Austin Gilliam

Recovering After Burnout

Tracking Progress

Back when I was getting my Master's degree, one of my professors joked that while a picture says a thousands words, a good graph can say millions! While he was speaking in the context of writing academic papers, and with far better graphs than any I've put together in recent years, I think I can sum up Q3 2023 with this:

A bar chart of tasks I've completed per week in 2023 (up to the current week in progress).

Some quick context on what we're looking at: this is the number of tasks I completed (green), didn't complete (yellow), or carried over to the following week (blue) by week, for every week so far this year. Week numbers surrounded by parenthesis are weeks I had to take a break for work trips or I took a vacation, and any red X above a given week is to mark where I broke my rules, and took more tasks than I was supposed to given data from the prior week.

I put this together on week 30 or so, after I noticed my numbers were starting to slip, and I just couldn't get out of the 6-7 task range. This was around the time that I got put under some serious pressure to deliver at work, sometimes staying at work until 6-7pm, which only got worse in these last few weeks where I was staying up until 10pm-2am to make a big due date. In retrospect, I have to ask myself — what the hell was I doing on week 34 and 35?

Brute forcing it, I suppose. But then I started to run out energy, and it all started slipping until the crash, resulting in me taking a break in week 38, and then trying to dive back into it last week only to fail miserably. Things were going relatively fantastic at work, and everyone was happy with what my team had delivered, but as a result I had no energy to do anything for myself...

I was 100%, absolutely and thoroughly burnt out.

Burnout & Recovery

In the past 7 years I've had a lot of students and mentees ask me how to avoid burnout, and I stand by my stance: it's different for everybody. Some of us have children and full-time jobs, some live alone and could decide to travel the world on a moments notice. Some of us are responsible for critical functions at work, others are in training, others purposely seek low-stress roles. When recovering in the short-term, some people (like myself) regenerate on time alone in a dark, chaotic basement workshop. Others like to workout or do house chores, others go to parties and socialize.

Generally, I would say the best way to avoid burnout is realizing your personal constraints and "microdosing" your personal cure, but that's not catchy advice, and thus often falls on disappointed ears. What I've realized recently is that it's actually more nuanced than I thought: avoiding burnout is different for everyone, but I also think every burnout is different. How's that for a kick in the pants?

In the particular case of Austin Gilliam in Q3 2023, I would say that my constraints shifted a lot faster than I could cope with short-term recovery. I decided to roleplay the productivity overgod — who could complete all of his work tasks, all of his societal obligations, and the goals that he had set for himself. But I couldn't play that character for as long as I tried to play it, and as a result my body decided to say "Fuck You".

So this burnout was a little worse than others I experience year over year, it was a total show stopper. I took a long weekend off work, didn't look at my messages or email — I didn't even look at my hobby board. I slept away whole afternoons, and I didn't look at the clock... And it still hasn't been enough. I need more rest, more time. My team needs it too — for every day I was putting in the extra effort, they were right there with me. "Deep rest" is going to be on my mind a lot in Q4, both at home and at work, and will be my priority as I round at the year.

I think that's the only way to really recover, and like my advice above, it's uncatchy as it is simple: if all else fails, turn everything off, cancel everything, get help from the people you trust, and take a nap.

But all of this to say, I didn't do nothing this quarter. I just did less, and I'm fine with that. I'm probably going to do less next quarter too, and I'm fine with that. It's not about the cards still on the board — it's about the gaps where the others used to be.

Let's get to the Almighty List!

The Almighty List

Here's where I'm trending with each of my goals as of the end of Q3 2023:

  • Reading
    • Read textbooks from my Educational Reading List, but especially ones about software architecture.
    • Read books from my Social Reading Pile, but especially ones I borrowed from other people...
  • Storytelling
    • Try new kinds of storytelling that aren't novel writing, and share it with the world!
  • Professional Development
    • Complete online courses that I've purchased, but especially ones about Docker and Kubernetes.
    • Keep my website up to date, and iterate on the process.
  • Video Games & TTRPGs
    • Publish articles in my WorldAnvil wiki that are currently sitting in draft status.
    • Complete my Starfinder campaign, The Centurion's Riddle.
    • Play video games a few hours a week, and forget about everything else!
    • Release a mod to any video game before the end of 2023.
  • Miniature Printing & Painting
    • Print models from my criminally-underutilized Patreon/Kickstarter files.
    • Paint new and existing models (slay the gray!).
  • Health & Home
    • Continue improving and decorating the house.
    • Get away from my desk and walk around — particularly outside!

Down from where I was a few months ago, I've slowed on my textbook pile, but that's been countered by a rise in educational courses — namely a CKAD certification course and an introductory course to UI/UX design. I'm still playing cleanup after the end of The Centurion's Riddle, with an epilogue article growing beastly in the background, which has taken a lot of my creative energy away from the modding scene and other kinds of storytelling.

Due to a pretty bad ankle injury in the summer I've all but reverted back to my old ways in terms of physical activity, but I think I'm almost through the recovery and ready to go out on big walks again. What little exercise I have gotten has been working around the house and in the garden outside, which means I still haven't setup my space for 3D printing and painting — thus those goals remain stagnant.

The Content Diet

All my reading in Q3 was for fun, which I don't mind at all! Brandon Sanderson's Kickstarter continues to deliver with The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England and Yumi and the Nightmare Painter. I also finished the Wilderwood Duology by Hannah Whitten, and after growing tired of waiting for the anime to come out, devoured the whole of the Demon Slayer manga. I haven't finished a manga/manwha series in a while, but now that I've started I've caught the bug — I'm reading Gosu right now, which completed this year and is good so far!

The books I've read (for fun) so far in 2023.

While Elder Scrolls Online remains a constant in the background (25% into Aldmeri Dominion faction quests), Baldur's Gate III has absolutely dominated my playtime, with 50 hours under my belt for my first play through (just starting Act 3 on a goody-two-shoes Tav run) and sinister Durge run on the horizon. After that I'll probably move onto Cyberpunk 2077 now that the v2.0 release it out, and maybe Starfield if I can't wait long enough for the modding kit to come out.

The games I've played so far in 2023.

While I don't usually talk about TV shows I watch, I think special mention has to go out to Mr Inbetween on FX, which I binged in only a few weeks. If you liked Barry on HBO (a mix of silly and sadistic), then I highly recommend it.

Wrapping Up

In the next few months I'll be doing a bit of traveling and taking some vacation time, so updates will likely be few and far between. But I hope all is well with you and yours, and I'll see you in the next one — when that next one comes.