EP3: Avoiding Burnout and Analysis Paralysis

EP3: Avoiding Burnout and Analysis Paralysis

I started writing this newsletter issue back in October 2023. Eventually I did not publish it because I needed to give myself some time to recharge the batteries and relieve the pressure that had been mounting during my first year creating content on YouTube at a regular cadence.

Content creation, software design and leadership have a lot in common. Writing a newsletter and producing a system design are both creative processes. Building and engaging an audience by delivering valuable content is comparable to creating a loyal customer base by offering high-quality products and services. This is why I think they share common challenges like burnout and analysis paralysis.

My goal in this newsletter issue is to share my struggles and ways I try to overcome them. I hope they have a therapeutic effect on me, but most importantly help some of my fellow engineers or leaders in a moment of need.

Here it goes...

Early Signs

It’s happening again! I can feel it in my bones, muscles, but most importantly in my head. Burnout is very near, and I need at all costs to avoid it. If you have experienced burnout, you know exactly what I am talking about and I want to share with you how I deal with it. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, lucky you! However, take the time to read anyway, it might help you in the future prevent some very uncomfortable time.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is the state of exhaustion caused by a long period of stress or an unbalanced lifestyle. If we were battery-powered devices, burnout would be the equivalent of having 0% charge in our system. It’s a very debilitating state where we feel empty, and we become extremely vulnerable both physically and mentally.

Typical symptoms are sleeping and concentration issues, loss of interest or pleasure, fatigue, and sometimes even headaches and an upset stomach. I’m ticking too many boxes right now 😅!

I know it’s getting very gloomy, but that’s the reason why I felt we need to talk about this, since it is more common than we like to think in our industry.

Me very stressed before a recording session

What is analysis paralysis?

Analysis paralysis is the inability to act due to over-thinking a problem.

It typically happens when you cannot commit to one of the multiple options you identified as potential solutions to your problem. A common way to react to this scenario is to invest more time researching. That actually exacerbates the problem because we generate more data (sometimes even new options) which makes it even harder to come up with a final decision.

Some people are prone to burnout and analysis paralysis

Time taught me that some aspects of my character make me very prone to burnout and analysis paralysis. I am going to share them with you so you can check if you have similar traits.

  • I am target oriented and perform at my best when I set very ambitious goals. I thrive under pressure and the more challenging the task, the more I feel an urge to get it done.
  • I tend to work through spikes. I put in a lot of effort until I reach the target and then I need some time to recover from the stress I accumulate.
  • I dream big and I dream a lot. I get excited about many potential ideas and constantly feel I don't have enough time to put them all in motion.
  • I like to understand everything in depth. While I know it is virtually impossible to come up with a perfect solution to a problem, I want to make an informed decision. This means I invest a lot of time in researching and validating my research.

Write things down

The last two bullet points are exactly what put me in this spot this time. Trying to deliver at least one quality video every two weeks on YouTube is a big challenge when you have a demanding full-time job, family and other commitments. It becomes impossible if you add even more goals:

  • Setup Patreon (then scrap it)
  • Launch a newsletter
  • Participate to a Podcast
  • Launch my Podcast
  • Record my most successful videos in my mother tongue (Italian)
  • Review a book
  • Offer 1 on 1 Mentoring
  • Refresh marcolenzo.eu website (two times)
  • Refresh marcolenzo.it website
  • Join a local community
  • Upgrade my home
  • Get a drone license
  • Shoot videos with the drone
  • Start studying for a new certification
  • Reach a target weight
  • ...

The list is even longer 😅. However, if you are struggling as well right now, I strongly suggest you write your own list. It will help you visualize the amount of load you put on your shoulders, and it is also essential to be able to reprioritize your time.

We have to let something go

Sometimes there's no way around it and we cannot pursue all goals we have in mind at a certain point in time. We have to let something go... but what? 🤔

An option would be to prioritize the things we consider most important first and get rid of the less important stuff. The drawback of this approach is that it does not consider the effort needed to achieve the goals and their likelihood of success. Moreover, we risk never tackling the easy stuff with this approach.

A more balanced approach is to engage in one or two high-effort tasks which we consider sustainable in the long term, and then allow the remaining time for smaller tasks.

In my case, I had made the decision in October 2023 to focus on growing the YouTube channel first and offering 1 on 1 support to a few selected contacts.

That meant that I needed to let go of all the rest, especially the newsletter. I did not want to produce low quality content just to stick to the schedule. I was very sorry for letting down those who showed me support by subscribing to the newsletter, but I was unable to deliver 1 article a week on top of videos at that point in time.

Luckily, I am now in a different position, and I want to reprioritize my effort by including the newsletter as one of my top priorities (not once a week yet but at least twice a month like the videos).

But how is that possible? How something that I considered unsustainable 5 months ago is suddenly part of my core targets for the near future?

Reduce friction, embrace imperfections, empower others

Reducing friction, embracing imperfections, and empowering those around us is the only way we can scale our output without risking burnout and analysis paralysis.

A concrete way I reduced friction this week was by moving my personal website and this newsletter from a self-hosted Kubernetes cluster I managed for 8 years to the paid Ghost infrastructure. This was an extremely difficult decision but my priority of delivering quality content to fellow engineers and leaders is way higher than the pleasure and pride I get by designing and running my own infrastructure for my personal projects. Luckily, I get enough of that during my full-time job. 😂

🙏 “Please consider sponsoring my newsletter or YouTube content (if you represent a brand) so that I can deliver more of this content to the community. More details here.” 🙏

I also need to embrace the reality that producing educational content is just a passion and hobby for me. There is a limit to the quantity and quality we can produce unless we start delegating some of our work, but that would turn this into a business and possibly spoil the fun out of it.

Perfection is unattainable. However, the silver lining is that even a poorly written article might contain few important tips for someone in need. And if that’s you today, that repays me of all my efforts. It could also be someone you know, in that case don’t forget to share this content... 😝

Alla prossima! (ita: “until next time")