How many of you are familiar with the phrase: ”today I’ll power through all the deadlines, and I’ll rest tomorrow”?
I bet it hits close to home! We all tell ourselves this as a motivation to get things done, but rest never follows because tomorrow is packed with opportunities to hustle, earn more money, and get more projects under our belt.
This sprint mentality doesn’t actually get us too far and the only thing that we manage to achieve is to give ourselves a burnout. We can’t work too hard one day without it affecting the next one because all of our days are interconnected. Remembering from where we’re borrowing our energy and approaching our workload with a marathon mindset gives us full-power for a long-lasting career.
These realizations don’t come by chance and they don’t happen without a trigger. We learned them from Brittany, who has wrestled with her workaholic tendencies and found a way to reshape her relationship with work for a healthier, more rewarding life.
She experienced first-hand all the trouble that hustle brings and she has found ways to work brighter and lighter, 10x-ing her results. In today’s episode, she’s going to share her not-so-secret but often-ignored strategy on how to create a better life for yourself, where you have less hustle and more self-care.
Brittany has been blogging for 18 years, and she’s worked with brands such as Search Engine Journal, HubSpot, the Content Marketing Institute, CoSchedule, Buffer, and Forbes, among others. During all the time she was doing great work, building a community, and becoming one of the most energetic and relatable voices in the marketing community, she was dealing with illness too. In 2017, she decided to leave full-time work to focus on her health.
When she came back, Brittany founded WorkBrighter.co, a consulting business where she poured her realizations about the hustle culture, burnout, and overwhelm. Now, she is the go-to source for honest, empathetic advice around productivity and self-care when you’re sick of the hustle and the constant cycles of productivity followed by the burnout it causes.
Listen to episode 3 of the Drag & Drop show, where we explore Brittany’s minimalist content philosophy and especially how she ended up building it with empathy for both herself and others.
Stuff I was curious to find out:
- How Brittany experienced empathy in some of the challenging moments of her life. (03:07)
- What determined Brittany to shift her attention to empathy toward herself. (05:30)
- How she found the courage to write about personal things and let people join her journey. (16:31)
- How Brittany manages to write empathetic articles, especially on topics she’s not familiar with. (18:31)
- How she came up with the first-pancake rule for productivity and what this process looks like. (28:17)
- Her methods for choosing clients, based on the changes in perspective she’s had since burnout. (35:30)
- Empathetic people in the marketing community who have influenced her journey. (46:19)
What you can learn from this episode:
- How to figure out if the work you’re doing costs you more than if you wouldn’t do it at all. (08:29)
- Where to find support if you’re feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. (10:27)
- How journaling can help you acknowledge the stories you tell yourself. (13:53)
- What productivity hangovers are and how can you use empathy for yourself to manage or avoid them. (23:57)
- How to balance our needs for self-care with the endless growth mentality around us. (32:33)
- The differences between working smarter and working brighter, in terms of giving and receiving empathy. (39:17)
- The three rules of minimalist content marketing. (48:25)
- The one thing you can do right after listening to this episode to make your content shine without creating something new. (50:50)
Not a morning person? That’s okay!
If you open up a book on productivity or read an article on efficiency, there’s a great chance that the number one piece of advice you’ll find there is “Wake up early and get things done faster”. That may be true and might work for some people, but what if morning is not your jam? What if you stopped trying to fit society’s norms and instead, just accept your normal tendencies?
It doesn’t make any sense to do your hardest tasks when you’re at your energy’s lowest point – and night owls can surely agree that mornings are best spent with an extra hour of sleep.
Brittany came up with a pace that suits her needs, and she uses the first pancake rule to best describe it. If you’ve ever made pancakes, you know that the first one is not great, but the ones that follow are more appealing. It’s the same with the first hour of the day. Instead of struggling to turn it into the most productive one, throw it away. Don’t get me wrong, you can still do useful stuff in those 60 minutes, but ease your way into the day, do something enjoyable that can get you in the mood for whatever important tasks come next.
Find empathy in context
One of the best ways to really understand people is to observe them. They are their true selves when they think no one’s watching them.
