Lessons from a Bout of Burnout


Hey friends,

Greetings from Morocco. We’ve been here for the past week for a team retreat – now that we’re fully remote, we’ve decided to get together for a week every 3 months to stay aligned and connected.

Anyway, this week I wanted to share some lessons and learnings from a recent bout of melancholy and demotivation.

Here’s the story – basically, for the past few weeks, I’ve really been struggling with filming videos. Struggling is obviously a strong word – I’m obviously highly privileged to be able to sit in front of a camera whenever I want, say random things, and make a living doing so. But even so, it’s been a struggle recently – I’ve been feeling demotivated, de-energised and unfulfilled making videos. This is somewhat unusual for me, because I normally feel like my ‘work’ is pretty meaningful and enjoyable.

But recently, it’s felt like the reason I’m making videos isn’t for the audience, it’s for the algorithm. And this isn’t a fun place to be. It makes the reason to get up in the morning and film videos extrinsic rather than intrinsic. Instead of doing it for the joy of it, or out of a sense of service, I was doing it out of a sense of obligation: “Urgh guess I should film something today, gotta make sure the channel’s monthly views stay high and gotta make sure I film enough stuff to meet the sponsor deadlines”.

But earlier today, I managed to batch film a bunch of videos. It felt great, I treated the process with lightness and ease, and enjoyed the journey. My team were all pretty surprised – they’ve seen first-hand my recent motivational slump, so they were all amazed that I’d managed to film so many videos, and that I enjoyed the process of doing so.

So I thought it would be interesting to list the reasons why I was able to get this stuff done. I think there are some lessons in this.

  1. For the past two nights, I’ve had 8h30m of sleep each night. This is highly unusual – for the past month of travels, my average has been more like 5-6 hours.
  2. For the past three days, I’ve done 30-50 minutes of exercise each day. I’ve been following the Reddit Bodyweight Fitness recommended routine, and tracking it with Strong (workout tracker) and Streaks (habit tracker).
  3. This morning, I joined some of my team for 20 minutes of yoga after getting up.
  4. I had nothing else in the calendar other than the intention to film some videos.
  5. I tried my best to actively approach filming the videos with the intention to help people, rather than the intention to “get views” or “make money”.
  6. I told myself: “I don’t have to film anything today. Instead, I choose to film.

The first three points above are broadly hardware tweaks. A good night’s sleep, exercise and yoga are basic things, but massively contributed to my good mood, energy and motivation to film videos.

The second three are broadly software tweaks. Nothing in the calendar other than filming meant I could focus without having to task-switch. The intention of “helping people” rather than “making money” or “getting views” made me feel like what I was doing was much more meaningful, and a key driver of intrinsic motivation. And approaching filming with a “choose to” rather than a “have to” mindset encouraged me to feel autonomy, another key driver of intrinsic motivation.

Incidentally, I break down the science of points 4-6 in Chapters 7, 3 and 2 respectively of my upcoming book Feel-Good Productivity. Massive thank you to everyone who’s preordered it so far ❤️

But even though I’ve literally written a book about this stuff (and the science behind it), it still surprises me when it actually works. It shouldn’t be surprising that sleeping and exercise well boost my motivation and energy, but somehow I always forget that that’s true. Similarly, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that a sense of autonomy, service and focus help too. But somehow, even though I literally live and breathe this stuff, it’s easy to forget the basics.

On the software side – a few weeks ago, I wrote some ‘intentions’ that I’d like to approach filming videos with. In this latest successful filming session, I read through these repeatedly to remind myself of them.

  1. I don’t care about the performance of this video. My only goal in making it is to share a message that I think is worth sharing for whoever wants to hear it.
  2. I intend to integrate my mind, heart and soul to share this message in a way that feels authentic and natural.
  3. I’m not trying to force anything here. I’m ‘merely’ speaking from the heart, with the mind to inform structure and content, and the soul to remain connected to the purpose behind the video.
  4. I’m going to enjoy myself, and treat this process with lightness and ease. When I’m on my deathbed, I’d give anything to be back here, in the present moment, doing what I love, sharing my self with the world, in a way that’s enjoyable and energising. I’m going to keep that in mind, and not treat this process with too much seriousness, heaviness or importance.
  5. I’m speaking to an individual, who really cares what I have to say, and who really wants to learn from me to level-up their own life. I’m in service to that person, not to my own ego, not to the retention stats, not to the algorithm. I’m purely in service to the person who has clicked on this video and who’s life can be genuinely changed by what I’m about to say.

I’ve shared this list with a couple of YouTuber friends who have all found it helpful. But I hope that even if you don’t make a living talking to a camera, you might find something valuable to take away and apply to your own work and/or life.

Have a great week!

Ali xx

PS: My youtube producer Tintin has started a weekly newsletter for YouTubers sharing loads of behind the scenes stuff about our YouTube channel and everything he’s learning spending like 40+ hours working in YouTube. If you’re interested in starting or growing your channel I highly recommend signing up here.

❤️ My Favourite Things this Week

  1. Video – This week, I watched the OpenAI Developer’s Day Keynote and was absolutely blown away by how rapidly AI development is evolving. If I wasn’t focused on making videos, I’d be going all-in on learning how to code / develop AI-enabled software. It’s already becoming a game-changer, and is absolutely going to be the next gold rush. Given a large chunk of my audience follows me for advice on how to make money on the internet, “learn to develop stuff with AI” is now the highest thing on my list of recommended ways to do so 🙂
  2. Podcast – I’ve been on a recent binge of my friend David’s Perell’s new “How I Write” podcast, shot and edited beautifully on YouTube too. This week, I listened to interviews with Mark MansonSam Parr and Morgan Housel, all of which were super engaging and all of which I took copious notes on. If you’re a writer and/or creator, there’s a lot to take away from these.
  3. App – I’ve recently resumed my love affair with the habit tracking app Streaks. Thanks to the iOS widget, it’s now a permanent fixture on my home screen, and so I can see, at a glance, which of my 3 habits I’ve yet to tick off each day. If you’re interested, those are (1) exercise 30 minutes per day, (2) a 6-minute breathing / meditation type thing, and (3) filming something for my vlog channel.
  4. Physical Product – I’ve been loving the Gaiam Travel Yoga 2mm mat. It folds down nicely, fits in my suitcase easily, and gives me no excuse not to do some stretches during my 30m exercise block each day.

✍️ Quote of the Week

“There’s always something flowing out of the interiority of our spirit. For some people it’s mostly fear or insecurity. For the people we call joyful, it’s mostly gratitude, delight, and kindness.”

From The Second Mountain by David Brooks. Resurfaced using Readwise.

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