How Not to Get Overwhelmed as a Web Developer

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In the past week, I’ve worked on projects that have required me to write HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP. In working on those projects, I’ve had to employ various technologies, including responsive design, AJAX, WordPress theme development, API integration, and modular javascripting. Let’s not forget that most (if not all) of these projects involved a preprocessor, build tool, or method of version control. Does that sound a lot like your week?

Truth be told, in todays world of web design, development, and software engineering, you’re expected to know a variety of languages, tools, technologies, and coding methods. This field is fast paced, frequently changing, and incredibly complex. It’s no surprise that so many of us have felt the growing burdens of Information Overload.

How do you identify Information Overload?

For me, IO is the feeling of being overwhelmed with the large amount of information I need in order to stay useful as a web developer. Other times, it manifests itself as a feeling of panic when a new tool, language, or project is announced. IO can go on to cause fear when you feel that you’re failing to keep up with the industry, or even make you upset when a new tool leads you to consider changing your workflow. IO can lead to avoiding new technologies, not fully enjoying your career, and feeling inferior to those who have more experience than you in a certain area.

IO causes real problems

If you have or are currently struggling with IO, then you probably understand the side effects it can cause. If you tend to overwork (as I sometimes do) IO can lead to more hours spent studying code, reading articles, and making demos. On its own, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but too much time spent working, combined with too little time spent eating or sleeping, can lead to a burnout. If IO is leading you to resent your job, depression and anxiety can also be common side effects, perpetuating the general feeling of being overwhelmed with your work.

Solutions

Stacks

Although keeping up to date is an expected requirement in the field of web development, IO doesn’t have to be a consequence. For me, the most helpful solution to the problem of IO has been to limit the number of languages I aim to be proficient in. I call it a ‘stack’, and it currently consists of HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP. Outside of my stack, I’m able to use other languages if a project requires it, but I won’t be looking to gain an expert knowledge of them.

After establishing what my stack languages are, I suddenly don’t need to pay attention to every popular tool that comes my way. If it doesn’t involve one of my stack languages, I don’t need to use it! It’s important to note here that, even if it does involve one of my stack languages, I still don’t need to use the tool. Tools are not mandatory, and should only be used if they help you be more productive, or become so popular that the industry expects you to be using them. For example, I work with PHP quite often, but I’ve never used Laravel, because I simply haven’t needed it yet.

Filters

Podcasts, video blogs and articles are a great source of information, but again, trying to read, watch, and listen to every single one will definitely leave you feeling pretty overwhelmed. My solution to this has been to set up a rather extensive feed, to which I add every educational resource that I find. The catch of course being that I only allow myself to spend a half hour a day looking through it, ensuring that I don’t try to read all 500+ unread items on my list at once. Worried about missing something? If it’s really important or groundbreaking, more than one source will cover it, and you’re bound to see it at some time. Frontend Feeds is a great place to get started. Don’t forget to take notes on what you learn. Putting pen to paper can help you retain more information, while also serving as a great way to quickly look up information when you need to remember something you previously learned.

After reading up on new and relevant information, I’ll likely come across a topic that requires further exploration, which is why I always set aside an hour or two each day to make a few demos, get better at using my stack languages, and talk to other developers in the community. Side projects are another great way to keep up to date, because they provide a space to experiment with new tools and techniques.

Breaks

In a typical five day work week, I make a conscious effort to set aside one day where I don’t spend my evenings working on a demo, side project, or reading articles. This isn’t always easy to do, but its importance cannot be overstated, especially when struggling with IO. Eliminating the impulse to work during the weekend is another important factor. Deadlines and difficult projects will always require extra attention, but those challenges will be much easier to solve when you’re well rested, and not feeling overwhelmed.

I work around 60 hours per week, while maintaining side projects and doing what I can to keep up to date with the industry. I’ve felt IO before, but thanks to organization, intentional rest, and great time management, I’ve been able to relax and enjoy what I do once again.

