No desire to learn C++ anymore? You can say any of these to your colleagues or your boss on the spot, without thinking and planning. Not only they will be able to act on such feedback - they will probably like you more as a person. Blind perfectionism is not a mature behavior - it turns against you. Find a middle ground there.

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    I've been experiencing this for the last 2 months, I am by no means a junior dev but I got involved in a project with too little hands, large codebase and extreme deadlines. The brain fog happens 2-3 times a week. During the holidays I had some time off, I was a whole different person. I discussed this with my doctor. He describes it as signs of a burnout. I Haven't taken a single day off in a year and worked many hours. I told it to my boss, just straight facts. Taking some time off seems to help ATM. – Odyssee Jan 21 at 10:35
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Some options to consider:

  • Seek medical assistance. As other answers and comments have already noted, brainfog can be related to medical conditions which may be treatable. Some of those conditions can also have other harmful effects which may be less noticeable, so even if you can mitigate the brainfog, still worth getting it looked at.
  • General self-care: eating and sleeping properly and getting exercise can make a big difference, though for some folk these can be difficult.
  • Discuss with co-workers, if you believe they would be supportive. My boss is aware that I sometimes get overwhelmed with too much new information, and that in particular I have difficulty retaining info from long phone/video meetings, so we've moved towards providing more written content before and after meetings. On the other hand, some people can be unsympathetic jerks and might respond badly to this information - you will have to gauge for yourself whether this one is workable.
  • On a day when you are not brainfogged, think about your workload: is there some kind of work you're capable of doing when you are brainfogged? For me, that might be various admin tasks, or tidying my desk and my inbox.