We’re going to talk about our experiences with burnout, what are the non-so-obvious signs of burnout, what’s worked for us to buffer against it and how we make sure we’re taking care of ourselves.
We’re going to talk about our experiences with burnout, what are the non-so-obvious signs of burnout, what’s worked for us to buffer against it and how we make sure we’re taking care of ourselves.
- Jeremy Green
- Margaret Reffell
- Kai Davis
- Erik Dietrich
- Reuven Lerner
Each episode, the panel (and guest) share their picks: a book, app, service, resource, or something else that they’re enjoying and recommend you check out:
- Calm (Kai Davis)
- eChineseLearning (Reuven Lerner)
- Python Workout (Reuven Lerner)
- Honey Bee Meals (Margaret Reffell)
- Splice (Jeremy Green)
- HubSpot (Erik Dietrich)
- Visit your national or state park! (Erik Dietrich)
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WHAT IS THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING?
If you’re a freelancer, then you’re not just an expert in your field. You’re also a business owner, responsible for everything from bookkeeping to marketing to customer satisfaction to business development.
On the Business of Freelancing, our panel of experienced freelancers discuss the issues that they have encountered while building up their business — and give you practical, actionable advice to take your career to the next level. We also invite expert guests to provide their opinions and perspectives on how you can better succeed in your freelance career.
Kai: Hey folks, welcome to another episode of the Business of Freelancing. Today we’re going to talk about our experiences with burnout and what’s worked for us to buffer against burnout and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves both physically and mentally to not go down that burnout path yet again.
Today, our hosts are Reuven.
Reuven: Hey there.
Erik: Hi, everybody.
Jeremy: Hey, you all.
Kai: And I’m Kai. Burnout. It’s, no heck and fun. I know that in the past, I’ve always thought of it as just like, running into a cement wall. I think I’m doing fine. I’m going at a good pace and just smack down into it, and then I’m on the floor just passed out for a while. How about you guys, when you’ve run into burnout? What’s triggered it or how have you noticed it or how does it affect you?
Reuven: So when we first raised this as a topic for the show, I said, I know that burnout is a real problem, but I haven’t really experienced it. Then I thought, and I realized, no, that’s not actually true. Basically, I experienced it a lot when I was doing client work.
I was sort of frustrated in fact, not sort of, I was extremely frustrated, because, and you’ve probably had this also, when you’re doing client work, I was doing a lot of client work or sort of web development and programming stuff. And no project actually sort of ended well, it was always Okay, we launched now we can do without you, that was sort of the best-case scenario.
But a normal case was, “Well, we’re going out of business or we’ve run out of money, or we don’t like you or some combination of the above.” At a certain point, I was just really frustrated that nothing ever seemed to come to completion. What was it all worth and why am I doing this all these sorts of existential problems? And so and questions.
I talked to a family friend about this, who’s a professor of Management, and he had the answer which all professors have, which is go do a PhD, that will solve your problems. It did solve my problems in that it made the previous problems seem smaller. That’s true. You could argue that in some ways, I was going to get burned out the PhD.
But I think my solution has actually been not the academic route, but rather, switching what I did. Having switched to the training, I feel like it’s aligned so much more with what I like doing what I enjoy with variety and without that existential dread that happens so often with my projects that I really have been able to go now for a good number of years without feeling that again, and it’s very refreshing.
Kai: Yes, so much of it is sort of the… It’s like the medium, we end up into abuse a metaphor like if we’re just floating in these stressful situations client work that goes middlingly okay. It does rack up a toll on the body and the mind.
Jeremy: For me, I can tell that I’m starting to feel burnout. Well, at first I didn’t recognize this as a symptom of feeling burned out, it was just that I would feel like I’ve got all this stuff to do, but can’t find anywhere to start and nothing. Like just getting going is hard.
There’s some level of that in just normal everyday life, like you got to sit down and kind of make yourself go. Then once you go, you kind of build up momentum. But for me when I’m starting to feel burnout, that just gets more and more so and I can find myself sitting at the computer for three hours, acting like I’m doing work, but not actually doing any work.
My tricks of getting started just kind of don’t seem to get me over that hill of actually gaining momentum and getting into it and it’s just like I’m pushing the boulder up the hill constantly and never feeling like I’m making any progress. That’s always a good sign for me that, Okay, it’s time to step away, I need to get a little, let my mind take a break, have some time off, find ways to kind of recharge.