Now, don’t be a stalker, but think of the times when you’re sitting in a restaurant and you’re looking around the room. You see people talking and moving, you see their body language, and you pretty much understand what’s going on.
Online, it’s the same thing. If you scroll on social channels, you’ll see people being honest about a certain topic or sharing openly their feelings. Use observation as a tool to understand other people’s context. This enables you to be more empathetic with your clients, with your family and friends, and even with yourself.
The power of journaling – Have you tried it?
This is a habit that helps us offload and untangle the thoughts that roam inside our minds. By doing so, we can clear the space and make room for great ideas to fill our heads.
Putting words on paper is also a great way to see the stories that we tell ourselves and it’s a chance to realize if they are good or not. It’s an opportunity to improve on the areas that we’re not satisfied with.
If you’ve already tried journaling in your past and didn’t work for you, maybe it wasn’t what you really needed at the moment. However, if you’re currently stressed out (as all of us around the world), if you’re feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, it might be a great idea to give it another try.
Andra Zaharia: An introvert who conveys a ton of positive energy; a content marketer who preaches to create less content instead of more; a creative powerhouse who gives counterintuitive productivity advice that works. Today’s guest is my go-to source for “honest, empathetic advice around productivity and self-care when you’re sick of the hustle and the constant cycles of productivity followed by the burnout it causes.” I actually stole this last bit from one of my guest’s newsletters, because it captures one of the things she does best. I’m so thrilled to talk to Brittany Berger, aka Bberg, today.
Andra Zaharia: Welcome to the Drag & Drop show, where we explore how practicing empathy transforms how we do business and live our lives. I’m your host, Andra Zaharia, a fellow podcast listener and creator. This season, I’m on a journey with Bannersnack to discover how leading women around the world use empathy to connect and do work that matters. Join us to find out how to drag and drop small acts of empathy into our lives to make it more rewarding for us and those around us.
Andra Zaharia: So, Brittany published her first piece of writing in 1999 actually, in a school project published by the PTA, where she actually managed to sneak in a joke about dysentery, nonetheless. She’s been blogging for 18 years and she actually got her first internship and job as a result of a blog she started in 2018. In 2015, Brittany became the Head of Content for Mention.com – one of the brands I most admire in this area. She worked with other brands, too, such as Search Engine Journal, HubSpot, the Content Marketing Institute, CoSchedule, Buffer, and Forbes, just to name a few.
Andra Zaharia:During all the time she was doing great work, building a community and becoming one of the most energetic and relatable voices in the marketing community, Brittany was dealing with illness, too, that eventually turned chronic. So, in 2017, she decided to leave full-time work to focus on her health, and when she came back, she founded WorkBrighter.co, a consulting business where she poured her realizations about the hustle culture, burnout, and overwhelm. “If I was gonna stay in marketing, I needed a content chill pill”, she said, and that’s a phrase I really relate to. As a content creator striving for balance, I empathize with this 100%. That’s why I find her work, her leadership and her ideas so valuable!
Andra Zaharia: Nowadays, Brittany is a minimalist content marketing consultant and today we’re going to explore her content philosophy and especially how she ended up building it with empathy for both herself and others. So, Brittany, when did empathy make the biggest impact on your life?
Brittany Berger: I think that it was probably in between 2015 and 2017, when I was really starting to understand what was going on in my own life around my physical and mental health, and when I really started understanding things, a lot of what I told myself were excuses really were very, very rational explanations. I think there’s that quote that I forget who said it, but it’s like, “If someone’s life seems easy, that is 100% of the time only because you don’t have all the information.” Like, no one’s life is easy. No one’s out here not working hard, not trying -we all are, including myself. And so, a lot of times, especially with hustle culture, we’re told to just always push ourselves harder, and #noexcuses and stuff like that, and I like to say that there are a lot of excuses that are very reasonable and that are more like explanations, and that helped me practice a lot of empathy for people. There’s a quote I think about a lot or it’s like an Instagram-meme-quote type thing where it’s like, “Do you not have the time or is it not a priority?” And when people post it, it’s normally trying to guilt you into saying, “Oh, yeah, something isn’t a priority, so I should make the time” but I’m okay with it, saying, “It’s not a priority.” And so, I’ve kind of taken that quote the opposite of how it’s intended.
