Feeling burned out? Here's what to do about it

By Brian Keller

In this episode, hear creator coach Josh Zimmerman’s advice for bouncing back from burnout.

Known as the Creator Coach, Josh Zimmerman has spent 14 years guiding television networks, production companies, YouTubers, and other creators on how to grow and succeed. While helping clients navigate the ins and outs of their businesses (like navigating digital rights, production processes, and managing partners), he’s seen over and over again how things like stress, anxiety, and feelings of overwhelm can compound into a paralyzing — and rampant — condition for creators: burnout.

In this episode of Backstage with Patreon, Josh digs into circumstances that lead to burnout and how establishing healthy routines, daily action plans, and frameworks for when to say “yes” and “no” can help tame it.

Subscribe to Backstage with Patreon on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or directly via RSS. Join the discussion about the episode in the Patreon Creator Community Discord server.

Episode transcript

Brian Keller:
Hello creators. You are backstage with Patreon where we open the curtain on how to build a thriving business on Patreon. I'm Brian Keller from the Creator Success Team. And today's guest is Josh Zimmerman, also known as the Creator Coach. He's the first-ever life coach dedicated to creators. He's worked for over 14 years with TV networks, production companies, YouTubers, all kinds of other creators. And Josh is really an expert on creator burnout, and he's presented to and coached lots of Patreon creators. Now, he usually works with individual creators and in group workshops, so we're excited for him to bring to life some of those insights about burnout and tactics for taming it. So let's get started with Josh Zimmerman on Backstage with Patreon.

And I think by now burnout and the potential issues for creators are getting a little bit more awareness out there. But how would you explain, what is the current stage? What are some of the things that will help creators understand how it might be affecting them that they might not realize?

Josh Zimmerman:
Sure. Well, Brian, I'm so excited to be here and thank you to Patreon and everybody that puts the podcast together. The current state of burnout is actually really interesting, which is that it's in flux. We saw a big, big uptick during the pandemic, and then we saw a little bit of a leveling out during the pandemic because people were used to working from home. And now that the world has opened back up, we're seeing a increase again in people trying to acclimate to "the new normal." And what does that mean? And what does it mean for each person who has a different comfort level with how much they are going out into the world or not?

So we're seeing this really interesting scenario play out where it is now multifaceted when it comes to burnout, that it's not just content that are burning people out. It's having to interact with a lot of different people with a lot of different levels of comfort and trying to navigate what they want their work and life to look like as we continue to move through the pandemic.

Brian Keller:
Can you elaborate on that? The idea that it could be your content that is part of burnout and the stress of that, but it also can be interacting with the community, having your presence and in that overlap with your life. What should creators be paying attention to there?

Josh Zimmerman:
Well, I think there's a really interesting article that came out in the pandemic, and I forgot who wrote it, but it was talking about how our brain assesses fear and how we react to it. And if you think about before the pandemic, when we saw somebody that just had a mask on, usually made us go, "Oh, danger. Something's wrong there." And as the pandemic wore on, we now saw people with masks as safe and the people who didn't have masks on as, "Oh, danger." And so how our brains are perceiving threats and fear are evolving, and that happens constantly.

"It's taking a toll on how much we're able to actually do in a. And how much energy we're actually spending. So because of that, our bucket of energy is being depleted a lot quicker than what we're used to."

Now, the other piece of that is now we have people who are wearing masks and not wearing masks, and so our brains are now trying to adapt to different levels of threats and fear. And because of that, and that's not just for masks, but that goes across all different parts of our life, it's taking a toll on how much we're able to actually do in a day and how much energy we're actually spending. So because of that, really, our bucket of energy is being depleted a lot quicker than what we're used to.

And so it's about managing expectations for what we do when we create content as well as outside of creating content and realigning with what is actually reasonable and what can we actually expect from ourselves because it's not constant. It's not going to be the same every day. And so being really mindful of that is important. And that's where I'm seeing a lot of my clients, whether they are creators or executives or startups and founders, they're all really grappling with this.

Brian Keller:
When I've also heard you talk about there's a negative feedback loop between fear and creativity and how that actually can make it hard to get out of it and really get stuck. What should creators be looking at for that?

Josh Zimmerman:
I think they need to look at it straight on. When we have this fear response or we have a response of anything that is triggering our fear, I think it's so important to sort of walk towards the cannons, as some would say. Even just acknowledging that there is a fear about something or there is a resistance to it, just acknowledging that really starts to deescalate the fear and starts to give you perspective and awareness about what's really going on.

