Mark Brown

Workaholism in tech

My workaholism came in waves but there were consistent habits throughout my career that lead me towards burning out. Habits that I’m wanting to change before the shit hits the fan.

This is the definition of workaholism that I’m running with:

  • Feeling compelled to work because of internal pressures.
  • Having persistent thoughts about work when not working.
  • Working beyond what is reasonably expected of the worker (as established by the requirements of the job or basic economic needs) despite the potential for negative consequences (e.g., marital issues).

And this is the definition of burnout:

Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion that can zap the joy out of your career, friendships, and family interactions.

I began last week fatigued and unbalanced.
 I had difficulty falling asleep and would wake up regularly around 4am to sit at the computer. Physically weak from lack of exercise and exhaustion, my eyes were sore, my head and wrists hurt. My work week felt like I was achieving nothing, my focus was split and I had trouble concentrating. I knew something wasn’t right, but it’d been slowly growing for years. I was the frog being boiled alive by bad habits.

I had a lot of excuses but no real reason to be working. My work environment was great, projects were well-planned and managed, I had a supportive team, unlimited leave, encouragement and little stress. I was working compulsively, not intentionally.

I’ve experienced workaholism twice in my 15 year career in tech.
 Both times I was highly engaged and ambitious, taking lead on projects I wanted to succeed. Both times lead to a loss of job satisfaction and the desire to leave. My problems were internal not external.

What I was experiencing was hard for others to spot, to all but my partner of course. She’d regularly voice frustration at my work hours, working weekends, being tied to my phone when I was away from the computer. I was neglecting personal care and duties to my family. This was a recipe for disaster. But, I’m on the mend.


I’ve been thinking about techniques I can use to spot warning signs in myself and others in measurable ways.

Let’s start with Git.

You can easily find times you’ve committed changes on certain days and times. Which days and times are problematic? That’ll depend on you and how you want to work. For me, it’s not a good sign when I’m working on Saturdays, Sundays, before 9am, and after 6pm. Working remotely it’s easier to not stop.

git log --author=markbrown4 --pretty='format:%h %cd' | grep -E "(Sat|Sun)"

git log --author=markbrown4 --pretty='format:%h %cd' | grep -E "(00|01|02|03|04|05|06|07|08|18|19|20|21|22|23|24):[0-9][0-9]:[0-9][0-9]"

Next up, Slack

The access logs and analytics can help you find if you’re using it at an unhealthy level. What’s an unhealthy level? Again, that depends on you. For me, multiple times a day, every day, forever is clearly unhealthy.

A communication tool like Slack is essential for a lot of companies. Slack on your phone though? I’m increasingly convinced it’s a bad thing. I’d look at it compulsively when I didn’t want to be. When I was taking a walk outdoors. When I was sitting down with my partner in the evening. I would read every unread, every customer review, all day long. It was an interruption to both my work life and personal life and it can go in the bin.

Limit your total screen time, there is more to life. On macs start tracking under System Settings > Screen Time

Find out how much leave you’ve taken.

Start recording the length and quality of your sleep


Enforce work hours of your choosing. 
Delete slack from your phone. Limit your screen time. 
Eat well. Take leave. Spend your new found free time with friends and family.

Even if you’re locked down in the middle of a pandemic. Do things that restore you. For me some of those things are gardening, being in nature, playing with my dog, cooking, exercise, quality time with my partner and reading.

I’m convinced meditation is good for me but have only scratched the surface, I would love to go deeper.