How to Address Content Creation Burnout
Content creation is an activity many software developers pursue. It takes numerous forms like writing blog posts and articles, producing newsletters, filming videos, live-streaming, and even creating small projects and products. If you’re a software developer on Twitter, you have undoubtedly been exposed to content created, edited, and published by other software developers.
In addition to learning enough about the topic they’re creating content for, content creators have to learn about their selected medium, they have to edit/test/review their work, and they have to promote it to others. While content creation can be time-consuming, it is also incredibly fulfilling. It’s not unusual for content creators to scale up their content creation efforts over time or branching into other forms of content creation.
But all content creators need to take breaks and assess whether or not they are at risk of burnout. I’ve come across software developers who will simultaneously create courses for notable education platforms, host podcasts, publish weekly newsletters, and pen blog posts in addition to their day job and personal obligations. Many developers feel pressured to churn out a lot of content at break-necking speeds. This has become increasingly common since the start of the pandemic, when in-person conferences gave way to virtual events, live-streaming, and finding content via social media and blogging platforms, and is true for both people new to content creation and even seasoned creators. No matter which scenario rings true for you, the pressure to sustain a certain pace can lead to burnout.
In this blog post, I’ll share what I’ve done to reassess my content strategy in order to achieve a better balance between content creation and my personal life.
How I recognized I was burning out
In 2020, I was producing a steady stream of content. I released my first eBook, The Developer’s Guide to Content Creation on January 28, 2020. I started a biweekly newsletter, Developer Content Digest, and blogged twice a month. I released another eBook, appeared on five podcasts, spoke at two conferences, hosted three AMAs and two webinars on writing emails, and participated in a corporate workshop.
It was awesome, but I was exhausted. I was spending a lot of time outside of my day job on content creation. And as happy I was that people appreciated my work, the pace wasn’t sustainable.
To be clear, these were all targets I set for myself. I wanted to blog twice per month and produce a bunch of newsletters. But by December, I knew I did not want to work as hard in 2021. I gave myself permission to do less.
Picture a cup and a jug full of water. The cup represents the content I create, and I’m the water jug. Over time the cup gets emptied and the water jug has to continue pouring into the cup to keep it full. But the water jug wasn't being refilled. Pretty soon, there would be nothing left to refill the cup with.
So I decided to focus more on refilling myself and less on pouring into new things.
Next, I’ll share some practical steps you can take to combat burnout.
Step 1: Create a content creation self-assessment
If you’re constantly churning out content, stay attuned to yourself at all times.
Excitement can lead us to make optimistic predictions about how much we can take on. Give yourself permission to scale back if it becomes too much.
The first step to combat burnout is to do a quick self-assessment. Here’s how to do it step-by-step:
On a sheet of paper or in a spreadsheet, create six columns and title them as follows:
Under “Content Type”, list all the kinds of content you currently produce, such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, newsletters, etc.
Under “Publication Cadence”, write how often you publish new content for each content type (2 blog posts per month, 1 newsletter per week, etc)
Under “Effort”, write out roughly how much time it takes to produce each piece of content (0-1 hours; 2-3 hours; 4-5 hours, 2 weeks, etc)
Under “Priority”, assign a level of priority for each content type (use high, medium, and low to start). For example, you may decide that blogging is “High”, but newsletters will get a “Low” priority level.
In the “Rationale” column, write a sentence or two to explain why you assigned it that priority level. For example, blogging may be high in priority because you enjoy blogging over all other content types, or because it helps you generate new leads for your business.
After reviewing the completed spreadsheet, decide what to do next and write it down in the “Next Steps” column. Questions you should ask yourself include: should I produce less of something? Do I need to adjust my publishing cadence? Is there something I can cut out entirely?
Do this self-assessment as frequently as you need to. I completed my self-assessment at the end of December and decided on the following next steps:
I decided to write four newsletter editions over the holiday break and schedule them for January in February so I wouldn’t have to spend an hour or two every two weeks writing new content and publishing a newsletter. I also decided to scale back my newsletter considerably, since it wasn’t bringing me as much enjoyment as blogging.
I gave myself permission to publish blog posts less frequently and on a less predictable schedule.
I began surfacing older on social media. These posts were nevertheless useful and relevant, especially to newer followers who had never seen them before.
I decided to focus most of my attention on my content coaching program for developer advocates and accept fewer speaking engagements in 2021.
If you completed your self-assessment and still haven’t identified what to change, read this post on ruthless prioritization for more ideas.
Step 2: Resurface and repurpose existing content
Another way to avoid burnout is to remember this phrase: you don’t have to create content from scratch every single time. Many content creators will revisit older content — conference talks, videos, podcasts, articles — and either refresh them and publish an update or re-publish them in a different medium with slight modifications. Use it as an opportunity to improve upon something you created before. Read this blog post for an example of repurposing older content.
(Want to know a little secret? The previous two sections you read were repurposed from a newsletter I sent to my email list in February; I fleshed out one sub-section and added a new one!)
Similarly, to resurface content is to promote older content. If your audience has grown since you last promoted something, your newer audience will be less familiar with that same content. (No matter how compelling your Twitter feed or your blog, new followers and readers will not scroll infinitely through everything to see what you’ve done.) Use it as an opportunity to share those older pieces, especially if they’re still relevant and not outdated.
Pro-tip: use services like Buffer, TweetDeck, or Twitter’s native scheduling feature (web app only) to schedule promotional posts in advance across different social media platforms. This approach allows you to “set it and forget it” and focus on other things. If you’re getting started with scheduling, set aside 30 minutes once a week for social media scheduling.
Step 3: Practice discernment when listening to content creation advice
Many content creators (myself included) will frequently share tips and tricks for what has worked for them in the past. Be open to trying different approaches, but be sure to think critically about the advice you’re receiving and only apply what makes sense to you. If the advice does not speak to you, or if seems generally unhelpful, disregard it completely. You are not a failure because someone else’s advice did not work for you.
Step 4: Comparing yourself to others? Go back to your “why”
Comparing one’s work and output to others is something everyone experiences. But it can also be damaging. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re measuring their finished product against our work in progress. We also do this without having full visibility into their lifestyle, workflows, and other obligations. Comparisons are unfair because few people have the exact same life circumstances, and we establish beliefs around what we should be doing based on flawed perceptions. The playing field isn’t the same.
If and when you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, especially when it comes to “output”, ask yourself the following questions:
Why do I create content? What’s my ultimate goal?
Am I feeling pressured to “do more” or to do something different? Is it to accomplish a personal goal I’ve set for myself, or is it in response to what I’m observing from others?
What would I do if I wasn’t creating content? Are there other things I’d rather do?
Answer them honestly and give yourself permission to do what feels right. You do not have to blog or live-stream because others are doing it. If a few people you follow publish three new pieces of content per week, you don’t have to either. If you published weekly last year, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same this year. There is a season for everything.
In conclusion, set aside time for periodic self-assessments to help you get a pulse of how you’re feeling about content creation. Research techniques that can help you optimize your content creation processes, and make sure that you always keep your goals in mind. Don’t be afraid to scale back and revise your content strategy especially when your interests or life circumstances change.
You should create content because you enjoy it and it helps you achieve a specific goal, and that means maintaining the necessary conditions to ensure it doesn’t cross the line from being fun to becoming another job.
Want to learn more about developing a content creation process? Purchase The Developer's Guide to Content Creation for more content-related tips, exercises, and templates.