How Data Scientists Can Efficiently Recover from Professional Burnout

You finally did it – you pushed yourself too hard.  It’s a weird feeling the first time you experience it, and as discussed in another article, it’s not always easy to realize that you’re actually burnt out.  However, assuming you’re burnt out now – regardless of how you got there – what are you supposed to do to get back in the game?

First, you have my deep condolences.  This is a very not fun situation to be in, and for many of us, a completely foreign one as well.  We just haven’t experience something like this where the passion that we’ve had for data over the past 10+ years just isn’t there right now.  


First Steps

My thought is the first course of action is to take a step back.  Whether it’s a sick day, mental health day, vacation day, personal day, whatever day, you probably need to step out of your professional situation.  

Now there are certainly exceptions, such as if you’ve giving a C-suite-level presentation the next day, but for all non-urgent matters, getting yourself back into gear should be probably your top professional priority.

Put another way, in very non-scientific terms, your performance as a data scientist at 95% efficiency is probably 10x better than your performance at 70% efficiency.  Those little boosts of clarity, creativity, and/or insight are fundamentally what drives your value as a data scientist, and when your brain is screaming for a break, it’s probably best to listen.


Taking Some Time

So let’s say you’ve decided to take some time off – it could ultimately be a day, a week, maybe more depending on how much unrecovered and prolonged stress you’ve just put your brain through.  

One way of approaching this is to just take that first day off without having a long conversation with your boss about what’s going on; after all, you might realize after a day that what you thought was burnout was due to other factors and you feel completely fine the next day.  

While burnt out, you could be 50% more likely to quit you job.

However, if you’re still feeling like the passion and energy just isn’t there after that day off, you probably have to have at least a casual conversation with your boss and ask them what they think.  

The good news is that many managers realize that it’s in their best interests to help burnt out employees recover – one of the reasons being that high levels of stress or burnout can increase the chance of you quitting by up to 50%.  

Depending on what they say will heavily dictate your next move.  In my opinion, the best course of action is to completely disconnect from all work-related items.  Whatever you most enjoy doing when away from work, do more of that.  


Resting and Recharging

Also, this is when the conventional health advice (both mental and physical) especially comes into play – others have covered that much better than I can.  The main thing that helps recovery from burnout is time and rest – especially resting in the areas of your life where you’ve been pushing a bit too hard.  

The most complicated parts of the entire process are (1) recognizing that your burnt out and (2) figuring out the logistics of how to most cleanly carve out some time to recover. Fortunately, your boss will likely have experienced this sort of thing personally before, so the conversation (if necessary) shouldn’t itself be too stressful.  

At least in my experience, data science managers are especially sensitive to (1) the heightened risk of burnout in data scientists and (2) the heightened sensitivity between data scientist performance and mental well-being.

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