The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.33

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Creator fatigue is a thing (and how to deal with it)

I’m suffering from creator fatigue.

SoloBOSS has been in development for about 3 months. I’m 90% of the way there with the system, but the last 10% feels as if it’s going to take 90% of the time.

I’ve been here before (with creator fatigue). As usual, it crept up on me, and it took looking back over the last 3 to 4 weeks to realize just how much I had slowed down. Now that I know I have creator fatigue, I’m able to get out of it pretty fast.

Here’s why it happens, and what you can do about it.

Why we get creator fatigue

At the very root of creator fatigue is delayed gratification.

When we delay gratification of any kind for too long (all work and no play…), we open the door to a host of things that reward us now. And before we know it, we’ve let our big project slip by days or even weeks.

Delayed gratification is at the root of creator fatigue

As humans, we need rewards - gratification. Completing a project, getting to the end of the week, buying something online - all of these result in a reward of some kind. This makes us feel good.

But developing something non-trivial, by definition, takes time. Sometimes the time required to do something (like this article) is in the range of hours. But other times, as in the case of SoloBOSS, the time required to complete it is measured in months.

In the beginning, there’s a lot of reward. Seeing the product (or article, or course) take shape is reward in itself, and that drives us forward.

But then, as we get into the finer details, progress seems to be slower. There’s less reward of seeing big chunks of stuff done, and it’s easy to get lost in the details.

The biggest problem is that this slowdown doesn’t just appear. It creeps in, insidiously, and before we know it, we’re crawling rather than running.

We’re now suffering from creator fatigue.

We need to fill the gratification gap

Our very nature now drives us to things that fill the gratification gap. It becomes easier to:

  • get distracted,
  • quickly check the latest news,
  • check our social media notifications (eek! I’ve just spent 15 minutes on LinkedIn), and
  • work on other stuff.

Now another vicious cycle kicks in:

When we start working on our big project again, we’re already feeling disheartened and guilty. Low motivation and guilt slows us down even more - resulting in further loss of motivation and more guilt.

At this stage, it’s even easy to let go of the project completely. We’ve tried and tried, but we didn’t get it done - so how can we motivate ourselves to actually get it out the door?

How to deal with creator fatigue

You will only know that you’re suffering from creator fatigue after the fact.

It’s like getting the flu - once you recognize the symptoms, you already have it.

But once you realize it, here are the steps you can take to deal with it.

1. Understand that this is normal

Creating anything that will take more than a few days is likely to result in creator fatigue somewhere along the way. This is just human, and none of us are immune.

Understanding that this is normal helps us feel less guilty. Guilt doesn’t help you get stuff done, so let it go.

2. Make a list of the stuff you did

Now take stock of all the things you already did - whether they are complete or not.

Most of the time, this list is longer than you expected. Every time I do this exercise I end up feeling “hey, I actually already created a lot of stuff - in fact almost 90% of what I need to do”.

Feeling this gratification is intensely motivating.

3. Make a list of the stuff you still need to do

My experience is that this list is usually shorter than the list of things you already got done. But even if it is longer than your original list, don’t despair.

Knowing exactly what you still need to do is motivating in itself.

If there’s a lot of stuff still to be done, one of my favourite techniques is to list just the next 3 to 5 things I need to do. When they’re done, I revisit my “done” and “to do” lists.

Now it’s time to get to work.

4. Pick one, get it done, rinse and repeat

The key to getting motivation and momentum back up is to:

  • Pick just one thing to work on next.
  • Get it done.
  • Rinse and repeat.

For SoloBOSS, I know the next one thing I need to work on is the collection of built-in Help pages. There are some 30 “pages” in SoloBOSS, and each has its own help page. Most of these are done, so I need to revisit each, complete the ones that are not done, and I’ve knocked off most of the remaining work.

Remember, you need the gratification of getting stuff done to keep your motivation up. Just focus on that one thing, get it done, and you will see a virtuous (rather than vicious) cycle starting up.

How to avoid creator fatigue

Of course, it would be nice if we were always super-productive and got stuff done as imagined. But as we now know, life happens, motivation goes up and down, and we all will suffer from creator fatigue some of the time.

But there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of creator fatigue appearing in the first place. Here are my favourites.

Make a plan (and get AI to help)

The best way to avoid creator fatigue in the first place is to have a plan for what you need to do. But all of us face a big challenge the first time we do something:

How do you make a plan when you don’t know what needs to be done?

This is where AI can help.

For example, I asked ChatGPT to help me create a plan to develop, market and sell SoloBOSS. I provided a detailed prompt, and it came up with a plan. Some additional tweaks were required, but at the end of the chat I have a week-by-week breakdown of all the stuff I need to do. This went into a spreadsheet, more tweaking ensued, and this is what I’m now using to complete the work.

The full chat is too long to include here, so here’s a link to the full chat transcript.

Whatever you’re developing, ChatGPT can provide a pretty respectable plan to get it done. Modify the prompt to suit your needs.

No task longer than a week

As you will see from the transcript, I asked ChatGPT to give me a weekly breakdown of all the things I need to do. I know that if anything takes more than a week to complete, I am more likely to lose motivation, and eventually suffer from creator fatigue.

Whether you’re using an AI to assist you or not, always break your tasks down into something you can reasonably get done in a week given the amount of time you can spend on it.

Take breaks

My last piece of advice is to take breaks, especially from projects that span months. The breaks are not only necessary to recharge - you will also find that you come back with a clearer perspective on what you need to do.

The bad news - and the good news

The bad news is that all of us will suffer from creator fatigue. The good news is that all of us suffer from creator fatigue - we’re just human.

And more good news - you can get out of it. The trick is to give yourself little bits of gratification along the way. Don’t wait for the big gratification at the end.