I work as a sole developer on a continuous stream of web projects. The issue I seem to have run into is that, though similar in style, each project requires a different amount of time to complete. They are SO similar however that I can't get a feel for the length of time necessary until I actually dive into the project. Meanwhile the same similarity makes it seem like a cakewalk to someone who isn't developing the system, for instance, my overhead sponsors/manager. In a tale as old as time they aren't involved heavily in tech and don't have a handle on the nuances of development. Not that this is their fault. People have different passions and inclinations, and I understand that, but to be honest I'm getting to the point where I'm occasionally muttering to myself "this isn't magic, you know."

This has lead to me working a great amount of overtime to keep up with deadlines, and in fact I've worked OT every day and still only managed to get a single day off a week if I was lucky.

The problem, I think, is that I was made to ball park a dead line before I had a chance to take a look at the project thoroughly. Normally I would say "well, let me take a look and I'll get back to you" - but unfortunately with the nature of my work that would mean I wouldn't really have an idea of a completion date until I'm about 30-40% through due to the functionality I have to create. But no manager would be willing to hear that. This means that I guess based on the last project that was completed and how similar the new project is comparatively.

Additionally, I'm dong all the graphic work, of which there is extensive amounts. This is part of development, and I understand that, but it's something that I can't seem to convey as being time consuming work. I am very quick with my graphic work and I'm proficient at it, but it still takes time, and as an example this last project had me changing hues, color exchanging and cropping/adding sections to over 1000 images as well as coding new functionality.

I'm basically burning out, but I have no idea how to approach my managerial staff respectfully and without explaining for an incredibly boring length of time the technical intricacies of why that is.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Could you guys stop downvoting this question without explaining why? It's not helpful and I think it's a perfectly valid question.
    – zfrisch
    Jun 3, 2015 at 6:51
  • I can't find an exact duplicate, but I think this question has a lot of overlap with many questions discussing burnout, overwork, and stress. Jun 3, 2015 at 7:58

4 Answers 4


At your next one-on-one weekly meeting, broach the subject with your boss.

Something like:

"Boss, I feel that I'm doing an awful lot of work, and I'm concerned that it's starting to overwhelm me.

I don't think I can continue to work at this pace for much longer.

Can we talk about how to moderate the volume of tasks, so that it is a bit more manageable?"

You might want to leave out the part about the social life and ulcer for now. Not that those aren't important to you, but you want to keep the focus on the great work you do, and how it could suffer if the pace isn't moderated.

Make the discussion more about scheduling the work to better fit within a reasonable work week, rather than about how hard it is, the technical details you handle, or how stressed you feel.

You may very well find that your boss is happy to find ways to help.

  • 1
    Thanks Joe. I think it's worth it to point out that I have no animosity towards my boss or anything like that. The whole ulcer and social life thing is clearly not something I would bring up to them as I realize it sounds a little petty and whiny. I just want to do the best work possible and if I'm overwhelmed I feel like I'm going to make mistakes and lose quality over time. Something that I, and my manager, obviously don't want. I get anxious about confrontational discussions though so I think having a game plan is essential to a conversation like this. Thanks for your advice!
    – zfrisch
    Jun 2, 2015 at 18:13

I suggest being more vocal about the expectations and scope of a project up front. You need to take the time to analyze all of the requirements of these web projects, lay out a realistic timeline for doing them and present it to your manager.

I would also suggest formulating a few different estimates based on similarity and complexity. For example, if a project is similar to one you have already done make one estimate in the time you think it will take to complete based on what you can resuse and your familiarity with the technical aspects. Then make another assuming you have never worked with any of it. Once you have made those estimates, double them.

As you stated they do not understand the nuances of the development you are doing so you need to explain the time you invest in coding, designing, prototyping and designing graphics will take. Being the the primary resource on all of this they need to take you seriously or you will burn out completley, loose interest in your work and your company will be without a developer. It will be lose/lose.


As you saw, these kind of problems start with a history of "ballpark" estimates that are magically turned into "hard deadlines" by managers.

After you clear your current backlog, become strict about the setting of realistic deadlines.

This means saying "no" to casual estimates and arguing about it. It took me a long time to understand that once you give a date to a manager, they write it down and think of it as firm commitment while forgetting any complications and conditions you may have discussed about that date. This is especially true in matrix organizations where project managers tend to interfere with line managers by manipulating resources directly.

In the case where you really can't say how long a project will take until you're days/weeks into it, that means the project needs to be separated into multiple phases. Each phase should have concrete deliverables (as a way to mark progress) and there should be a re-estimation of completion date after each phase.


If you are unable to provide accurate estimate then you need to err on the side of caution. If these projects take 100-300 man hours depending on level of complexity that is unknowable until halfway through, your ballpark estimates should be 250-300 man hours because that is possible. It is better to deliver better than the initial estimate than burn yourself out meeting unrealistic goals.

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