Margaret: Yeah, it’s interesting, because I feel like a lot of people when they think about burnout, they think of one specific event, and then they just kind of like collapse and exhaustion afterwards. But I find… I’m kind of hearing from you guys, too. I feel like it can start to manifest in so many different ways. But there’s this sort of hindsight 2020 that makes you realize, Oh, that was burnout. So you might not know when you’re in it.
I know, for me, looking back on situations. Yeah, exhaustion happens. But I always feel like that’s almost the last thing that happens. One of the first things that I’ve been able to pinpoint is almost this, and I didn’t anticipate it until looking back on it but almost it’s like, anger and resentment. Like you’re saying Reuven that comes a lot of times from unfulfilling client work?
Because it can be just this like, Okay, well as soon as the project starts like now it’s a slog to get to the end of it and then once the end of it’s reached, what are what is the payoff? And if the only payoff is the fact that it’s over that’s like a really, that’s a fast track to burnout for sure. Yeah.
Erik: I found it manifests for me in kind of if I think back on it. This is going to sound weird, but it’s like a mix of anger, resentment, and apathy at the same time, where I’m apathetic in that I almost stopped caring what happens, and I just want to be done with the situation. Exhaustion can be mixed in there, but it’s usually that’s… And I’m with you in that.
I’ve learned that more in retrospect than I would perceive it as burnout at the time. Over the years if you’d asked me what burnout man, I would have conflated that with like a nervous breakdown or whatever you call it where you just cease functioning. But I’ve realized that I’ve gone through these times where, I’m much less happy about the work that I’m doing than other times it’s unrewarding, and I almost feel like, if this client fired us or what have you, like good, I just want to be done with it.
So that’s something I’ve historically recognized a lot, and I’ve worked back over the years to like, okay, recognizing that what are some earlier signs of it happening? I think I can recognize it sometimes in like subtle changes of behavior, like, it’s nice to have a cold beer every now and then on weekdays, but if I find myself often on weekdays thinking like, “Ma’am, I could really use a drink right now.” That’s an earlier sign, things of that nature that there are like, subtle behavior changes.
Another one that I noticed over the years was that I would start to get more sarcastic or, snarky or more negative than I usually am as a person, and that was another good indicator that I was heading that direction. So, I think there’s probably an ability to start to recognize signs and work backwards to maybe try to head it off earlier than later.
Margaret: Yeah, the snarkiness. I find myself doing that a lot too. I always keep… It took me a while again to realize but that that being a symptom of it, and I found that I started falling back into that, like us versus them mentality of client work, which I find a lot of developers that I talked to fall into it that the client is… It’s no longer an ally, the client becomes almost like this enemy or a hurdle to overcome in and of themselves.
So yeah, I really resonate with the apathy as well. Almost sounds like a defense mechanism too, like a way of protection.
Kai: It’ll occasionally hit me as well in the form of an apathy yet remedying the situation, “Stuff sucks right now. Oh my God, I feel burnt out. But maybe I deserve this why shouldn’t it feel hard? Why shouldn’t it feel bad?”
That’s usually a sign like, oh my gosh, I’m like, into I’m far into the burnout process like I’m going to start pulling up as hard as I can. But when it starts manifesting as like that lack of desire or motivation to fix it and remedy the burnout, that’s a hard spot to get out of.
Reuven: Well, my initial understanding of burnout or my understanding for a long time was, all you just can’t work on things anymore. Like you’re totally burned out, you’re frazzled and such. But it seems both for me and for all you folks. It’s not that it’s just like, “Oh my god, do I really have to do this.” You don’t want to do your… You’ve lost your motivation, even if you’re still good at doing it.
At the end of the day, we are being hired not only as experts but enthusiastic experts. We’re in the service industry, and if we aren’t like… Someone can be a great waiter at a restaurant, but if they’re not happy to be serving you, or at least putting on airs about it, then bad news for them and bad news for you. So, yeah, and that can happen so easily.
Kai: Since we’ve all been through some version of burnout or burnouts, what are tactics or systems or processes, you’ve started to implement where you’ve seen in retrospect, oh, if I have something like this in place, it can help buffer against or help me pull out of the situation if it comes up again.
Jeremy: So something that’s been very helpful for me is having regularly scheduled social gatherings. That’s harder to do currently, but even still, every week, I have two or three different Zoom calls with people just to hang out and talk.
For me, it would usually be, “Hey, we’re going to go meet up for Happy Hour on Monday after work.” For me, that’s a handy way to kind of know that okay, on Monday, the workday is going to stop at a reasonable time, and then I’m going to go do something that disengages me mentally from my work.
