If you habitually read many blogs, or especially if you have one yourself, you know the phrase. Blogger burnout.
This is how we describe the feeling of running out of steam.
Everything is going along great, you are building your audience, interacting on social media, promoting your awesome content, traffic is growing… and then for whatever reason, you just stop.
Staring at a blank page in WordPress or Word or Notepad or an actual piece of paper. Typing a few sentences, deleting it, trying again. You get distracted by Twitter, Instagram, the news, a car driving by, or an ad in the corner of the Google search bar.
Five hours later your wordcount is still barely double digits.
When I first started this blog 7 years ago as College Approved Food, I had big dreams.
I was going to write a cookbook for college kids using only a microwave and recipes with 5 ingredients or less.
I was going to have my own cooking show someday.
I could live off my blog income full-time while I traveled and tasted food from all over the world.
Then I did it, and saw how much work went into blogging.
Consistently. On a schedule. Regularly.
To build a following, to create things people actually could use and wanted to read, to add value to the world.
To interact with others in the space and create a network of like minded people who support you as well.
And of course, “real life” got in the way a bit as well.
Getting through undergraduate studies while working three jobs, dealing with a broken engagement, applying, getting into, and surviving graduate school, paying off all my undergrad loans before finishing graduate school, leaving grad school, moving across the country (thrice)… Occasionally I lost focus.
Sometimes I took a break.
Sometimes it was for a few days, other times a few months.
I changed my publishing schedule from not having one, to three times per week, down to once per week, and back again, trying to find the perfect balance.
Then, for the past year or so, it seemed I’d hit the sweet spot.
I was publishing both food and finance content, and plenty that was a bridge between the two.
And when I got tired of writing about how we bought our house from 1000 miles away and my top tips for saving money, I could write about how easy it is to make your own yogurt at home or our attempt to become ‘almost’ vegetarian.
I even had so many ideas flowing through my brain that I increased my twice a week Sunday/Tuesday schedule to three times a week Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday schedule.
And then, eventually, the ideas started slowing down.
Maybe it was turning thirty, or the holidays, or winter hibernation, but I started to lose focus.
Creating posts became more of a chore that I had to schedule into my days rather than a firehose of words I couldn’t turn off.
It seems I’m not the only one going through this, since just recently the intrepid Pete at Do You Even Blog posted an article with top tips from 12 other bloggers, and the illustrious Frugal Asian Finance enlightened us all with her Blogger Burnout: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
How do you know you’re burnt
The symptoms may include:
- Inability to focus, especially when trying to write
- Questioning why you write or blog in the first place
- Feeling like social media is taking over your life
- A feeling of utter exhaustion, where even getting up to go to the bathroom seems like too much work right now
- The inability to come up with new ideas for a post
- Wondering if any of this matters or why you keep going
- Not even wanting to listen to yourself talk about blogging
- Binge reading other blogger posts on blogger burnout!
I feel like this is a ripe opportunity for “You Might Be Burnt on Blogging If…” jokes… if you got any good ones feel free to share in the comments!
But truly, “burnt out” manifests differently for everyone.
You are the only one who knows when you hit the wall.
You start to procrastinate on writing. Whatever you do manage to write, you hate it and delete it and start over. You stare at a blank page for hours on end, hoping for the magical Muse fairy to sprinkle the page with words of wisdom.
You might be burnt out.
What are the Causes?
Why does “burnout” even happen? How is it that almost every writer in all of time experiences periods of a lack of inspiration?
Psychological Science writer Alexandra Michel says: “burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition, and relaxation.”
There are several components to what makes people willing and motivated to do something. A physical reward such as candy might get a toddler to pick up his toys. A mental reward like praise could convince hubby taking out the trash is a good idea. A raise at work will keep you at your desk hitting your targets on time.
Those rewards balance the time, effort, and mental strain to complete the task which earns those rewards.
People may do their jobs or write or side hustle for the money, for the recognition from peers or superiors, or because it is a cause they truly believe in and they get personal satisfaction from.
When those do not balance out, you burn out.
How do you Cope?
To battle the burnout, I attempted immersing myself even further into great content creators, reading like my life depended on it, up to 4-5 hours per day!
