Programming Self Improvement

Programming Burnout: How to Regain Your Lost Motivation

Joel Lee 13-02-2015

Have you lost the passion that you once had for programming? Is it affecting your motivation to get things done? Are you falling behind on all of your projects and finding it difficult to catch up? If yes, here’s the good news: it happens to everyone at one point or another so don’t despair.


Imagine that your campfire has just died. Instead of fretting about how it went out or what you could have done differently, the best thing to do is to sit back and take a deep breath. The fire is already dead. The only thing that matters now is the process of rekindling the flame and coaxing it back to life.

It won’t be necessarily be easy, but it’s certainly possible. As long as you don’t rush it, you’ll be fine.

Read Apprenticeship Patterns Now

Allow me to repeat: you are not the first programmer to lose their fire, nor will you be the last. You are not alone in this. Millions of others have dealt with this exact problem and many of them have made it through to the other side. The best thing you can do is to learn from their experiences.

That’s why I highly recommend Apprenticeship Patterns by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye. This ebook, which is available online in HTML format free of charge, is packed full of wisdom and advice for all programmers. It walks through the phases of programming expertise from newbie to veteran and the common challenges that pop up along the way.


As far as lost motivation is concerned, the underlying reasons can differ from person to person. Were your expectations of programming different from the reality of it? Are you impatiently rushing towards mastery and being overwhelmed by it all? Do you feel like you’re stagnating, as if you’ve hit a plateau?

Depending on your answers, you should check out the sections named “Sustainable Motivations,” “The Long Road,” and “Rubbing Elbows,” respectively. In addition, you may find these other free programming books 9 Free Programming Books That Will Make You A Pro Calling all programmers, whether new, old, or aspiring: we've found a great selection of free (as in beer) books to boost your coding skills to the next level. Hop in and enjoy. Read More helpful along your journey.

Spend Time With Programming Peers

Misery loves company. When you’re feeling indifferent and bored, the worst thing you can do is to suffer through it on your own. If you aren’t already surrounded by like-minded peers in your field of programming, you would do well to seek some community. In-person conversations are ideal, but online contact is still better than nothing.

Let’s be clear about one thing: this has nothing to do with whether or not you’re “strong enough” to pull yourself through. Being unmotivated doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s just important to keep yourself grounded in reality, which is hard to do if you can’t see your circumstances from the perspective of other programmers.


Remember that the goal is not to whine and complain and spread your misery to others like a disease. That’s just counterproductive and rude as you might end up snuffing out their motivation in the process. Rather, the point is to share your concerns, maybe vent a little bit, and ultimately pinpoint what might be killing your inspiration.

If your particular case of dead motivation is due to self-doubt and insecurity, you may find it beneficial to pair up with a mentor 4 Tips To Contact Anyone & Ask Them To Be Your Career Mentor For those looking to develop in a field, mentors are essential. Alas, you can’t pick up a mentor from the shelves of Walmart. Here are a few tips when looking for career mentoring. Read More . For example, if you constantly second guess your code quality, a mentor can look it over and provide seasoned opinions. They can also act as an external force that prods you along when you feel like giving up.

Switch Topics and Learn Something New

In a lot of cases, programming burnout stems from boredom. If you’ve been slaving away as a company software developer for over a decade, you might feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end job with no more opportunity for growth. Maybe the code you maintain is trivial and requires absolutely no mental stimulation.

What do you do then? You have to switch gears. Half the enjoyment of programming comes from creative problem-solving. Without that aspect of it, programming is little more than mindless busywork day in and day out – especially if you consider your day-to-day coding projects to be easy.


Depending on the flexibility of your workplace, ask your superiors if you can be transferred to another project. If you can afford the risk, it may even be worth switching to another medium or field entirely (e.g. if you’ve been writing academic software on Windows, it could be exciting to try writing a social app on the web).

At the very least, you should take a break from the humdrum.