Because without doing that kind of thing, it’s really easy for me to just get into the habit of work, work, work. Work in the office all day and then pick up the laptop, take it into the living room, sit on the couch, turn on the TV, keep working. Even when it’s stuff that I’m enjoying doing and can see the purpose in and feel like there are good rewards at the end of it. Just the sheer volume of trying to do 60 hours in a week can burn you out real quick.
It doesn’t even have to be all of that, bad work or bad clients that isn’t exciting. You can burn out doing exciting fun stuff by just trying to do too much of it for too long. So, for me, scheduling purposefully things that cause breaks help a lot.
Erik: Yeah, I would echo what you’re saying there. Depending on the type of business, like if you’re a solo consultant, freelancer, this may not apply to you. But one of the things I found and actually as recently as like a month ago, that triggers burnout is the overwork associated with.
Like for our business, hit subscribe hiring too late, I found that over and over again, I’ve hired for a role or something way too late, and it’s after I’m in this stage of burnout. Then I hire somebody whether it’s to do account management, or recently some sales consulting that I was trying to do essentially on nights and weekends.
I wound up looking back at that and thinking I am such a fool for not making this hire earlier. So, whether it’s hiring, whether it’s fixing the scope of what you’re doing. Because that was another thing I used to do, too, that would help with burnout is I would do like shorter scoped engagements, where familiarity with the client wouldn’t breed contempt to her moving on a little.
So I guess whether whatever your mechanism for putting a bound on the amount of work you’re doing, hiring, fixing the length or scope or nature of the engagement, I think that really helps a lot.
Reuven: Vacations, vacations. I was terrible, terrible about taking them for many, many years, including when I was first married and had kids. I’d be like, “Well, I have to work because we can’t afford other things.” We do this very quick. Not really, big vacations. I’m not saying this short, small vacation is a bad thing. But actually going away for two weeks not doing work or doing like a very small amount of work.
I was so convinced for so long that if I did that the business would collapse, the world would probably collapse, the universe would turn in on itself. But other than that, it turns out not to be the case. It’s also good for your work. Because you’ll approach it with fresh eyes, you’ll get new experiences you can incorporate into it, and just can’t keep working forever.
Even I who work a lot, often too much. It has been a breath of fresh air to take vacations and discover just how good that is for me, and quite frankly, also, my relationship with my family.
Margaret: Yeah, big time. I know Jeremy, you touched on it a little bit too of having specific social engagements. I think that your inner circle really has an impact on. At least for me how easily or how fast I burnout and in that includes the clients as well too.
So I think the biggest factor for sure, for me has been careful selection of clients who are right for you, and ultimately learning that saying no to a client means you’re doing both of you and them a favor. So learning about who you surround yourself with client-wise and making sure it’s the right fit.
Then the other component of that, too, I think is really assessing your inner circle, the people you spend your time with outside of work. Because I know a lot of people too, who have experienced burnout and a lot of it’s because they have family maybe who’s not supportive or they’ve friends who just don’t understand kind of what they’re struggling or going through, because they have these sort of “regular nine to five jobs.”
They don’t know a lot of what goes into freelance entrepreneurship. I was also talking to someone else too who said that it was uncommon to have a group of friends who hyped you up and I was like, “Wait a second. That’s all me, like me and my girlfriend’s do with each other is just hype each other up whenever we’re talking to each other.”
Apparently, that’s not super common. So, I would encourage anyone listening. If someone is not constantly hyping you up and totally on your team, of course, you can have disagreements, but it’s so important energetically who you keep close.
That being said too, I have pushed people away and kept them at arm’s length. Sometimes that means family if they’re not supportive of what you’re doing. So, absolutely be ruthless with your relationships, for sure.
Kai: I completely, completely agree with that, Mag. It reminds me of that old adage that what is it? You are the average of your five closest friends or five closest relationships. So often in life, I’ve seen myself hit burnout when I have positive relationships, but they also tend towards the, “Hey, let’s work 60/70 hours a week. Let’s just push a little harder.”
In some context, that’s great like, “Let’s get that thing shipped. Let’s get that Burning Man camp going. Let’s do this crazy, hairy audacious goal.” But if it’s weekend week out, you stop working at 40 hours, you’re giving up a little too easy. It could start to kind of poison the soul or poison that mentality.
Jeremy: One thing that helps me a lot in not letting myself overwork is having hobbies that are constructive and creative where I feel like I’m doing something instead of consuming something. I love playing video games, I love watching movies, reading but all of those are consumption activities.