Andra Zaharia: I love that you often do that in a lot of areas, and that is one of the things that I immediately associate with you and that’s one of the things that really make your ideas stick in a way that very few others do. I mean, I subscribe to a ton of newsletters and, as you know, as a content creator you always take a lot in – although I know that’s not necessarily the best-case scenario – and we pour out a lot of ourselves as well. And some of that sticks with you, but most of it just doesn’t, and that’s the truth, but your ideas always stick with me. So, I’m really eager to dig into the fact that you talked how empathy towards yourself made a difference in that time, and I’m curious, was there any specific moment that triggered it or was it just an accumulation of factors, of triggers, of working excessively, and so on?
Brittany Berger: It was definitely a collection of events, but there are a few that stand out more than others. There was one time I was in Boston for the Inbound Conference in 2016 and I was really excited, and I ended up getting really sick while I was there and I could only go to the first day of the conference and then I was hospitalized. I was just alone in a strange city in a hospital, and that was just like a very big wake-up call around my limits of my health and my body because I had been feeling off that whole week and was just trying to push through it. That was in November 2016, and then again, in March 2017 I had a really big flare-up and that led to some tests having to be done and I ended up being out of work for my day job for a week and a half. My mom was here visiting me and so, that was one of the very few times I was off work when I actually wasn’t working because she was hiding my computer as opposed to, normally, my fiance – boyfriend at the time – would go off to work and I would just open my computer and I would say I wasn’t going to work, but I would just kind of fall into it because that’s what workaholics do. But, when my mom was here, she was actually regulating how much I was online and stuff like that, so I was actually offline and that was actually, to this day, one of the best weeks my Work Brighter business has ever done in terms of revenue.
Andra Zaharia: That is awesome to hear!
Brittany Berger: Yeah, that was a big wake-up call in terms of how much going off on my own and doing things that weren’t necessarily what I had traditionally thought of for my career, really, were what were going to let me get healthy.
Andra Zaharia: Thank you for sharing that story with us! I still feel that, in our bubble or in the marketing world, there’s a lot of talk around this and this conversation has really ballooned so much, but outside of it or for the general public or for just everyone who would need these messages, they haven’t reached them yet. So, I think it’s so important that you continue to talk about this in a way that really brings together the value of mindset for any job, really, but especially in marketing, where there’s so much emotional labor going on. So, you had that trigger moment and what helped you give yourself permission to do things differently, and to set those boundaries that you needed to get healthy and maybe even regain your love for the work because sometimes burnout can do that to us – it can kind of make us fall out of love a bit with the thing that drove us for such a long time?
Brittany Berger: Yeah, I had a lot of support from my friends and my family. Actually, another event that stood out was when my sister came up to visit me and I thought that she was just visiting me for fun, but it was a little bit of an intervention for taking my health seriously. And so, realizing how it impacted my family too, it’s another part and I do have a fair amount of privilege in the fact that I lived with my boyfriend, so even though we weren’t engaged, I wasn’t living alone, I wasn’t completely independent. We were in a place financially where I realized that I didn’t have to be working this hard and this much and hustling this much for money, that it was entirely in a situation that I had gotten myself into and that it was at the point where it was kind of like an endless cycle where it was actually costing me money to work because working would make me sick, sick would make me in the hospital. And so, breaking down the situation like that made me realize, “Oh, I thought I was putting in all this work for success and for financial reward, but it’s actually slowing me down and costing me a lot.
Andra Zaharia: I’m really sorry that you went through all of this, and for anyone who’s gone through burnout and has experienced these physical manifestations, it’s very difficult to pick yourself up again and start to feel as vulnerable as you take actual practical steps towards your own health. Having a support system or finding the help you need, talking to a coach or to a therapist – these are all things that we could do for ourselves, especially in the long run. They have such a big impact! Did you feel that too?