It may not make it better, but what will happen is that big scariness or the thing that we're avoiding starts to dissipate or doesn't look as scary anymore. And so by continuing to look at something that is scariness, whether it's fear of success, or fear of failure, or what's going on the platform that you choose to upload on and with all the uncertainties, if we are able to just say, "Okay, this is uncertain right now. I don't know what's going to happen." It's a very powerful way of looking at a situation. It's not easy to do, and you have to continually maintain that and continually go back to that.

But that's the biggest thing that I think is so much fun about working with Patreon and the team, is that there's a community that allows for that feedback loop to have a positive spin on it and support because that is the biggest piece that I continually hear again and again and again, is, "I'm lonely, and Josh, I'm the only one that has this problem. I can't talk to anybody about this." And so if we're able to talk to people or have others that are in this same boat as us, whether it's the same content but the same community, and we're able to be in a place that we're able to express that fear, which is confronting it head on by just even expressing it, you just start to see everything start to calm down and the burnout starts to dissipate.

Brian Keller:
And how have you helped Patreon creators to get over that hump of feeling alone doing their work solo and doing that outreach and connecting, whether it's with family, friends, even peer creators?

Josh Zimmerman:
So that's a really fun question, and that's a question that I ask the creators that I work with, that they get to come up with that because it's going to be different for everybody. So the different ways that I've worked with Patreon, whether that is group coaching through the Ambassador program, or different talks that I give, or different people that Patreon says that I should talk to or does an introduction, it really depends on the individual and how they want to look at the situation and how they want to confront it.

But there's a constant that I see again and again, which is everybody feels like they are the only ones that feel this way. They're the ones that feel lonely. They're the ones that feel like they are having to do everything. And that's the truth. It is lonely. It is hard. You are wearing all the hats. It's the most unique job in the world because you are your business, your business is you, and how do you separate them?

You don't. We can try and pull that apart a little bit, and that helps. But as long as we are able to talk about what is going on and what is getting in the way of that growth, that's that first step. It's unique to every single creator, and that's what I love about my job is that I get to ask these questions and get to see these amazing ideas that people come up with to combat those kind of issues that are very, very rampant in the creator space.

Brian Keller:
All right. And then if we have some creators that it really resonates with them, they want to make some new connections, get out of just being in their shell and doing things solo, do you have a tip for them of what is a way to ask that question of themselves or take a step to make some more of those connections?

Josh Zimmerman:
Yeah. One of the really interesting things about artists and creators is most, not all, but most are shy introverts. So asking somebody to come out of their shell, most people don't want to, right? It's a pretty lonely job because you're either looking to a camera or talking to a microphone or doing something. It's an inanimate object, yet we have millions of people on the other side watching.

And so the bigger somebody gets, the more isolating it becomes because they end up having people come out of the woodwork to be friends with them. And then the questions start becoming, "Do I trust them?" "Who's using me?" "Who's using me to get money?" Or, they think I have money?" So all of these questions start and then the walls get built up more and more and more. And so they start really shut people out, or they have people that they surround themselves with that are yes people. And that's really dangerous.

For creators who are listening to this, no matter what size, I would say, there is nothing wrong with reaching out to somebody that you look up to and connecting with them and just saying, "Hey, how's it going?" And I know there's going to be a lot of pushback with, "Well, they're going to think I'm using them." I've heard it all.

But if you're listening to this podcast, you've obviously made it to some level of success, and that's not the number of success of subscribers or followers you have, but a success in wanting to improve. And one of the ways to do that is to get a little bit uncomfortable and just remember that no matter how big you get, you always started at the bottom. And so reaching out to somebody who's in the same community and asking to connect, you would be so surprised if they answer and when they say, "Oh, I feel the same way," but we won't know that unless you do it. And you have to do it in an authentic way that feels right to you.

And what's the worst that could happen? They don't respond? Okay. It's about listening to what we need and what we want. And I'm not asking somebody to reach out and just spill everything to somebody. No, but we all need connection no matter how introverted we are, because otherwise we're operating in a vacuum. And so if the people listening can do that and just reach out, be curious, then you'll be able to see what connections can be made. And even again, even if nobody reaches out, that's great. If nobody responds, that's totally fine because at least you did it.

Brian Keller:
Yeah, it's really good encouragement to go out there, be vulnerable, make that ask and try to get connected. And let's keep going with some tactics for creators. And actually one of the things you've done with Patreon is package some of these into really compelling videos that are on our YouTube channel. So we'll give you a chance to listen to those. The first one is about the importance of a morning routine and how to build one that works for you.