After two very long of that, I start to feel antsy and kind of like, “Okay, now I need to do something productive.” Having hobbies that feel constructive and productive, that aren’t directly work, help a whole lot. Because when I’ve started to feel like, hey, I want to do something on a weekend. I don’t have… My doing something doesn’t always have to be reaching for work, it can be, “Hey, I’m going to go out and take some photos or I’m going to process some photos that I took previously, or I’m going to go in the studio and make some music or mix a track.”
Something that still gives me that kind of creative and productive payoff, but isn’t the same thing that I do day in and day out during the week. Just that being able to mix it up and have some variety helps me a whole lot.
Reuven: I don’t know if you’ve ever… You folks have heard this term before. My father in law introduced me to the phrase, “A busman’s holiday.” So, a busman is like a bus driver. So what does the bus driver do on vacation? Takes a bus somewhere, right? No, they don’t do that. Because they do that all the time.
So if you are a programmer, and you say, “Oh, you know, I’m going to do relax, I’m going to write some code.” That’s basically a busman’s holiday, right? You should do something that’s different, separate not related to work. Like music, classic sort of example that is definitely not my thing. Not if people are listening to it.
Years ago or two years ago, like five, six years ago, I started learning Chinese. I find it so much fun and refreshing. It’s also practical like for when I go there for sure, but part of the fun for me is I’m in the student’s chair. I’m not teaching, I’m not in charge. I’m just exercising my dream trying something, it has nothing whatsoever to do with my work. That it’s like getting a kick every day. It’s great.
Margaret: Yeah, I totally agree. I’m so used to like you guys building stuff that’s digitally and that kind of exists in the ether. So once I got my van that was one of the big drivers for it too. I knew it was so fulfilling, starting to be able to build something physically, and then all of a sudden because you’re so used to building these digital things, and all of a sudden there’s this physical thing in front of you.
It gives you this little… It gives you like a little rush and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, this is so satisfying that there’s this thing that exists that I made that I didn’t know how to make before.” Like you said, Reuven your… I joke and say that I went to YouTube university because basically, you can learn anything on YouTube.
Going in these really deep dives of these crazy YouTube niches is also so interesting to me. Like people who specialize in solar panels for RVs. There’s people who just have a super narrow niche and hundreds of thousands of views, which is like, “Yeah, it’s so crazy.”
Margaret: So it’s interesting to go down those alleyways too. But yeah, I agree making something outside of the stuff you regularly make, it’s super satisfying.
Kai: I guess it’s always hard for me to not take the busman’s holiday because I love digital stuff. When I think of like, “Oh, let me do this cool project.” 70% of the time, it’s something web-based or touches on marketing. There’s an odd push poll where it feels like, “Oh my God, this is the same thing I do in my job. Where is that difference?”
But it also could be like, I’ll just use this standard thing of like Burning Man stuff. But it could be something web-related and Burning Man. It does scratch that, “Ooh, this is fun. This is creative. This is building something new itch.”
For me learning to, I guess, better pullback at times and sometimes move forward saying, “Hey, this is fine, even though it’s sort of the same context or, yes, the same context, but maybe I should go lift some weights or go on a bike ride or do something else.” It’s a hard skill to build, but when I’m excited to practice more and more.
Jeremy: Yeah, I agree that the busman’s holiday isn’t always a bad thing. I have definitely had times when my getaway hobby is, “Hey, I’m going to write some code for something that I want to exist not something that my client wants to exist.”
Just that little flip of that bit of ownership and creative freedom is, can be a big thing, and can be a way that you can kind of practice your skill in your trade, on your own time for your own benefit. But what maybe without treading quite so close to burnout.
Erik: So Kai, you mentioned something there that I think it’s important to touch on because this is huge for me, which is exercise. One of the best ways that I found to sort of… I don’t know if it’s like in an acute situation would do anything about burnout, but to generally avoid it is to exercise pretty regularly.
Just in a day like one of the things I’ve actually taken to doing is if I have a particularly difficult or taxing interaction of some sort, or I have a particularly sensitive email, I’ll have to send something like that. I will back off, go out for a jog, and after going jogging, I’ll feel immediately better.
I think that that helps keep me sane in a lot of ways. I think that probably, I have to imagine that regularly exercising is good for just generally your mental outlook and whatnot. It’s not the kind of thing I would say if you find yourself in burnout land, go for a quick jog and you’ll be fine. But I think regularly doing it helps in a lot of ways. I think it’s a thing I would wholeheartedly endorse to anybody to get into an exercise regimen.
