Captain Burnout

I wanted to reach out to the community that I love for some support and advice.

This is my second year as captain, and my team is a team of highly intelligent people, but with very limited technical capabilities. However, we have set very high goals for the season after a successful season last year. Our season has started with great success (compared to previous years), but I have been consumed by the fervor of build season, and I can feel it starting to catch up with me. I don’t want to let my team down by burning out, but I feel the need to throw everything I have into making this team a success. I love robotics and FIRST, but if I took a step back to look at my involvement as a whole I would likely say I am investing an unhealthy amount of energy into it (my thoughts are always consumed by running the team, design, potential outcomes, backup plans, and so on). I basically dedicate from 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm to FRC. I enjoy it…but I am feeling a buildup of fatigue. I feel responsible for helping to the team to the best of my ability, and I recognize that at my current state, I am headed for a rough time.

I’m sure others have been in a similar position as I have, and I was wondering what can I do improve my situation? Does anyone have any advice for me? I likely won’t reply to any messages, but I will ready every reply this post gets.

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It’s understandable what you’re going through, I’m actually a team captain for my team myself, it is very much so stressful to stay on top of things and keep the team together I completely agree. Although try not to stress too much about it, maybe try doing a hobby you like or chillax with some friends outside of meetings when you can, anything that can keep your mind off of it for a day when you’re free! Personally to be completely honest, I always enjoy talking about robotics but for the most part I keep Robotics life separate from school, work and social lives outside of robotics as to refrain from the duties involved when I’m enjoying spare time as much as spare time may seem impossible to an FRCer out there. But keep at it and you’ll push through, I’ve had these thoughts a few times myself.

This is my first year as a captain. If I were to total up the amount of time that I focused on robotics, I would too say that I do about 9 hours worth of time dedicated to FRC. One of the major reasons I am not burning out is that I have set goals about the tasks I do. I have to finish any homework and schoolwork before moving back to robotics. Or I’ll use robotics as a break from those things. Doing 9 straight hours a day is straining, even if it is something you love. Break it up with other stuff, like homework or socializing or a quick nap.

We all have schedules to keep to and I personally try to make sure those schedules are realistic to our team’s skill level, that way I am not putting unnecessary amounts of time to fixing the schedule or pushing people beyond their capabilities. I would try to make every minute that you are using for robotics as efficiently as possible. Being inefficient usually means spending more time on worrying about something or fixing a mistake, which adds to the feeling of being burnt out.

I also keep in mind the fact that FRC, while it can seem like it with a short build season, is not a sprint. It is a marathon, so I have to say to myself “stop and get some rest or else I won’t make it to the end of build.” If I gave in to my own feelings (which I have only one time so far), I would end up sleeping for maybe two hours and needing coffee to be awake the next day (that one time was more detrimental to me and the team than taking the time to put my own sanity and health first). I would suggest taking some time this weekend just to relax, watch a couple of movies, sleep; whatever helps you unwind. Play a board game with some friends. Something that would help you relax but also keep you distracted from the pressures of being a captain. It’s a big role with a lot of pressure; make sure you got some people you can vent to about it.

Don’t forget to delegate work; not just having the different departments and subgroups doing their things, but also leaning on the leads of the departments to help you out and lead the team. In my opinion, the leadership in an organization is there to help make the job of the head leader (in our case, the captains) easier. Without leadership, the head leaders would not be able to do the work that they have been tasked to do, which is lead the group and set it up for success in the future.

Keep at it; you got this!

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Sometimes even us mentors face that issue. I definitely went a bit overboard last year because after seeing the team on Einstein the previous year, I wanted to do everything I could to enable students to make a run at it again. I would definitely call last year a big success as well, but there were far more 2am nights than I care to admit.

I’m making it a point this year to set boundaries for work and for robots, because I love both so much that I would probably do nothing but eat sleep work and robots 24hrs a day if I could biologically handle it. But I have to sleep and unwind at some point. Sometimes it helps me to remember why I do it all in the first place and that the world isn’t going to burn if I take a couple hours of the day to myself and my own wellness. After all, how can I take care of the team or my coworkers if I don’t take care of myself first? :slight_smile:

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Although I am only on this schedule for a week since I go back to school, our team’s schedule has some burnout risk we haven’t addressed as well because this is probably our best chance to have a great season we’ve ever had. And I’m worried too, and everyone needs to keep in mind that although we joke about it being your life, robotics does not need to be your life. If you need a day off to rest, I think your team will understand. Just communicate with them. I know I’d understand if my students needed a day or two break.