Or maybe you can pick up a few side hobby projects 5 Project Ideas To Help You Learn Programming Faster There are a few ways to ease the learning curve for programming. Get your hands dirty and learn faster with side projects you can start anytime. Play around with these five. Read More that involve areas of programming that you’ve never explored. For example, try making a mobile game in your free time. When you can’t get away from your primary programming responsibilities, you’d be surprised how much energy these personal projects can stoke within you. Just make sure that the side projects are considerably different from what you normally do.

Improve Mental and Emotional Health

A lack of motivation could be a symptom of a deeper problem, which could be as simple as dehydration or as serious as depression. Sometimes a big glass of water is enough to spark a new wave of inspiration when your mind feels foggy. However, if your loss of motivation has persisted for a while, the cure may not be so straightforward.

For computer-heavy activities like programming, there are three important considerations when it comes to your health. First, you need to exercise regularly 7 Best YouTube Workout Channels To Exercise at Home Home gyms and personal trainers help the moneyed get up straight from their beds and hit the gym. We lesser mortals have to call on our powers of self-motivation and discipline to trudge the few... Read More . If time is an issue, you can try exercising at your desk 8 Easy Exercises To Help You Stay Fit At Your Desk Staying fit at your desk is actually possible. Here are some exercises anyone can do. Some don't even require getting up, others take no longer than 10 minutes out of your daily routine. Read More while you work. Second, you must take steps to minimize computer fatigue Log Into Life: Top 9 Tips To Fight Computer Fatigue & Protect Your Health Did you know that your sedentary lifestyle could be killing you from the inside out? Ryan has already presented a case on potential health risks from sitting too long, and for those of us who... Read More . Third, you have to reclaim proper sleeping habits Sleep Better & Improve Your Health By Changing How You Use Your Computer Computer work must not be hard on your body. Simple changes that only cost you minutes each day can have a great impact. Here are some tools to help you out. Read More .


Mental fatigue could also arise from a static environment. If you’re staring at the same four walls every single day, it could grow monotonous. Monotony leads to boredom. You can remedy this by changing your scenery 4 Tips To Be A Productive Writer And Still Avoid A Blogging Burnout Writers are particularly susceptible to burnout. You’re no longer on the top of your game. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to have some strategies to avoid burning out. Read More , whether that means rearranging your furniture, working from a new location, or even switching up your computer’s wallpaper.

Lastly, if your lack of motivation is closely tied to issues of procrastination, one thing I’ve found extremely helpful is the Pomodoro technique Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More . This technique breaks up your work day into alternating periods of work, rest, work, rest. Never tried it before? Give it a go for a week or two. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been there more often than I’d like to admit. Programming is fun! Programming is boring. It’s fun again! It’s boring again. Each time is slightly different than the last, but the tips above are the kinds of actions that have proven most effective for me over the years.

One more thing that you may or may not benefit from is the idea of online programming contests Test Your Programming Skills With These Online Competitions Are you in a programming rut? Worried that your coding skills have hit a plateau? Sometimes the answer is a heavy dose of challenges that stretch your abilities to their limits. Read More . These require a certain kind of personality – one that thrives on competition – but if that describes you, it could reignite your passion overnight.

Have you ever lost your excitement for programming? What did you do to get it back? Or did you end up abandoning it altogether? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Programmer sleeping Via Shutterstock, Surrounded Pieces Via Shutterstock, Source Code Via Shutterstock, Dozing Programmer Via Shutterstock

Explore more about: Burnout, Motivation, Programming.

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  1. Irmaan
    October 28, 2019 at 2:36 am

    Thanks dude , for your good feedback. I will try my best to learn programming language. Hehehe. Last week i felt so tired with my head, i cant learn anything from it, i read a motivation from another sites and it made my mood to back to me, so i said again. Thanks dude.

  2. Kernan Manion, MD
    February 18, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    @Joel - thanks for your kind feedback. In healthcare, we don't have the ability to switch jobs that easily. So we've got to figure out what's making us stressed.

