How Not to Get Overwhelmed as a Web Developer

By Tim Evko
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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 today’s 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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