Josh Zimmerman:
Good morning. By now, you've probably heard that the world's most successful people get up way too early to journal, meditate, maybe fire up their infrared sauna, and that's good for them. But is it good for you?

My name is Josh Zimmerman and I'm a certified life coach that helps creators. As a creator, you have a huge amount of freedom, and that is exactly why you need a morning routine. You don't have to wake up before dawn and you don't need to buy any fancy gadgets, but what you do need to do is you need to find a routine that works for you and stick to it. And here's why.

Without a morning routine that lays out how you want to start your day, you don't have a roadmap. Whether it's the night before laying in bed or in the morning, you face the unknown, and the unknown causes anxiety. Anxiety causes stress, and let me tell you, that's not a great way to start the day. So morning routines help you build the guardrails to keep you on track.

The routine guides you at a time when you have the most control, in the morning before you let the world in. It's a key opportunity to set yourself up with habits that make you feel good. Building a morning routine is about creating small, obtainable steps, and here are some things that you absolutely have to do.

Do wake up at the same time and every day. I don't care what time it is, but it has to be consistent. Whatever you do, do not use your cell phone as an alarm clock. It's way too tempting to go down the rabbit hole of emails, notifications, and social media. Remember, you're putting up boundaries to avoid distractions. Make sure to protect your routine.

Do make sure that it involves something that you can look forward to, whether it's meditating, reading, going on a hike, it's always about a form of self-care. Finally, make sure to move your body. It could be yoga, it could be jumping jacks, it could be pool dancing. Whatever it is, by moving your body, it gets those endorphins flowing. You feel good.

It's normal that you will face some resistance from yourself. Like many things, it's easier said than done. So there is one final, critical step, and that is accountability. Accountability comes from having support, someone who reminds you when you've gone off route. Your support person is not only aware of the commitment you made to your morning routine, but they're also there to help you follow through so excuses don't pull you off track.

For some people, accountability is motivated by a consequence that ups the ante. So for example, if you miss even one day of waking up at the time you said you would, you have to donate to a organization that your values may not align with. And believe me, you're going to wake up every day. So find the best way to hold yourself accountable. It's just as important as creating the morning routine.

Brian Keller:
All right, great. Let's also hear about Josh's recommendations about better to-do lists, how to do it in the right way, how to do it in a way that actually is motivating to get things done and really make progress.

Josh Zimmerman:
What does your to-do list look like and why do we procrastinate on some of the most important things on them? Why does even the term "To-do list" make us feel so anxious? My name is Josh Zimmerman and I'm a certified life coach. In this video, we're going to talk about why most to-do lists sets you up to fail and what to do about it.

Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do over time. So your to-do lists are too long. They are out of control beasts. What you need is a few tricks and tools to tame them.

First of all, get out your old friend's pen and paper. Trust me, I'll explain later. Now that you've got your tools, we're going to create a few different lists to help you create your daily list. This is the short, functional list that is going to help you through your day, and I'm going to show you how to create it.

So first, the master to-do list. The master to-do list is a list of all the things you need to get done. So what I want you to do is go find all the different places you've made to-do lists. The apps, the stickies, the napkins, the paper towels, the toilet paper, find all them and compile them into one big master to-do list. Now, what I want you to do is look through your master to-do list, pull out all the things you're procrastinating on. You know all those things that you keep pushing to the next day and the next day? Yeah, those. Take those and put them on a new list. We're going to call that the procrastination list. Both of these lists are going to look really scary and overwhelming, but I want you to know that's okay.

Now we get to the fun part, the daily list. So I want you to look at your master's to-do list and pick two to three things that you can actually do tomorrow. And remember, be realistic. We want you to be able to get these things done. Okay, now back to those beastly tasks on the procrastination list, and it's time to confront them with the SDA.

So the SDA, that stands for single daily action. And I want you to pick one thing from your procrastination list, and you're going to put it on your daily list for tomorrow. Now you have it. You know what you're going to do tomorrow, and what you've done is you've reframed your list into something that is actually manageable.

Before, when your list was too long, your focus was on the things you didn't do. So for example, if you crossed three things off a list of 20, it didn't look like you did much. But if you now have a list of four things and you crossed three things off of it, pretty good. You set your boundaries for yourself, and what you didn't do is let those wild beasts overwhelm you.