Brittany Berger: Yeah, absolutely! Therapy is hard to get here in New York City just because with the real estate prices it’s not financially possible for a lot of therapists here to take insurance, and so, it was really hard for me to go to one regularly, but I saved up money for a while and I went to one session with a really great psychiatrist, and she helped me a lot, and we kind of worked with the intention that I wouldn’t be coming back. And so, we worked just a one-hour session that was completely focused on coming up with tools for me to manage myself. And so, if therapy or coaching ongoing isn’t an ongoing possibility for you, consider a one-time session just to help you better prepare yourself on your own, and the self-manage long term might be possible. So, that’s really great. I do have an online therapist now, which is amazing! It’s kind of like an ongoing joke now. I don’t think I’ve done a podcast interview in the past year that I have not mentioned therapy and I joke about it with my therapist, but really, I know it’s not accessible for everyone, but if it is possible for you, it will be so great and so worth the investment in your career. It’s not something that’s talked about a lot, but they help you in all areas of your life, and that includes your career.
Andra Zaharia: Yes, absolutely! That’s been my experience, as well. It just accelerated my progress and not in terms of hustle but in terms of getting to know myself, cultivating self-awareness, and then, that rippled through every other relationship I had. And I would not be the same person today for a lack of these experiences. It has just made me find an anchor and root myself into a much healthier mindset. And although that’s still work in progress, and I still feel like I have many things to work on, my coach said, in the last conversation we had a couple of days ago, he said that self-work or work just done developing ourselves is never really done; you just reach new levels of subtlety and nuance.
Brittany Berger: Exactly! I like to say, instead of self-improvement, I really like the phrase personal development because it’s less about improving and more about growing and it’s not necessarily fixing yourself – it’s just growing in new directions and areas and shapes and sizes and it’s just like growing new parts of yourself.
Andra Zaharia: I love that mental image! That’s really nice! It’s like being a tree and growing new branches.
Brittany Berger: Exactly! Oh my God, I love all of the self-care analogies about gardening because I cannot garden but it’s something that I’ve been increasingly wanting to do and try, and so, until then, the metaphors and analogies will get me by.
Andra Zaharia: Hopefully it won’t be long until that first experience, as well.
Brittany Berger: Yeah!
Andra Zaharia: Was there anything that stuck from that one-hour discussion or the things that you did in the beginning, something that stuck as a habit or as a mental structure that you’re still using today?
Brittany Berger: Journaling, definitely, is something that I try to do every day, I definitely do a little bit in the morning and then a recap of my day. But then, also, in the moment, when I’m feeling really emotional, I journal – either on paper or if I just need to open up a Word document or whatever – and I just need to get things out of my head. I think originally I started doing it when I first read the Getting Things Done book, way before all of my burnout realizations, but I didn’t realize how good it was for my mental health until more recently, but I’m doing a brain dump. And the idea behind Getting Things Done is that your brain is not for holding ideas – it’s for having them and I love that! And yeah, I’m just always trying to get things out of my brain because it’s just always felt like there’s too much in there, so I love that!
Andra Zaharia: That’s an excellent principle to live by! And speaking of journaling, even though I write for a living, it’s taken me until this year, at the beginning, to actually start daily journaling, and it’s made such a big difference, and I feel like I should have realized this sooner since I’m in the industry, but some things just happen when they need to happen or when you finally move yourself towards that direction, just jolt yourself in that direction.
Brittany Berger: Exactly! Maybe you didn’t need journaling as badly back then. I’m kind of the same way, where I’ve been buying notebooks to journal in my whole life, but it wasn’t until I got really burnt out that I had a way to fill them, and now I’ve kept that going, but for a while, maybe the reason I couldn’t stick with it is because I didn’t need it.
Andra Zaharia: That is so true! I think that maybe journaling can also open a window towards more empathy towards ourselves because when we finally put that pen to paper – ideally, because that’s better for the brain – we finally get to see the words that we tell ourselves, the story that we tell ourselves, we get to see it, and then realize if it’s good or if it’s damaging for us. So, I know that you changed a lot of things about your mindset in the past couple of years, and you’ve talked about them so much and so lively, and in such a positive manner, which is something that I find incredible because it’s difficult to talk about these things in the first place, and then, it’s more difficult to talk about them because they talk about difficult experiences that you went through. How did you manage to find this courage, I guess, to write about all these things and take other people on the same journey with you?