Kai: Yeah, completely agreed. It has been transformational for me both on the burnout or the stress side or the anxiety side, just being able to practice backing away for a couple of minutes or an hour, moving the body getting, the blood flowing, the systems moving, and then coming back to it. It’s so positive on the micro and so positive on the macro just, I guess move your body feel the wind to go through your hair, feel your muscles sing.
Reuven: That’s quite poetic, but also true.
Margaret: Yeah, for sure. Of course, the benefits of just exercise in general but even the psychological component of physically removing yourself from a situation that you’re like almost stewing in. I’ve been in that situation before too where if something comes in, you have to write either really difficult email or you have to refund someone or something like that.
Even just staying in that stagnation of it can also keep sort of bringing things down. So even physically removing yourself even for just as a temporary fix, and then sort of the overarching benefits of exercise in general for stress, for stress relief are 100% for sure.
Erik: Yeah, when I go for a jog sometimes I have the illusion briefly that I’ve literally running away from the problem. It actually feels like pretty satisfying for a few minutes. The runner’s high when you get back and everything. I find that whenever I do that I feel a lot better afterwards and it lasts. So the situation doesn’t seem as hard to deal with, and I guess stewing in the problem is a good way to put it because it really feels like that I can fixate on it.
That break, that going jogging snaps me out of it. I’ll usually come back thinking like, I don’t know why I found this such a big deal. Sure, this is unpleasant, but I’m fine. I can deal with this.
Reuven: Yeah, there’s a long period of time over the last year when I would take very long walks, like if I was working from home. I walked for an hour or two in the morning. We lived there, some parks and nature reserves, and I was able to walk past them.
Besides the exercise component, just being out in nature, was very refreshing. When I started doing it, I said, “Oh boy, for an hour to a day. I can’t afford that kind of time.” You can and you totally get it back. I don’t know exactly how it worked. But I definitely felt like I got it back and more recently between lockdowns and everything and hot weather.
So I’ve been doing more exercising at home on a treadmill and maybe for physical exercise that’s better, but there’s definitely something that’s lacking about not being out in nature and seeing the trees swaying and the birds singing.
Kai: I’ve definitely had similar, “Can I afford to take this time away from the stressful project? 10 minutes, 30 minutes an hour.” Lately, I’ve started to flip the mindset around to, “Can I afford to not step away, to not go out, to not take that break?” The older I get, the more I realize, “No, I need it. This is what makes everything else work better.”
Jeremy: So Maggy, you said something about psychologically getting yourself out of stagnation. That made me remember another time that I’ve felt really burned out. It was when I was just kind of generally… I wasn’t really overworking but I was overcommitted. I had too many groups or activities that I had said, I would be involved in and then I was doing a poor job at all of them.
Like there was just some guilt there and some psychological stagnation, I think is a great way to put it where it was just felt hard to kind of move forward on some of them. Luckily, they were all groups and organizations that were set up around having many volunteers and other people to be able to carry things when somebody else was having a busy week or whatever.
But I had gotten to a point where just week after week after week, I was not doing as much as I should have been for organizing the local Ruby Developers meet up and my other organizers were doing a lot of work.
After a while, I realized, you know what? I just need to make it clear to everybody that I am not going to do this, and I’m no longer committed to it. And that if they need help from other people, they should recruit additional organizers, because I’m not going to be there doing that. It was already clear to everybody that I was already not doing those things and hadn’t been for several months.
But just finally realizing that, Okay, yeah, it’s time to say what’s obvious that I’m not doing this and I don’t plan to do it in the future just was like a giant psychological release valve where a lot of pressure just suddenly evaporated because there was no longer any sort of illusion for anybody that I’m supposed to be doing these things.
It’s now clear that nope, I’m not supposed to be doing these things, and so I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing it. That was a huge relief and really helped me get over a period of burnout just by saying, “Nope, I’m, I’m no longer involved in this.”
Reuven: Yeah, removing work things and personal things. If you can do some of that, boy, I think the things you have left. First of all, you get to choose and they can be the things that really do excite you, but it’s just you feel much less weight on your shoulders, you feel much less pressure. Yeah, I thoroughly concur.
Erik: Overcommitting is a big one. I think of times probably second to say hiring too late, that overcommitting slowly but surely to a bunch of things is a source of burnout? I think for me because obviously, it takes up a lot of time and headspace, but it leads to this feeling where you’re making an inch of progress a week on 20 different things at once, which is a super unsatisfying feeling.
It feels like you’re committed to all this stuff, and none of its going all that well. I’ve tried to make it a point over the years to periodically audit everything I’m doing and say, “You know, what, can I articulate on what I’m actually getting out of this?”
