Updated: Dec 2, 2020
For almost the entire month of December 2017, I could not physically stand to look at a screen, be it computer, phone, or television. Any attempt to do so caused horrific pain in my eyes that felt like it was stabbing straight back into my brain. This was unfortunate because I had several looming writing and podcasting deadlines and I only met them because I did the majority of my writing by hand, then forced myself to look at a screen in short bursts until I'd converted all my paper words into screen words. (Thank goodness for blue light filters and night mode!)
By mid-January it was evident that something needed to be done so I finally dragged myself to a proper eye doctor so he could tell me what the heck was going on. I am no stranger to eye difficulties (one day I will chronicle the Great Iritis Horror Show of 2015) and have always experienced a modicum of light sensitivity but I was still dreading receiving bad news.
Instead I was told that I needed to take a break.
As it turned out my eyes were perfectly fine. The endless hours of reading and writing at the computer had completely stressed out the muscles surrounding my eyes that were used for focusing. Combining that with my preexisting light sensitivity (aggravated, I imagine, by my stress) made for a very painful situation. The cure was not more cowbell, but a self-imposed break from writing and podcasting. The doctor informed me that a week or two limiting my screen time would allow my eyes to bounce back in to shape.
It just so happened that I was leaving for Kenya in a few days, where I would be for almost two weeks. By the time I returned to the US, I had forgotten about my eye issue and only remembered it when I noticed my computer screen was still on all the darker settings. Taking a break really did work.
There are a lot of catches to this though, not least of which are: I certainly cannot always make the time to take a two-week long break from all things technology and it would be absurdly expensive to hop on a plane to a (gorgeous) remote location every time I overworked myself and needed to let my eyes reset.
The realistic ideal would be to take steps to ensure it never gets that bad again, which of course I didn't do and so in January 2019 I messed up my neck during a similar Meet-the-Deadlines Crunch and couldn't sleep or move comfortably for over a week.
Hey, I never said I was a genius.
My point is, don't be like me...or, rather, don't be like the me I was until I realized my stupidity.
Take a break.
Podcasting (and writing in general) is some of the most rewarding work you will ever do, but it is relentless, especially when you are an independent producer. You must be a one-person band, handling content, production, marketing, customer service, etc. all the time. When you work on a team, like I do for Footnoting History, it is still constant, because although we divide up some of the responsibilities, we have to wrangle all of our hosts and keep track of every person's movements and contributions which adds another level of complication to the process.
For most podcasters, burnout becomes a reality at some point. In fact, in my experience, finding one who hasn't experienced burnout is almost impossible.
The thing is, not only does burnout hurt you but it hurts your product. Your listeners
deserve you at your best and above all, you deserve you at your best, so you need to take a break, preferably before you desperately need one, so that burnout doesn't even occur...and by take a break, I don't mean you need to go to Kenya (though if you ever have the opportunity, you should take it!) I mean you should take a weekend (or more!) to do anything that isn't podcasting. It's okay, to admit you need to step away. If you've exhausted yourself it means you work super hard because you care, and caring is essential so tend to yourself as a means of being able to continue to care with all your heart.
I'm taking a break right now, and the beauty is that none of my listeners will even notice unless they read this post. Here's why:
Two episodes of Footnoting History air this month. Both of them are mine. I wrote and recorded a two-parter chronicling the friendship and feud between Henry II of England and Thomas Becket. By doing two episodes in a row, I now have a longer time in our host rotation before I have to do another one. This meant more work earlier in the year, but I don't have to even begin another episode for over a month. Oh, and while I was working on those two episodes, I also recorded my contribution to our Halloween episode, so my October will be free too!
I scheduled a large portion of our social media posts ahead of time, so the only times I need to access our accounts are when someone responds to one of our posts or to announce when a new episode drops.
Our monthly newsletter and new episode email blasts? Already set up and ready to go out as soon as the time comes and Elizabeth completes them, which is her job all the time anyway. If it wasn't, I could always schedule them ahead of time, too.
Am I around to be contacted if someone needs me? Absolutely. Will the podcast still be released on schedule? You bet. Do I get to spend entire days doing things I enjoy that aren't podcast related for a few weeks? Yes I do. Is it totally worth it to work a little harder in the beginning of the year so I have more time to relax later on? 100%.
It takes dedication to maintain a podcast of high quality and build a listener base. For your own sanity though, I suggest doing everything you can to take advantage of the blessings of the internet age. Use apps that allow you to schedule things in advance. They are life savers. Also, if you have some free time, do that extra episode now so you don't have to scramble for it later. Build yourself up a buffer catalog if you can (I stress this constantly when people ask me about starting podcasts -- always have multiple ready to go before you launch so you don't need to kill yourself to get one done. I've been there. It isn't fun.) If you have to schedule in your breaks ahead of time, do that too. I've already pointed out that I do. It gives you a light at the end of the production tunnel.
You work hard. You deserve to be refreshed.
Absolve yourself of any possible guilt either by scheduling a hiatus in your show that your audience knows about in advance or deciding that you'll only pop in to release a pre-prepared new one. Then let go. Read a book. Book a massage. Meet a friend for tea. Take a long bath. Binge that show you've been wanting to see. Go for a walk. Nap. Visit a museum.
No one will know when you recorded your episode unless you tell them.
Clearing your mind and resting your body will lead to better content and production both before your break (when you have it to look forward to) and after it (when the memory is fresh in your mind.)
And don't worry about your audience. If you've built them up and planned for your absence they'll either never know you were gone or be excitedly awaiting your return.
So do it.
I dare you.
Take a break.
You can thank me later.