Brittany Berger: It’s just really what helped me. I am the first to say that if it doesn’t actually help you and make you feel better, don’t do it. But for me, I am a writer and I was going through all this stuff, and so, writing about it is what helped. And I mean, I write even more, that I don’t publish because it’s too personal, believe it or not. If you read my Instagram feed, you know how personal I get, and so it’s like, “What could she possibly leave out?” But yeah, I don’t know how not to and I think that the approach for brand building is to just go with your natural instincts and then amplify them. My natural coping mechanism for stress is humor, and silliness, and sarcasm, and stuff like that, so I just amplify that. I think that we should all just be looking to amplify our natural tendencies rather than to fight against our natural tendencies for nuance – what we think they should be.
Andra Zaharia: This idea is absolutely something that was actually at the top of my mind, because I kept thinking how you’ve made your voice and your personality such a big part of your work and your brand, not only for your own projects but also on the projects that you worked with brands on. So, I’m very curious how those pieces came to be in terms of practicing that sort of empathy towards others who may be going through the same struggles as you? Was it part of the guidelines, how did that work? How do you capture that type of empathy in a piece that you do for a brand?
Brittany Berger: I think I just really try to look at context for things, especially with getting into the reader’s mind. One way I love opening up blog posts is by saying, “You know…” because I remember reading a blog post once – or maybe it was a tweet thread or something else – that it was complaining about how all blog posts start with something we already know. And I was like, “What if I played that up?” And I started by saying that, but then saying, “You already know this!” And so, just kind of like playing up natural situations. I think that I tend to be an observer and a people watcher, and I think that that ends up being good because I get a lot of context clues and kind of emotion behind things, maybe even more than if I was talking with someone directly. So, I think that that’s really helpful. For example, right now, I have been working on a few blog posts for CoSchedule that are about different parts of content systems; you are kind of putting in content systems, like the marketing manager doing that is probably really stressed out with how fast they’re growing, how many things are on their plate and stuff like that, so I’m really leaning into that and all of the intros and stuff like that, just trying to tap into the emotion and the context around the situation instead of just events and facts themselves. I think that a lot of empathy is found in the context.
Andra Zaharia: Absolutely! And it’s very interesting that you said that this is easier for you to do online than actually offline. So I’m very curious how do you gather all these pieces of context, these little bits? Where do they come from? Where do you find, let’s say, the nuance, especially for topics that you’re maybe less familiar with?
Brittany Berger: I love the internet! I mean, I just love social media because people are just so honest and open on it. Especially with working at Mention, I have learned a lot of tricks and stuff around monitoring and being able to surface specific information on social media, but I mean, that was so great for understanding not just other people, but myself too. When I was first coming to grips with chronic illness, it was what’s affectionately called Spoony Twitter that helped me so much with that, and it was just like other chronic illness people on Twitter, just talking so openly and honestly and transparently, and yeah, people are just so themselves on the internet, on social media and even offline. I think it’s just the kind of person I am where if I’m talking to someone, I think it’s maybe because of my energy, but I feel… Yeah, maybe that’s something I need to work on – being a better listener. I used to love people-watching at the mall, and I feel like I could learn more about someone a few tables away by watching them than by going up and talking to them. So, either online or offline, I think that people are just more themselves when you’re observing them than when you’re talking to them, a lot of times.
Andra Zaharia: So true, because it’s what people do, not what people say most often. And it’s even kind of true for ourselves as well because I feel that sometimes – and I saw this in my experience with burnout – we tell ourselves a certain story and we like to think that we’re keeping things under control and they’re not overwhelming and the I-can-do-this type of situation, but then, it spirals in a very not unforeseen direction, but one that we wanted to ignore. So, just working 12 hours a day for a few weeks straight, obviously, is not actually practicing what we preach. So, I really like that you brought up that idea, and I think that maybe there’s a lot of insight here from creatives in general because we have such a big challenge ahead of us with changing mentalities, we have such a big challenge ahead of us with so much competition everywhere and such a big volume of information just overflowing from everywhere at all times on any other topic. So, that emotional connection is central to every part of the creative work, and knowing how to tap into that, especially when we need to nurture some parts of ourselves, maybe, throughout this process is super important. So, thank you for sharing your advice with us! Speaking of content and content systems, one of the key topics in your work is productivity, and you talk about productivity hangovers. How did you end up using empathy for yourself to manage them or to avoid them? And could you walk us through that experience of it?