Maybe I’m volunteering for all these different things or it could even be things like hobbies or stuff with friends or family. But if you look at all this through a lens and say, like, “What do I strictly need to do in any given week, and then here are kind of the nice things to do. Which ones of these can I maybe just stop doing and reclaim some of my sanity here?”
I think that’s a great one to bring up is this overcommitting that maybe doesn’t happen all at once but it’s one thing at a time.
Jeremy: Yeah, definitely. For me, it was keep adding one thing that sounded cool to be involved in and that I was excited about in the beginning and then eventually just got to holy dang. Every single night of my week is committed to something and I don’t have any, designated, sit on the couch and do nothing nights. That’s not good. You don’t want to get there.
Margaret: Yeah, and like you’re saying too, it can totally kind of creep up on you because you’re taking one thing after the other and like you’re saying to though, if you can sit back and understand where, when that point happens where it’s like, “No, I need to start getting rid of these things. I need to scale back.”
If you Don’t do that. This is what I experienced probably about 2017 when I had, the worst burnout I’ve had is that if you don’t do that, your body will do it for you. If you don’t get rid of the things that are contributing to your burnout over time, you’re physically… It will manifest and physically it will do it for you.
So in 2017, my business was ramping up. It was interesting because there’s tons of stories for 2017. But it was an interesting time because my business was busy, was ramping up, I was ramping up to an agency-level, we had an office in Liberty village, if anyone’s in Toronto, they know where that is.
We’re an office there. Things were ramping up and I was taking on a lot of projects, some of which, in retrospect, were not in my best interest to take on and ultimately I had some underlying health conditions that were managed at the time, but they just blew up and got out of control.
Unfortunately, the health conditions were accompanied by severe blood loss. So I ended up in the emergency room probably once every couple of months and then eventually had to get blood transfusions weekly on and sometimes eventually on a bi-weekly basis.
For sure, of course, you don’t know because you’re in it, but 100% it was because I didn’t manage my stress levels, I didn’t manage myself physically. When your blood levels get so low, you can’t exercise anymore because your body just can’t carry the oxygen. So, if I’ve learned anything, it’s if you don’t deal with the psychological components of burnout, your body will physically stop you.
Margaret: Twenty seventeen year was a rollercoaster we can get in, there’s a lot of clients stuff that we can definitely get into and find stories, but that was like the major lesson of the burnout 100% for sure. The recovery after is almost a year so it takes a while once you’ve hit that level of like, “Okay, I surrender to getting back to where you are, where you can trust your decisions again, where you can and where you end up in a good place both mentally and physically to move forward for sure.”
Jeremy: Yeah, definitely when I’ve been seriously burned out it is not been a take the weekend off or take a long weekend and come back the next week and everything’s fine. It was months of this sucks, everything sucks. Trying to figure out how to do less and try to find good outlets for creative energy. Yeah, it’s hard once you get seriously burnt out to find a way back
Reuven: So there, there was this professor in my graduate program, who had studied robotics for many, many years. He explained to us that one of the things that he had done in his research was, as we can imagine, making robots think, and how do they think with lots of logic.
Over the last decade or two, he realized, wait a second, emotions are not something that we want to or can disconnect from thought. Emotions are the context in which we think and if we’re like, removing emotions from robot thought that we’re moving everything that makes it like human and thought possible.
The moment he said that, I was like, “Oh, my God.” When I’m angry that’s the context in which I’m thinking and changes my whole thought process. When I’m burnt out, frustrated, confused… I’m sure you’ve all had the “Oh, and he’s stupid, and she’s stupid, and they’re wrong and they’re wrong.” Right? I’ve heard rumors that people are like this.
Regardless, it’s like basically, when you’re feeling burnt out it’s going to affect your decision-making ability, it’s going to affect how you do your job, how you are with other people. It’s going to take a while to remove yourself from that stew and get into a better place.
Kai: It almost requires like wholesale lifestyle change to shift from, “Hey, this is where I was too. Okay, I finally feel better, and week compared to week I’m putting a little more energy in the tank each week instead of continuing just to run on empty.”
But for me, at least in the midst of that, it’s so hard to; A) Notice it. B) Accept it and, C) Actually manifest that change when it’s just like zero percent energy on my part.
Jeremy: Yeah, and it can also be zero percent optimism. As a business owner and entrepreneur, you really need a healthy dose of optimism, to be able to make things work. You need to be optimistic that risks are going to pay off and that things are going to work out, right and if you’re lacking an optimism, you’re in for a hard streak of business.