This ultimately made me feel like I was staring into a limitless black hole of content, most of it created by people far wiser, more experienced, and ‘better at blogging’ than myself.
The comparison game is one you cannot win.
When reading more about food and health and money didn’t work, I gave it up and started reading anything else.
I lost myself in fictional stories, mystery novels, a few non-fiction works. I escaped into video games and virtual worlds, and even tried going back to some very old stories, songs, and scripts I had started.
None of it worked.
For several weeks, I struggled just to create enough content to keep the blog going on its regular schedule. I came very close to taking it down a notch to fewer posts per week, or taking a few weeks off altogether.
Fellow blogger friends were a big help, though they might not have known it. All the reading I’d been doing helped spark a few ideas too. But ultimately, unplugging is what seemed to flip the switch for me.
I backed way off social media for a little while. Twitter is my preferred verbal playground slash coffee shop slash news source, and I was spending upwards of 9-10 hours a day on there!
I would obsessively refresh as soon as I woke up, everytime I went to the bathroom, when I was walking between places, on my way to meetings, while watching Netflix at night, sometimes even at red lights! It was unreal. And I knew it was a problem.
I just love all the bloggers out there SO MUCH!
I NEED TO KNOW IT ALL!
But I had to set some boundaries. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I cannot get anything done of my own, if all I am doing is consuming content 24/7. I want to actually enjoy my IRL life, as well as create my own things.
So I took a brief social media break for a few weeks, followed by rules about phone use.
It doesn’t matter what my rules are, because you have a different life and daily patterns, so make your own that work for you.
But a healthy distance gave me space to go for walks, watch TV and focus on one thing at a time, connect with my husband more, and expand my social group.
And by doing more things in real life, guess what?
More ideas sparked!
More things I wanted to write about came to mind.
More post drafts were created.
But I know this may not be the last time burnout happens, and I know you may be going through this too, or will at some point in the future. So I wanted to explore a little more, for selfish reasons in case I need to refer back to this, but also to help anyone else who has been there or is there, and doesn’t know where to go now!
This advice is slightly tailored to writing, but can apply to any work situation. Whether self-employed, a consultant, or working for The Man, you can burn out.
If that happens to you, try a few or all of the things below. And in the worst case scenario, if you need a new direction from life, follow the steps to a Career Transition Without Going Broke.
What Can You Do to Battle Burnout?
#1) Set a schedule
- One of the most important things I learned early on about blogging is that if ALL the successful bloggers say it, it is probably true. And they all say to set a schedule. I didn’t do that at first, I just published when I made something I thought was good enough to share, or when I had the time. Then after a few years, I buckled down, set a schedule, announced it, and kept to it, diligently posting on the days I said I would. And my pageviews nearly tripled within a month!
- The beauty of blogging is, that you can choose your schedule, and you can change your mind! It doesn’t matter if your schedule is “once per month”. Start small, say you will post less often than you think you will. If you have more content that you need, see tip #3 below. Worst case, you change your mind and increase your posting frequency! But, if you start off balls to the wall saying you will write a post every day, well, that is a recipe for disaster.
- Bless Erin at ReachingForFI, she blogs even when she doesn’t want to, even when it’s past bedtime, even when she thinks she doesn’t have anything to say. And sometimes those are the best posts! Where you are real, spontaneous, raw, and honest.
#2) But, give yourself permission for breaks
- Sometimes, life happens! We get it. There are holidays where maybe you are hosting or traveling or just want to spend time with family not worrying about work or writing. You might go on a long vacation, and the least relaxing thing you can think of is to keep writing while there. Or you are going through a particularly stressful period of time, with a new child, or a sickness in the family, or moving and upheaval.
- There’s no shame in taking a time-out! Stop posting for a few days, a few weeks. You can get back in the game once your head is back in the game.
- If you are burnt from your job, make sure you are taking breaks. Set boundaries about “no email on weekends” or “no work after 6pm”. Make sure you are using your granted vacation time! Take 5-10 minutes every hour to go for a quick walk, drink some water, or do stretching exercises at your desk. It will keep you motivated and help you focus when you return to your tasks.