Learning how to balance life and robots is one of life’s great mysteries.

Seriously though, your team will understand you can not go a million miles an hour all day everyday. That’s allowed. I know the temptation but the best thing you can do for them and yourself can be to just take a day off.

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Totally hypocritical of me to be reading CD and making this post at this time of night, but if you’re the team captain, you in part set the culture for the team. Lead by example and talk to your teammates about how no one needs to be putting in mega overtime for the team. Be punctual about when meetings start and end. Push against falling into the Slack trap of making people feel like they are on the clock to answer questions or do work at any hour of day or night when they’re at home, work, or school. The corollary: make the most of your scheduled meeting times. No horseplay in the shop, and no groups of stragglers gossiping and scrolling through social media feeds. (I promise I’m not that much of an old man :grimacing:)

It’s an old adage that you learn best by teaching, but try to impress these expectations on everyone around you and you just might notice them taking root in yourself as well.

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I’ve been a head mentor going on to my third year now. I’ve found that, for me, remembering and striving to create an environment for my fellow mentors and team members to do the work they want to and also making sure they have what they need, too.

Delegation is a skill. Sure, I get my hands dirty and help out with some of the work, whether it’s the design of the robot or programming, but remember that as a leader of the team one of your jobs is to make sure people have what they need.

What they need is a good leader, and one that burns out doesn’t work out great. Take some time for yourself on days you don’t meet or when you have free time to do something that gets your mind off of things. For me, that’s reading books.

We can agree, I hope, that FRC is all about optimization. What’s easy to forget, I think, is that optimization of our time with the specific intent of not getting burnt out is important. Please take care of yourself! Your team wants you to be happy, too.

I was a team captain for 2 years, now an alum.

Remember that ultimately FRC is about developing the individual, and growing your own skills and interests. A big part of that is actually having fun, and enjoying what you’re doing. Even though not every single component of it is “fun” in the way that one might expect, you always should be feeling like you’re getting something out of your work. If you’re not getting anything out of what you’re doing, it’s OK to take a step back for a little while.

That being said, as captain, you do have a responsibility to your team and to help them succeed. However, it is not solely your responsibility, and you should be able to trust your team to make decisions and progress without you. While it would probably not be right for you to drop off the map for 3 months, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a day or two to focus on yourself or to step back from robots. Balancing your work-responsibilities and your personal needs is a skill that everyone needs, and you come first.

My advice: Take one day off. I recommend picking a weekday, preferably a slow one and focus on yourself. For us, that tended to be Tuesdays, as the weekend momentum had burned off and we only had a few hours of work to do. Anyway, set a few non-robotics goals for that day. Personally, I would recommend doing the following:

  • Catch up on all your homework.
  • Take care of whatever chores, self-care, whatever you’ve been neglecting for the past few days. If you feel like it, clean your room while you’re at it.
  • Goof off (maybe do the first two before doing this). Anything between playing a game, reading a book, hanging out with friends, etc. will all work.

The goal of this exercise is not necessarily to avoid thinking about robotics at all, but rather to give yourself enough space to bring the rest of your life up to speed and to also help regrow your passion for robotics. Personally, I find that taking even a short break from doing design work causes me to come up with better ideas, and gets me itching to play around with SolidWorks.

As you build your habits for build season, you should set aside some time every day for yourself. I’d usually do robotics from around noon to 6 (I didn’t have afternoon classes, so I got out early), but when I went home, I’d take that opportunity to have fun, do homework, and generally just enjoy life. Mastering this daily balance now will be a boon to you in later life - as important as you think it may be that you be in the shop 24/7, constantly working, you should also always reserve time for yourself.

If you have any questions, feel free to PM me. I check CD too often, and will likely see it pretty quickly.

Take a day off man. I recommend downhill skiing, but lack of snow could be a problem.

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If you’re already feeling the fervor of build season catch up to you just a couple days in, something needs to change or you definitely will burn out. This is my seventh season of FRC, and the amount of time and mental energy you describe yourself putting in is definitely more than would be sustainable for me, and more than I would feel good about any of my students doing. There’s two sources of feeling like your team won’t be successful unless you personally spend 7 hours on it every day:

  1. That feeling is accurate, and the team will in fact fall apart/fall into chaos/not get anything done without you personally spending that much time and energy. If that’s the case, you need to adjust your team leadership structure. Maybe you can delegate more work to subteam student leads, and focus your energy on high-level issues (like team management and big-picture design) while they deal with the details. Maybe you can talk to your mentors and ask them to take on some of the organizational work you’ve been doing on your own. Maybe you can start each meeting by assigning tasks to specific people, and then just check in with them, rather than running around for hours trying to keep all the plates spinning. Maybe you need to end each meeting with a summary of what each group accomplished, so that you know which things you do and don’t need to worry about. The goal is for your team members and mentors to be able to function and be productive without you for short amounts of time, so you can take an hour or a day off.

