As a creative, I get a lot of satisfaction out of making things. I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do it for a living. At home, I get a lot of satisfaction out of writing articles like this and producing a podcast. There’s nothing like that little shot of happy juice in the brain that you get when you accomplish something you enjoy doing. However, every once in a while, that shot of happy juice isn’t enough to counteract the cyclical nature and occasional frustration that comes along with making a weekly podcast. When your job is to create something on a regular schedule and you start thinking that the work doesn’t end, or when you don’t feel like you’re getting any feedback on what you’re creating, that’s when burnout sets in. I don’t know the percentage of dead podcasts out there that just faded away because the producer got bored or burned out, but I’m sure it’s significant. Many podcasts ‘podfade’ or stop making new content before they reach ten episodes, and that’s the most generous of the stats I could find. This leads to a hard truth: producing a podcast is easy, but producing a quality podcast on a regular schedule is not.
I’m no stranger to podcast burnout. We’re good friends. He comes along every few months and raids my refrigerator and camps out in my studio for sometimes weeks on end. He’s always a surprise, but he shouldn’t be. Burnout always announces himself before he arrives. It’s subtle, but the signs are there a long time before Burnout knocks at the door. It could be the act of sitting in front of a screen, staring at a blank document and having no ideas at all, or it could be the preference to binge an entire season of a show instead of working on an episode. We never recognize these signs at the time, but when Burnout shows up and takes up space in your life, hindsight is clarity. What isn’t very clear is how to get rid of your unwanted guest, or better yet how to keep him from darkening your door in the first place.
Consider these ideas to keep from getting burned out on making your podcast.
- Long before you’re starting to feel the burn, grab a notebook and start writing down topic ideas. It’s very important to not self-edit here, just dump everything out of your head onto the paper no matter how weird it might sound. Also, don’t feel bad if you can’t come up with much if you’ve never done this before. It may take a few sittings to come up with a sizable list. Later, when you’re scratching your head about what to do next, go to the list. That’s when you can prioritize the list into what’s usable and what’s not. After a set period if there are topics you haven’t done and aren’t likely to, cross them off the list. However, make sure you’re adding to the list as you come up with new show ideas. Add them as you go, or make an appointment to sit and brain-dump regularly.
- In the past when I have reached the point of burnout it was because — as an independent podcaster — I am an army of one. It’s nice to be the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in this outfit, but the downside to it is that I write, record, produce, distribute, and promote the show myself. I will be the first to admit that when you do everything, something may not get done. For me, it was usually podcast promotion, because I’m not a very good salesman. Of course, when you don’t promote you don’t attract new listeners, and that becomes a negative loop. I got discouraged, and that led to burnout. Take a look at your process and identify what you can either delegate to someone else provided you have someone, outsource to a third party for a fee, or optimize it so it happens automatically without your intervention. In my example, I created graphics and pull quotes for an episode in advance, and once I had uploaded and scheduled the episode, I created posts in Buffer to all my social channels at various points during the week. Later, I would ‘Rebuffer’ some of those same posts over the next 30 days, 90 days, and 6 months on Twitter and Facebook. With that done I could get back to producing shows, which I find much more pleasurable. One last thing: when you do a deep dive into your process, if you identify something that just doesn’t make any sense, or it’s a redundant step, get rid of it. You have enough to do getting a podcast out the door without making unnecessary work for yourself.
- A periodic listener survey may help you determine what direction to take the show. This could be as informal as a twitter chat, a post on your Facebook page, a mailbag episode dedicated to this topic, or something more formal like a listener survey form on a tool like Google Forms, for example. There are a lot of ways to do this, and the more detailed the more you can use the data when it comes to potential sponsors down the road. I’ll cover that in a future article. The basics you should be thinking about for this purpose isn’t very complicated at all. Ask them why they listen to your show, what they like about it, what they don’t like about it, what they think should be added, and what should be deleted. As a bonus, announcing the results of this survey and your conclusions is a built-in show topic. That episode is important, because if you’re going to ask your listeners for their input, please do them the courtesy of giving them the results of that input.
- One of the biggest causes of burnout stems from the cyclical nature of it. Putting out an episode every week can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task, especially if you’re a solo podcaster. Does your podcast lend itself to a seasonal release instead of a weekly release? Can you batch produce a season of shows, release them all at once or schedule them to drop weekly, as you take a little break and then get back to producing the next season? This may work better for scripted shows, but I see no reason why a weekly podcast couldn’t run for a set number of weeks and then announce a short hiatus. Anecdotally, it’s been my experience that breaks usually happen over the Summer or during the Holidays. That’s usually when people are doing other things and listener downloads might be lower over that time. Use that time to take a break and get ready for the next season.
- Lastly, it’s possible that you just need a break. It’s OK. Even Cal Ripken Jr. had to stop eventually, but before the Orioles took the field that day, it was already announced that Cal wasn’t starting that day. Everyone knew what was coming, and the audience in the stadium that day more than understood. They gave him one of the greatest standing ovations Baseball has ever seen. Your audience will understand if you have to stop for a little while. Make sure you talk with your listeners about what’s happening. You don’t need to tell them why if it’s personal, but what I think you should do is give them a return date when a new episode will drop. In the interim, you might consider scheduling ‘best of’ episodes, or just make sure the audience knows nothing will be dropping in the meantime. As long as you communicate with your listeners clearly, they’ll understand. If you do announce a return date, treat that as a promise, and don’t break your word. If your listeners can’t trust you, they may leave and not come back.
In 2019, podcasts can no longer afford to be a ‘when I feel like it’ production. Produce a show on a schedule you can keep, and keep your audience in mind for those times when you need directions, or when you need to step away. If you can keep those things in mind, burnout can be minimized if not wiped out completely.