#3) Have some content in the bank
- You know the story of the ants and the grasshopper right? The ants toiled away in the summer sun, saving up food in the store room. Meanwhile the grasshopper lived for today, playing his guitar in the sun. Winter came along, and the ants had plenty of food stored in their warm home, while the grasshopper was left to freeze and starve.
- Be like the ants! When your ideas come faster than you can put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard nowadays) let the words flow, and catch them in jars for later. Also known as ‘draft posts’ or saved Word documents. Having a backlog of posts that can be put out anytime is a huge lifesaver when you’re due to publish (see above) in 2 hours and have yet to write a title.
#4) Automate what you can
- Automation is the best friend to those who cannot remember things, are terrible procrastinators, or anyone who just wants life to be easier!
- Use any automation system you can to make repeated tasks simpler. Set up auto-posts ahead of time. That way 2 hours on a Sunday and you are covered for the week, no more thinking. Set up automatic Tweets, Pins, Insta pics, whatever type of sharing platform you use. Less brain power overall, same amount of self-promotion. (But, please, do not only automate! You also need to engage with your audience and community. Or else everyone will hate you and mute you.)
#5) Find your tribe
- It really helps to find a group of like-minded and supportive people, in real life or online.
- These people can be there to support you in tough times, give you life advice on things that worked or didn’t work for them, be your sounding board, and help guide you in new directions. They can inspire writing, or sharing, or networking, that might be the key to unlocking a new room of potential inside your brain.
- Reach out to those who have been where you are. Even if it seems scary, even if a blogger seems so “BIG” there’s no way they would respond to you. Sure, maybe some won’t. They are probably jerks who just want the $65 you might get them from a Bluehost affiliate link. But most of us are pretty cool. (As long as you aren’t spammy or needy. Be respectful.)
- We have all been there, just starting a new blog, getting stoked and dancing around the room at our first comment, getting over our fears of joining in the “cool kids” talk on social media. We should all be there for each other, because we all want the same things. Savings. Investing. Encouraging others. Sharing. Thinking. Talking. Health. Progress. Financial Independence. Happiness.
#6) Focus on the good
- This can mean a lot of different things. Maybe take a look at all the ways your life has changed positively in the past month, year, decade. Maybe just focus on this week, or today, and find three things to be thankful about.
- Or maybe decide to take one day per week, or per month, to totally disconnect and unplug. Put down the phone, turn off notifications, shut off the laptop.
- You could try a gratitude journal, where you write down things that made you happy or grateful on a regular basis. You could try writing thank you letters to significant people in your life. Or you could commit to 100 Days of Happy.
- Just go out and live life in the real world, it will leave you refreshed and perhaps with the exact breath of fresh air and new perspective you needed.
#7) Don’t be afraid of a new direction
- Sometimes, you reach a place where something which used to be a passion project and defined you, you have outgrown. It can be very tough to admit to. You have poured your time, money, heart, and soul, into a book or project or relationship or degree. And now, you feel it is all for naught.
- But rather than be sad at an ending, think of how exciting new beginnings are! Like a dew-covered spring morning, the world is fresh and waiting for you to take a different path.
- J Money from BudgetsAreSexy and formerly Rockstar Finance is a great example! As a seasoned blogger (past the decade mark, y’all!) he has been through a lot. And he has started, finished, and abandoned many projects, writing and otherwise. He knows how to re-evaluate priorities based on where his life is at the present moment, and sometimes you dig deeper… but sometimes you walk away. And that’s okay.
What does the future hold?
I’m still not sure where we will go from here. I do not think I would ever give up blogging completely, I love it too much.
The community is just mind-blowingly awesome, and the wealth and depth of knowledge out there is truly outstanding. I enjoy this little creative outlet where I get to connect with others and share ideas and lessons.
I do know that I have been quieter than usual on social media, and not as engaged in community projects like the #WomenRockMoney movement, “middle class” debates, or the Rockstar Throwdown.
That will likely continue for some time, as I revert back to more of a “lurker” and just keep this little guy afloat for now.
But hopefully, as seasons change, this too shall pass, and my blogger mojo will return.