Brittany Berger: Sure thing! So, I had heard of personal energy management a little bit before all of my health issues, just in the productivity space, but I hadn’t really been convinced of it or I hadn’t really known how to apply it to me, but again, shout out to Spoony Twitter, because one of the things I learned when I was learning how to manage my chronic illness was Spoon Theory, which is something that people with chronic illness use to describe their limited and unknown amounts of energy any given day, and how important it is to choose what they do carefully. And so, there are a lot of different metaphors for this on different chronic illness websites and support forums. The one that I personally resonated with a lot was, think of people with chronic illness like a broken iPhone. You can charge it all night, but you might still wake up and it’s only 50% charged or sometimes it’ll be 100% charged but then go down to 10% charged in 15 minutes and you don’t know why. That’s life with chronic illness. And so, when you have a broken cellphone battery, think about how careful you are with, “What am I going to use? Who am I going to text versus who am I going to wait to text for later?” and stuff like that, and prioritize them, and that metaphor really helped energy management make sense for me.
Brittany Berger: So now, in Work Brighter, I like to call it Energy Management Spoon Theory for Healthy People, but it’s really that; that’s the best way to avoid productivity hangovers, because you start to pay attention to yourself and your energy and your mood around different types of work and how you can manage that accordingly. So, I think one of the best examples of this, from my own life, is that I used to batch all of my calls on either Tuesdays or Fridays, and then I used to try to make Wednesday a big writing day. And this was while I was at Mention, and when I was working partially remote – partially in office, but Tuesdays I would be going into the office. So, I was an introvert, I was burnt out, I was sick, and on Tuesdays, I was spending my day doing a 40-minute commute, spending most of my days on calls, commuting back home – collapsing – and then expecting myself to knock out thousands of words of content on Wednesday. That never happened and I couldn’t understand why, until I started thinking about energy management, and it was like, “Oh, I used Wednesday’s productivity pushing through Tuesday.” And so, that has been the best way for me to just always look at the bigger picture and the marathon versus the sprint. You can’t work too hard one day without it affecting the next day. All of the days are connected. I think we have a tendency to forget that and we push through today and say, “I’ll rest tomorrow” but then we wake up tomorrow and we push through that day too. And so, we have to remember where we’re borrowing this energy from.
Andra Zaharia: Exactly! And will our future selves be happy with the inheritance that we leave them and the problems that we let them deal with?
Brittany Berger: Inheritance! I love that!
Andra Zaharia: Yes, well, not a great one!
Brittany Berger: Well, I do love thinking about productivity, in general, like a compounding interest and so, inheritance plays into that! I love it!
Andra Zaharia: That is true! And another idea of yours – and I love that you name them and that they’re such catchy names – is the first-pancake rule for productivity. To me, that is a prime example of self-empathy, which actually gives you energy and it frees you to do so much more. Could you tell me a bit about that?
Brittany Berger: Sure! So, in my early days of productivity obsession, I had a book blog, and at first, this was backfilled in what I like to call “my work smarter” days versus “my work brighter” days, and so, I was trying to follow all of the traditional productivity and side-hustle advice, like waking up early and writing before your day job.
Andra Zaharia: Yes, of course.
Brittany Berger: Yeah. And it was a book blog, and so, I would just always end up back in bed reading. I could not get myself to get any work done; even on days that I would wake up and I actually would open my computer, I would just stare at it because my brain wasn’t working yet. And so, one of the days that I was back in bed, I ended up reading a scene in a book where they were making pancakes and they were talking about the first pancake thing, about how the first one is a throw-away because it saps up all of the extra butter, and now I realized… It wasn’t like an instant a-ha moment, but I remember that morning perfectly, I remember the book, and I eventually realized that’s how I could treat my morning where instead of doing eat the frog, which never appealed to me because I was learning that I am a night owl and I am a writer, and so it doesn’t make sense to do my hardest task when I’m at my energy’s lowest point. And so, I realized that instead, I could do the first pancake thing with my time management where the first hour is a throw-away. And so, first of all, I don’t even get right into work first thing in the day. I wake up, I journal, I watch TV, maybe I go for a walk or whatever, but even when I do start working, my first hour is admin. That’s normally all of the stuff we’re not supposed to do right away – moderating social media and checking my email and stuff like that – and I’m still doing it productively and intentionally. I’m not letting myself get sucked in. I’m doing it with a plan and with a Twitter list instead of just the feed and stuff like that. I’m doing it intentionally, but with the intention of getting a few quick productivity wins and getting a few real things crossed off my to-do list, like replying to an important email or replying to tweets that will grow my community before I reach my peak energy hours and actually should start writing.