    And I think overall it's helpful to look at where it's coming from so that we can learn to deal with it better, because you can be assured, the same type of problems are going to keep popping up - nasty clients, impossible deadlines; bosses form hell; co-workers from another planet ....

  3. Kevin
    February 17, 2015 at 12:22 am

    I related to this experience about 6 months ago and the solution for me was to switch gears and learn something new. I found a new passion and was even able to get back to work on dead projects again after the fact.

    • Joel
      February 18, 2015 at 12:14 am

      I love it when that happens. Nothing is better (at least for me) than returning to a dead project with a renewed sense of motivation. What kind of programming was burning you out?

  4. Kernan Manion, MD
    February 16, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    I think it’s also vital to clarify what your burnout is due to. Does it have to do with the content of the work, namely the substance of the task itself (e.g. the programming challenge one is asked to accomplish); the process of the work (e.g. the timeline, the means of communication, the feedback loops necessary in complex project management …); the environment of the work (e.g. the boss/subordinate relationship; the relationship with the client; the trusting environment that my team lead / boss “has my back” …); or something entirely outside of the work sphere (e.g. personal relationships; family issues; questioning whether I’m even in the right profession ….)? Often, it's a multiplicity of these. But their mix varies from person to person.

    As I coach physicians and other professionals who are burned out (recent studies indicate ~ 40% of practicing physicians are felt to be frankly burned out!), I’ve found it’s vital to ask these questions. Otherwise, one is prone to making job and career decisions that don’t really address the core drivers of one’s burnout.

    • Joel
      February 18, 2015 at 12:11 am

      Excellent points Kernan. I've never really thought about it in such specific terms but it makes a lot of sense. You can't really solve a problem until you know the cause, and a lot of times we end up patching the symptoms of burnout without ever touching the root of the issue.

  5. Saikat
    February 14, 2015 at 7:29 am

    What's true about a lot of jobs is also true about programming burnout. On one hand, there's definitely something to be said about working on stuff we love, but we also need to make a living somehow, and to a certain extent, work is work.

    So, it is worthwhile to take some time off and spend it on figuring out what makes us tick. What will we enjoy doing ten years from now? The simples thing (but also the most overlooked) is to be brutally honest with ourselves.

    • Joel
      February 18, 2015 at 12:08 am

      Great advice. It's a tough pill to swallow for someone like me who cycles through different passions on a year-to-year basis, lol. But yeah, being brutally honest with myself has been one of the best things I've done (as painful as it was).

  6. Karl
    February 13, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    How do you recover from such psychotic past clients that you have PTSD from looking at batches of code used in previous projects? I think therapy will only go so far, and I realized it was time to get out of it.! :)

    • Rick
      February 14, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      Good question, Karl. I switched industries to recover from the trauma of a prior one. My new job required learning a new programming language along with new elements of my former one. As Joel Lee suggested, this change contributed to greater motivation.

    • Joel
      February 18, 2015 at 12:06 am

      @Karl: If it gets so bad that you develop PTSD, then yeah, I'd say it's time to get out of that field! :P A lengthy break is usually enough for recovery.

      @Rick: Glad to hear that switching industries really did help with motivation. Awesome!

    • Kernan Manion, MD
      February 18, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      @ Karl - overall, I agree with you - some professional experiences can be so painful that going near them or anything that reminds you of them brings on a psychic meltdown.

      That said, I think it's also important to help people examine whether there's anything that they could've done better to deal with an impossible, demanding, abusive client. What communication strategies might I use to hold my ground and not tolerate abuse. What leverage do I have with my boss / project manager and s/he with their boss to confront abusive communication and impossible demands from a client.
      But if you've got no leverage in communicating with either the client or your team, then it's either grin and bear it" or leave. And sometimes, as is written in books on toxic workplaces, the only thing one can do in a toxic work environment is to leave. It's sad that that's the only way to send feedback to an otherwise deaf and blind and callous organization.