  2. That feeling is not accurate, and the team can manage fine without you for a day, and you’re investing a lot of time and mental energy in needless worrying. You have competent subteam leads who are doing a good job so far, and competent mentors who are making sure things don’t go off the rails, yet you still feel that you need to throw “everything you have” into “making this team a success”. If this is the case, you need to adjust your thinking. If you left your subteam leads with clear instructions, skipped a meeting, and had them send you a summary of what they got done at the end of the day, would it be a productive meeting? Would that one meeting be so unproductive that you team will fail at its goals for the whole season? What if it was one meeting a week? Or what if you left one hour early each day? Is spending hours thinking (catastrophizing?) about potential outcomes and back-up plans actually leading to good ideas, or is it just hard to turn your brain off? Is it true that your 7 hours every day will make or break your team, or is that just your ego talking? I have yet to meet a person on any team who is so essential that the team would fail if that person took a night off.

In reality, it’s probably a mixture of both. Reflect on your feeling that the success or failure of the team rests on your shoulders, and think about what you can do to fix that feeling, both in your mind, and by actually redistributing the load to other people on your team. Work on those, and then most importantly - take the breaks. Even if you’re not sure your team is ready, even if you’re still anxious, prove to yourself that the world doesn’t end if you take a night off.

Since there is already so much good advice already, I’ll keep it short.

You team would much rather you there 75% of time working at 100% capacity than being there 100% of the time at 75% capacity. Let them know you’ll be gone and get some R&R.

We’re all family, we love each other, and we don’t want to see anyone get hurt. It’s ok.

What would your all’s advice be for a Captain that is already feeling quite burnt out? I love robotics so much, and there’s so much I want to do, but I have absolutely no energy to do any of it (yet still am). I kinda just don’t want to be there anymore because despite making leadership changes etc, there still isn’t much pickup of the load from the team. I took most of my holiday break not doing anything robotics, but still feel burnt out.

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Don’t let it take up your every moment. Your health comes first. Try to take time and relax. It sounds counterproductive, but it will help in the long run. Do something else you like and distract yourself from robotics. I think @UnofficialForth put it best in a concise way.

Talk to your mentors. Talk to your teachers. Talk to your other student leaders. Let them know how you’re feeling, and work to take some of the load off of your shoulders. Find a way to take some time off. But do so in a controlled fashion. Don’t disappear, and don’t allow yourself to break under the weight. If you just disengage without warning people, others will be upset with you and it will break their trust. So you need to be proactive in passing off responsibility. Just because you’re captain doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Trust the people around you to get things done, and give them the roadmap to do it in a way you would be proud of.

@Lil_Lavery gave you some good advice, especially about getting the other team members to pick up some of your load. Learning how to work within one’s own limits and abilities that we all have to learn. Your team should have as much interest in preventing you (or anyone) on the team burning out since isn’t in their best interest.

Ultimately, your team just has to pick up some of the load. If you take a break and skip a meeting or leave early, do they all just sit around doing nothing while you’re gone? Maybe you being there all the time is giving them a false sense of security that you’ll just pick up the slack from them forever and things will be fine. Sometimes talking about needing people to pick up the load doesn’t produce results until you actually say “I’m not going to be here on Tuesday, please get x y and z done while I’m gone” and then don’t show up on Tuesday.

If they truly don’t do anything without your direct presence, then you don’t really have a team. You can’t really be a team of one in FRC, any more than you can be a team of one in soccer or hockey.

Either way, be involved at the level that makes you happy, and don’t force yourself to do more.

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Having previously been a team captain I totally get what you’re going through. I would highly recommend to give yourself and your team a break every now and then. I know many teams are gonna want to do a 12-hour+ build day on MLK day but I would recommend against this. Maybe just meet for a few hours that day and just relax for the rest of the day. My biggest regret as Captain was not stopping the team from meeting for 14+ hours a day during spring break in the leadup to Houston.

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