Kai: One thing I’ve started doing, this is only a recent change in the past month or so. But I’ve started to look week by week at both the number of meetings I have and the number of deliverables I have. Just because I’m realizing, if I have 17 meetings in a week, which happened a couple of months ago, or there’s four separate delivery dates and due dates in a single week. It’s just so taxing to manage it, to get that output to that point and move it forward.
I’ve started just saying like, “Okay, I could only have a maximum of two meetings per day and eight meetings per week, or two or three due dates or delivery dates per week, just to make sure I’m giving myself that capacity.” Sometimes I might push a little further and say, “Okay, let’s add another couple meetings in, but it takes that act of mindfulness just to notice and commit to doing a little less than you can. It doesn’t always need to be that one heavy push to get the thing done.
How about for you guys? What are the tactics in a day or a month, you’ve started putting in place to help buffer against burnout happening again?
Erik: I’ve actually done the same thing recently as you where I’m looking at my weeks now. I’ll have meetings that are less important than others and just say, I don’t have an exact hard cap. But I’ll look at the week and see a lot of meetings and say, these are some that I’m included on, I’m just going to skip this week because I have figured out meetings, especially to an extent of I have deliverables I don’t really have that many deliverables I’m personally responsible for but the meetings is a big one.
Probably if there’s anything, maybe if anyone listening out there, if you’re introverted, a meeting might take more out of you than if you’re an extrovert. If you figure out what saps your energy and put a hard limit on that, that’s a great tactic, and like you have been trying to make a point to do that by itself.
Margaret: Yeah, cutting down. Cutting down on meetings, for sure. Exercise has definitely been up there and going hand in hand with exercise. Erik, you touched really briefly, but I stopped drinking, I was going to stop altogether.
But for the most part, I would say like 90 something percent I stopped drinking. I didn’t think that having one or two drinks a day was a big deal. But like you’re saying too, if things start to… If the pressure rises and things start to get more stressful, I found that there was a definitely a correlation with the amount of drinks that happened once things started to get more stressful.
So just understanding that that was a bit of a coping mechanism for me and stopping drinking has helped because it helped, ultimately helping your sleep too. So, I think not only exercise, proper sleep, and I know developers are brutal for this. So, it was hard because you’re used to staying up until three in the morning just to get the thing done.
But I can guarantee you, anyone that’s listening, you will come to the answer much faster on a well-rested brain, than you will at three in the morning, for sure. So I think that’s probably definitely cutting back on alcohol, making sure I’m diligent about sleep, and exercise. Also therapy, I was always for the longest time like, “I don’t need therapy.”
But even if it’s not every week, it’s just being able to talk to someone. Because ultimately, there are those things that are hard that are happening, and burnout can be one of those things. It’s not the responsibility of your friends and family to take that on. Of course, talk to them, but I do think that I never want to bring any issues that I have that aren’t resolved into a personal relationship that I really value.
So that’s why I decided to go down the route of therapy, I’m like, “It’s not the problem of my friends, and it’s not the problem of my family. So let’s deal with this so that I can show up in the best way that I can for the people around me that I love.”
Kai: Beautifully said, therapy has also been really impactful for me. One internal reframe that helped was similar to what you shared, instead of it being like, “Oh, gosh, something’s broken, or I’m broken.” I’ve started thinking about it as, “Hey, when this situation happens, this is what my response is like.”
Maybe a client doesn’t do a thing or something gets blown past and I get stressed or get angry or just feel this click word response. Therapy has been great just as accepting space to say, “Hey, this keeps happening. I keep reacting in this way. Maybe I’m not sleeping, well, maybe I’m eating poorly. Maybe I get stressed. I don’t like that. How could I change that?”
Just being able to have that dialogue with a therapist and start nudging some of these internal responses has been hugely impactful.
Jeremy: To kind of circle back. The idea of limiting meetings definitely helps a lot. It may sound counterintuitive since kind of one of the themes that we’ve talked about sort of is don’t work too much. But I think it can be helpful to block out times to do actual real deep work, where you’re going to shut down the mail client, shut down Slack, put the phone on, do not disturb, and get two or three hours strung all together to tackle that big task that you have in front of you.
Especially if there are things that you’re not particularly excited about doing, set a time for, “Okay, I’m going to handle that at three o’clock on Thursday and just get it out of the way.” Kind of making time to do the work that needs done instead of trying to fit it in around meetings and the fire of the day and whatever else happens to come up every day can help just in predictability of what your week looks like and how quickly things are going to get done.
Kai: Should we move into picks?
Reuven: Yeah, sounds good.