Conclusion

Being a web developer means long hours and hard work in a fast paced environment, and battling IO and the urge to overwork can be a challenge that takes serious effort. If you’re currently struggling with IO, hopefully the system I’ve outlined above can serve as a way to help you get organized, while moving you closer towards a stress free balance between work and home life. Also, be sure to check out Burnout.io, which offers resources and advice to those who are feeling overwhelmed.

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  • http://www.aptugo.com Aptugo

    Great article. Curious why you didn’t mention Frameworks, and almost required techs like be in good standing with pagespeed insights, use less or similar, compress your javascript and the bunch of time-takers.

  • Tatsh

    Stacks are good but the problem is when you look for new work and the job market these days is often looking for people with a much larger stack than the one you gave. New jobs are also often not willing to train you other than absolute basics to get you started. This is especially the case with contract jobs where you are not working alone or if you are not the person who starts the project.

    • Tim

      Thanks for the input Tatsh! I keep a point to pay attention to unsolicited job offers that hit my inbox, and I have found that most of them ask for skills related to HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, and Ruby. What other languages have you seen?

      • Tatsh

        I have seen Python and Java often (Jave more-so). Often Java is used for ‘big data’ (due to influence from Hadoop; seemingly people do not realise you do not have to write your code in Java; any VM language works too, like Jython). Python is usually in conjunction with frameworks like Django and Flask.

        • bl4de

          You’re right, but I agree with Tim: if you’d like to catch a job as a web developer in ANY of stacks, trying to follow up ALL stacks is impossible. 60 hours a week is enough to follow only one stack (HTML/CSS/JS/PHP or JavaEE/JSP/JSF for example) and it’s still quite hard (as Tim mentioned, there’re a lot of new articles, tutorials, conferences’ records on YT or Vimeo every single day)

          There’s one thing ‘d like to add to Tim’s post – sometimes I felt something called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). “Oh God, I need to read this, and this and that and that too, because I will miss something really important!” Result was that I read as many articles and tutorials as I could, but, to be honest, I did not remember and understand almost any of them :) So I’ve started to choose these ones that occurs more than once (exactly as Tim wrote – if something is really important and worth to know – it shows up more and more in many of feeds, newsletters and so on).

          • http://dada.theblogbowl.in/ Shaumik Daityari

            What about the people who do not like a certain stack? (For instance, I really don’t like Java because there’s just so much to write!)

          • Tatsh

            The answers we seek when in critical need are quite often on Stack Overflow (or one of the sites on Stack Exchange). Usually the best answer cites sources, sometimes linking to a blog post that we may have in our feeds but never read.

  • http://dada.theblogbowl.in/ Shaumik Daityari

    I prefer Pocket for links that I will read later. I don’t have a specified period every day, but I go through them whenever I feel I don’t have anything better to do with my time (like waiting in a queue, or travelling in a train).

    • http://timevko.com Tim

      Pocket is a favorite of mine as well

  • bl4de

    Great article, Tim :) Nice to know that I am not the only web developer with exactly the same problem :D

  • http://evanbyrne.com Evan Byrne

    Taking breaks is huge. Do not work a lot of overtime unless have an extremely good reason to. Chopping up your work during the day into segments and not working for more than a few hours straight helps too. Lastly, workout and eat right. Improving your overall health is obviously beneficial for a multitude of reasons and should not be underestimated. Software developer burnout is a real thing, but it can be avoided!

  • viktoriana

    Though it would help immensely, if Adobe apps, Apple iOS and OS, CSS spec, W3C HTML versions and WordPress wouldn’t get updated all at the same time, together with the latest of Wacom hardware ;D

  • codenathan

    The world of programming has been a never ending learning curve and the part about stack is so true :) great article Tim, this will be a good read for all those who are thinking or have started to come into the world of web development

  • equan_pr

    Thanks for the article Tim! but sometime it’s really hard to take one day off. For me information just like addictive food for me.

  • M S

    Nice article.
    Short and quick to get trough.
    1 done, 5000 to go…
    NEXT!

