Battling Burnout

I've experienced burnout occasionally in the past, but after 7 years of making around 400 YouTube videos, it had never stopped me taking any longer than a week off from uploading - even while doing it alongside a full time job in the earlier years!  But in December 2021, it was like running in to a brick wall. 

I couldn't get motivated to carry on working, but I also couldn't fathom why...  I gave myself quite a hard time over it because I should be "living the dream" - everything in life was going well - I had a loving and supportive wife, the dream job, an amazing workspace, a brilliant home, a great group of friends and enough money to get by. So what exactly was the problem? 

I could have carried on making content - forcing my way through it, but I'd already been doing that for a month or two.  Things hadn't improved, and I knew that it was going to lead to further problems.  So taking a break seemed the best option - and I decided to stop what I was doing until I felt ready to start again.

Thinking it would help, I booked a trip away with a friend which fortunately we were able to go ahead with, despite worsening COVID travel restrictions at the time.  We visited Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany, and it was amazing, even in the winter weather.

But when I got back home, I felt the same: unmotivated.  I'm not very good at doing nothing - if I go on a beach holiday for example I enjoy the first few hours of relaxing but then feel I need to find something to do - which for me is usually just walking and exploring somewhere I've not been before.  But when I arrived back home, for a few days I tried to not do anything "work" related.  It left me feeling bored and demotivated. 

I went for walks in an attempt to "clear the mind", and I enjoyed them.  But I still felt just as bored and just as demotivated.

One problem I have is that my level of happiness seems to be directly linked to how productive I am - but I wasn't being productive at all.

So I started to focus on a long list of business related "admin" jobs - things that had been on my to do list for a long while - stuff I'd usually put off because uploading weekly videos always took priority - so I spent a few days on that - doing accounts and website updates, that kind of stuff.  But I still felt unhappy.

Eventually I realised that what I wanted to do was do some woodworking - but I hadn't been allowing myself to do it, because I had seen it as "work".  That's when I remembered that woodworking was my hobby long before it was my job, and not doing it wasn't really helping my state of mind.

So I spent a couple of days in the workshop, fettling with things, organising, tidying, maintaining machines. And I felt a bit better! 

Then I did some woodworking, making small projects but without filming anything,  and that felt good too! 

I decided to start a new project - making a bed - a project I really wanted to film, and also needed to film to some extent - as I have to make a living.  The YouTube analytics at this point were showing around -20% new subscribers, views and revenue, and as much as YouTube like to talk about how they support content creators in taking "mental health breaks" - the analytics app still shows you lots of graphs to demonstrate how things are declining. "You've published less videos than you usually publish".  "Your views are lower than normal".  Thanks, YouTube, I was already aware of that.  So anyway I started working on the bed project - and that felt good too! 

At this point, I realised that the source of my burnout was purely just being on the "treadmill" of a weekly upload schedule, perhaps coupled with a little bit of social media exhaustion too. 

It wasn't woodworking, filming, or boring admin work.. It wasn't even the video editing - which is the part of my work that I usually dread the most!  This felt like a bit of revelation - I had gone from not knowing why I was feeling miserable to suddenly realising what the source of the burnout was.

For the first time in a long time, without the dark cloud of deadlines looming over me, I was enjoying woodworking again, taking more pride in my work, taking my time to make something that I was excited about. 

I realised that usually I would have got half way through the project, decided it was taking too much time, and simplified the design so that I could get a video done quicker and stay on track with my upload schedule.  And when I look back at some of the work I've done, I realise that often the quality of my work suffers for that reason.

So a change was needed, and from now on, there will be no weekly upload schedule - instead I'm going to focus more on quality and less on quantity, and remove the pressure of deadlines. 

For anyone experiencing similar feelings of "burnout", if my experiences are anything to go by, here's what I can suggest:

Stop doing the things that you're doing and distance yourself from them as much as possible until you find and understand the source of the problem.  When you know what the problem is, you can make changes to how you do things that should not only benefit your work but also your state of mind.

I realise that not everyone has the power to change things about their work - I suppose that is one of the benefits of being your own boss. 

Anyway, I wrote this article for me - as I find that writing things down helps me to understand them.  But then I realised that sharing my experiences with burnout might possibly help someone else going through a similar thing - so here it is - just in case it helps someone.