Kai: For me, my pick for today and what I encourage for all listeners, meditation. Meditation and mindfulness have made a huge difference in my stress level and burnout level. I’m a huge fan of this App called Calm, C-A-L-M.com. Curated, daily meditations, a huge library of meditations. It’s been wonderful just to be able to say, “Hey, I want to sit down and just quiet the mind for 10 or 20 minutes, grab my phone, listen to it and get a little more zen.” So, strongly recommend Calm, folks. How about you, Reuven? What are your picks for today?
Reuven: So I’ve got two picks. I mentioned earlier than I’ve been studying Chinese for a while, so I will go out on a limb and encourage other people to do it as well. It is not impossible. It’s actually a fairly simple language, says the person who is far from fluent five years in.
But no, it’s an incredibly fulfilling thing. I go through a school called e-ChineseLearning. That’s just like it sounds spelled echineselearning.com. They have lots of amazing teachers, I’ve been very impressed.
My second pick is self-promotion. It should be coming out around the time that this podcast comes out. Finally, finally, finally, my book from Manning, Python Workout is going to be printed. I am going through the final typeset versions of everything. It’s really exciting.
Not only am I excited to get this book out, but I am extremely, extremely impressed with everything that Manning has done in terms of editing and production. We will probably at some point talk about writing and publishing. But boy, oh boy, did they help make what I thought was a great book into an actually great book. So anyway, look for Python Workout out there when you’re not studying Chinese. That’s it for this week.
Margaret: For mine, I’m going to go with a local business. So if anyone’s in the Toronto area, there’s a food delivery company that I’ve been using for about the last month now called Honey Bee. They use all local, local farmers. Basically, it’s like all your meals for the week, all the macros are counted out, the calories are counted out, whole foods.
It’s all like gluten, dairy, allergy-free, all that good stuff. They give you your food, drop it off at your door twice a week, and it’s just circling back to burnout. It’s like one less thing that’s on my plate, so I don’t have to grocery shop, everything shows up. It’s already made. It’s actually really reasonably priced as well too. So, Honey Bee delivery.
Jeremy: I’m going to go with Splice which you can find at splice.com. I mentioned earlier that music is one of my creative hobbies that lets me feel productive but not really be working. Splice has been very helpful in that, especially lately with the quarantine.
It’s kind of like GitHub for music, where I can start a logic session, save that into Splice, and then share it with collaborators that can then download the session, add stuff to it, Splice handles all the sinking back and forth so that we have kind of just the one master copy of the session that everybody can work out of.
It’s been really good for quarantine. We’ve already gotten two or three new songs started since I haven’t been able to physically be in the same room as some of my collaborators. So, it’s been very helpful for that. I like it a lot.
Erik: So let’s see, I’ll do two. The first one is very business-like, but I have been using HubSpot as the CRM for my business, its subscribed. Using it in kind of a way where it was almost like a glorified spreadsheet. So just keeping track of companies and contacts.
But recently over the last three, four weeks, we brought someone on to consult with sales who knew a lot about HubSpot. So he’s been setting up a lot of workflows and teaching me not just how to use the utility and have automations and workflows, but about how I was reasoning about sales the wrong way and trying to bend to the tool to fit the way I wanted it to work instead of learning how a sales cycle should work.
So, I think we’re only paying something at the moment like $50 a month. HubSpot is kind of famous, for being really expensive. But you can get a relatively simple plan that does a lot of impressive automations and workflows for this amount. So I’ve been very pleased with what’s getting set up here. That’s easy to execute. So if you’re thinking of a CRM, I endorsed that one.
The other one I’ll do is maybe in general. So, over the weekend, my wife and I, we’d recently temporarily relocated we’re in South Dakota. Over this past week, the holiday weekend we spent a lot of time going out at state parks.
So in general, we spent time at Custer State Park, which is beautiful. If you’re ever out there, I would check it out. But along the theme of avoiding burnout, one of the things that I find helpful is to really kind of unplug from everything for a day or two or three as the case may be.
In this time when there’s different degrees of quarantine in lots of different places if the state or national parks or whatever open, that’s a great way to get out and get away from things without risking being close to a lot of people because there’s a lot of space at state parks, you don’t really need to be near anybody.
So yeah, that’s something I would definitely get out, don’t be stir crazy, unplug from your work, and just enjoy nature. So those are my picks.
Kai: Hey folks, thanks for listening to this episode of the Business of Freelancing. If you enjoyed it, go ahead and tweet it out. Share it on social or drop a link into your favorite Slack or discourse community. We’ll see you next time.