Here's the reason why I told you to go get that pen and paper. The actual physical movement and feeling of crossing something off the list feels good. It's so much more satisfying. By implementing these techniques. I hope you feel a sense of satisfaction rather than anxiety at the end of the day.

Brian Keller:
All right, now that we've heard about those two, Josh, another thing I wanted to have you share with our listeners here is the importance of saying no to something in order to say yes to something else. I think that can be really hard for a lot of creators.

Josh Zimmerman:
Yeah, it is hard for everybody. And the question that I ask people is, when you say yes to something, what are you saying no to? And the reason I ask that question, and the reason why it's such a powerful question is because everyone has so much on their plates, and it's always like, "I don't have enough time to do this," and, "I really want to do this, but I don't have enough time and I'm being pulled in a million directions." Totally legitimate.

However, when you say yes to something, there's something on the other side that you're saying no to. And what that allows someone to do, if you use that almost as a filter, you then start to look at both sides of what you're saying no to, whether that is family time, or exercise, or gaming, or walking your dog or pet pig. And I would love to see if somebody that's listening has a pet pig, but we're always saying no to something. And in opposite wise, when we say no to something, what are we saying yes to?

And so if we are able to start to reframe in a positive psychology way, right, a reframe of different requests that come in, we're then able to start to make decisions on what is really important and what isn't, or what is less important. Because this is all about time. Time is the most precious thing. You cannot buy more of it, and the moment we just had, that moment, gone. We'll never have it again.

So when I hear people say, "I don't have enough time to do this," I'm like, "Okay, buckle up, because you do. No matter how busy you are, you are in charge. And there's only a certain amount of time that we're going to be here. So how do you want to use that?" And if you're saying yes to all of these things and yet you're not feeling fulfilled or you're not doing the things that you really want to do, well, we got to look at that.

It's not easy work. It's not an easy question to answer or have me ask you, but it's one that is crucial to having some kind of balance in your life and starting to work towards having a plate that is as full as you want it to be. And it's all about perspective and awareness.

Brian Keller:
Yeah, I love that way of thinking about it and the trade-offs that creators need to be making, in that even if you aren't saying that explicitly, it is part of it. You are always saying yes and no to things, and it's important to be a little bit more aware about that.

Well, I think we've given creators a lot of great tactics to think about and use. We've talked about burnout is real, and the factors and how things are changing as our comfort in going outside and interacting and virtual and in-person models are evolving there. The importance of doing that outreach, make that ask, be vulnerable. Go find people that can be part of your network and help you with it. Great tactics for creators around morning routines, to-do lists, how to say no and say yes, and use that as balance there.

So if creators though actually are saying, "Hey, I love this coaching idea. I want to get more involved," what's the right way for them to engage with you?

Josh Zimmerman:
Oh, I mean, it's as easy as just sending me an email, josh@creatorcoach.com, and I'm on all the social platforms, @CreatorCoach, and all they have to do is make sure that they put in the subject line or in a DM that they listened to this podcast, and I will make sure that I respond as quickly as possible.

And it really doesn't matter how big or small you are. I'm just here to be of support to anybody that is looking for it, because we have such an amazing group of creators that are not only on Patreon, but that are creating content that are helping so many people. And if I get to be part of helping those people tell that story, what a great blessing that is.

Brian Keller:
I love that message, and thanks for inviting everyone to reach out to you and for making the space for this conversation as well. It's so important for creators to have the tactics, but also to recognize this is important. This is about their mental health, about their sustainability, about everything that they're doing together. So Josh, thanks so much for sharing all this with creators on Backstage with Patreon.

Josh Zimmerman:
Thanks, Brian.

Brian Keller:
Tune in next week to Backstage with Patreon when we'll have Ryan Jon from the Toni and Ryan Podcast on the show. They went from viral TikTok and Instagram reels in Australia to a massive global audience and Patreon membership. We get into their transition from hobby to full-time job and membership business, ways they involve their audience in beloved segments of the show, and clever IRL promotion techniques involving a garbage truck.

To catch every episode of Backstage with Patreon, follow or subscribe in your podcast app and leave us a review. We also have transcripts available at patreon.com/backstage. You're growing as a creator by listening to the show, so why not share the insights from this episode with another creator on Patreon or who is running a creative business?

We'd love to have you as an active collaborator with Backstage with Patreon. Come join the discussion in the Patreon Creator Discord. Follow the link in the episode notes and you can get answers to your follow-up questions directly from the guests and weigh in on what topics we'll be covering next. Editing by Tyler Morrisette. I'm Brian Keller. See you next time backstage.

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