4 min. read

March 14, 2022

How Farming Saved One Developer from Burnout [Minidoc]

Burnout. According to some studies, 81% of developers have experienced it in recent years. While there’s no clear remedy for burnout, Anselm Hannemann has found one way to combat it… by planting vegetables.


Hannah Augur, Content lead

Anselm Hannemann wasn’t new to development. In fact, he had been a freelance frontend developer for 12+ years. He spoke at conferences, worked as an advisor, ran (and still runs) a popular newsletter for devs. One day about two years ago, he realized he was struggling–and it had been going on for a while.

Anselm realized he had been working way too hard for over a year. He would work eighteen hour weekends and then jump back in on Monday. He would think about work problems before going to bed and again when waking up. Being a freelancer, he had a lot going on. It was hard not to be plagued by work and financial stress.

‘Can’t Concentrate’, ‘Can’t Take on New Projects’

He had never really learned how to take a break. And the result was clear burnout. For weeks, he had been waking up at seven AM and immediately finding himself unable to concentrate. He couldn’t work for an hour straight and when he did work, he would soon forget what he was even doing. He felt like he couldn’t take on new projects, which probably didn’t help the work and financial stress.

Many of us dream about doing something different. Up to 60% of developers report experiencing burnout recently. On top of that, the pandemic has in many ways opened peoples’ eyes to what matters in life. Given the massive burnout and the realization that it wasn’t going to get better, Anselm decided to do something somewhat drastic. He slashed his hours working as a developer and focused on his garden.

Gardening Meets Frontend Development

Anselm quickly learned how to make money selling his vegetables. With that new revenue stream in place, the garden grew. His brother agreed to join in the work, turning the endeavor into a proper family business. Suddenly they were both able to garden part-time and rely on one another.

Of course, working with plants isn’t exactly like working on a website. Anselm’s schedule is now more varied as it must line up with crop seasons and the harvest. While he spends around 90% of his time gardening in the summer, it’s somewhat more equal in the rest of the year. While nature can’t solve all of life’s problems, it seems to have solved at least some of the most pressing ones for Anselm.

‘I’m so much more happy with coding websites again…If [I’m] stressed out by some problem that [I] face in front of the computer, then I go outside and do something there. An hour later, it is like I never had stress.’

Caught Between Playing in Nature and Working on a Screen

Studies on the effects of nature on mental health have become increasingly common in recent years, and it’s not surprising that many have found associations between being in nature and increased signs of health. For one, ‘[Nature] can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.’

Interestingly, it seems like humans don’t have to make a complete return to nature to benefit from a little change. I’m going to coin a new phrase and say, ‘you can have your screens and your trees too.’

As Anselm notes, the problem is not just the prevalence of Instagram or having to work with a screen. In fact, isn’t working at a screen part of what developers enjoy? Instead, he finds the underlying problem is the endless connectivity.

‘You have things like slack where twenty people write stuff. In a normal office, you would never communicate with twenty people in parallel.’

What You Can Do For Yourself

Not everyone can up and change their life. There might be financial reasons or it can just seem way too intimidating. Chatting with Anselm, we had two big takeaways. One is that it’s possible to stay in the loop even while being a part-time developer. Even in summer, when 90% of Anselm’s time is spent gardening, he uses that 10% to read, work and stay in the loop. By assembling a reliable list of resources, he’s confident that he can keep up with the new trends. (Maybe you can check out Anselm’s own newsletter for inspiration.)

The second takeaway is that you don’t have to make a huge life-altering decision in order to find positive change.

‘If you’re curious enough about various things, you will find a way to change your job to something else. Even if it’s not an entirely different industry, you can still search for another job that focuses on another area…’

‘I can only encourage people to think about, “is this what I want to do or not?” And if you’re happy at the job, cool. If you’re really, really unhappy or uncertain, just think about it and try to elaborate whether it’s worth it to change something.’

So readers, remember to take a break and realign sometimes. If you want to make a change, it’s going to be sketchy and uncertain. You’ll probably be leaving some easy and secure behind. Here’s a nice hokey quote for you to take with you: ‘Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.’ - Robert Louis Stevenson

Sometimes change is good. We can't help you become a farmer, but we CAN help you find your next job. Check out Honeypot and let's see if we can get you to your next chapter.