  • M S

    If only people who make all these new tools and frameworks, could do a bit more than throw up a webpage saying noting but:

    “BLORP, the new amazing thing that everyone is using now! To find out what it does, just download it, install it, configure it, and play around with it 24/7 for a week. *download-link*”

  • SteveMcArthur

    I need to ask the question: why is it acceptable for web developers to work 60 hours a week?

    • Tim

      The web is powerful, complex, confusing, and always changing. People who have the ability to keep up in that environment will always be in high demand. Not to mention, those environments typically attract people who enjoy working hard and solving problems. I don’t work that much because I have to, I work that much because I love to

      • SteveMcArthur

        I guess with a lot of web developers there is a thin line between their hobby and their work. So in that case your not really working 60 hours a week.

        • http://meta64.com/ Clay Ferguson

          I don’t think computer programming is something people can really do “as a career only”. you gotta love it, or go find something else to do. Anyone not passionate about it and totally loving it will completely suck at it.

          • SteveMcArthur

            Yeah – I think you are right. But as you get older and have kids and so on it becomes a bit more difficult or desirable to spend the amount of time on your passion as you did before.

          • http://meta64.com/ Clay Ferguson

            Agreed. That’s the problem with today’s rapid moving change. It would be a “full time job” just to try to keep up with the changing technology in the app development world. But everybody also has “a real job”…so it’s truly impossible to do both. And if you have a family, that makes it 2x worse because you’d really have no time for them, IMO as single guy.

  • http://danicfilip.com DanicFilip

    Loving the “stacks” concept!

  • ChoboBot

    Great article, I am having this problem since I am a novice trying to pursue a career in front-end development and feel like there is so much information to absorb and I am trying to do too much all at once. I guess there is a fear I am have that I will be missing opportunities in the job market if I don’t learn my chosen stack quickly.

    • http://timevko.com Tim

      Feel free to send me an email at TimEvko(at)gmail(dot)com if you’re looking for some assistance

  • http://ricardozea.me/ Ricardo Zea

    Having Information Overload and a bit of stress about it is a good problem to have in my book.

    I’ve met an s-load of web professionals that couldn’t care less about this industry thus making my Web Design/Front End Dev job miserable, because I was only as good as the least worst programmer they assigned to implement my HTML mocks.

    Let’s not even get into Project Managers that had no idea about the web industry, yet they were running major web projects.

    None of those people cared nor wanted to learn more about this industry, nor cared for doing the right thing so the pages/site/microsite/apps would load faster, be more usable and be helpful for the end users.

    None of them read, none of them asked questions, they thought that the little they learned years ago or their ‘common sense’ told them, was enough.

    I would love to be in a team where there’s plenty of Information Overload, where my team members are hungry for knowledge, sharing, asking, demoing, implementing, testing… so on.

    I overload myself reading, reading and reading. And then reading some more. Creating demos. Implementing new ideas. Improving the way I write CSS (SCSS that is). Learning new techniques. Learning new tools where feasible and worth the time. Then sharing that with others where possible.

    Yeah, I love Information Overload. I’m grateful I have this problem :]

    • http://timevko.com Tim

      I’m glad it works for you! I think success happens when we use our obsession as an advantage

  • ashour

    Much needed article and great advice. Good to hear from another developer in the trenches.

  • http://www.codepunker.com Daniel Gheorghe

    This is a good article my friend. It’s really comforting to know that I am not alone!

    Thanks a lot!

    • tevko1

      Thanks Dan, and keep up the great work

  • http://twitter.com/emjayess emjayess

    “I make a conscious effort to set aside one day where I don’t spend my evenings working on a demo, side project, or reading articles. This isn’t always easy to do,…”

    Lol, I just stopped reading there.

  • http://timevko.com Tim

    Lots of wisdom here. Thanks for your input!

  • vikrantsingh47

    really good points

  • PHW

    I read that about only 3% of the market has been filled too….it could be a factor of high work hours….but it should be something all coders love.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/christophermregan Christopher Regan

    Stack? Amen.