Andra Zaharia: That is excellent advice because not everyone fits a pattern and I feel that, not all of them, but 99% of productivity articles are blanket statements that offer surefire ways to actually get a lot done, which is so not true because we’re so, so different and figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t is, to me, one of the best things we can actually do for ourselves, both in the short run and in the long run, because when you find that pace that suits you I think that the improvements are so obvious.
Brittany Berger: Exactly! So much of the productivity advice out here is about trying to turn yourself into a morning person. I googled it once and I tried to find a study and I don’t know how scientifically valid it is, but the best stat that I could find was that 30% of people are morning people. And so, what if the rest of us stopped trying to fit our natural tendencies to become a morning person, and instead just worked with our natural tendencies – how much more productive we would be, just during different hours?
Andra Zaharia: Exactly! I feel that this is especially true for any sort of creative work because you can’t summon inspiration. I mean, we all know this – you can’t summon that state of flow immediately; you have to progress into it, just build a system that gets you in the zone. And while that may work on most days, and it may not always work, I think that that really helps. And I love how your newsletters provide a lot of bits and pieces to put this all together. What would you say is at the center of all of this? What is the one biggest thing that has changed for you, comparing it to where you were before that severe burnout, and that has kind of pushed and influenced everything else afterwards?
Brittany Berger: I think it’s realizing there’s always going to be more time. It’s so hard not to get political, but it’s political – we’re living in capitalism. Capitalism is kind of a scam. It’s all about convincing us that there’s always more work to be done, there’s always more money to be made; that’s part of the principles of it. And we can’t escape capitalism or end capitalism. We have to balance it and learn how to protect ourselves, protect our energy, balance the work with other things, and capitalism tells us that work is all that matters, but it’s not. Especially if we’re playing the long game with our career, I feel like a lot of people are hesitant to embrace more self-care and empathy and stuff like that for themselves because they think like, “Oh, I actually love what I do. I don’t want to work less.” But it’s looking at the big picture. I want to be able to work until I’m 60 or more or whatever, like, I don’t want to burn out so badly that I either can’t work or that I hate my job by then. I want to still love it by then, and so, that means not overdosing on it now because capitalism told me there’s always more money to be made.
Andra Zaharia: This is so important and valuable, especially because when we think of the future – I remember reading a study in a book I read last year that clearly shows that when we think about the future, as humans, the biggest influence on our idea of the future is actually the present moment. We cannot think about the future completely cutting out our present context and situation. So, obviously, if we’re now working and most of our human needs are kind of covered by work, we’ll project ourselves to always be able to keep up with this, but it’s such a fake impression. Many of these realizations, once you have them, they sound very natural and very obvious, like, “Yeah, of course it works like this!” But there’s a process for everyone involved to get from there to these realizations. How did all these changes in perspective influence the way you work now and the way you choose your customers now?
Brittany Berger: I definitely choose a lot less customers and clients, I’m definitely focused on growing slowly and, again, there’s the thinking that there’s always more time, like there’s always going to be other clients coming. If I take on a client that I’m not going to enjoy working with now, that takes my time and energy away from being able to say yes to a potential dream client that contacts me tomorrow. And yeah, looking at slow growth over quick hacks and wins and stuff like that… Like, for example, in selling my own digital products, the common approach is, basically, to try to have your sales funnel be as short as possible and try to get people to buy on the Thank You page and then have an order bump and an upsell – all these different things – and instead of doing that, what if I just was always putting the next best offer right in front of someone? And so, I was trying to work on finding the balance between always pushing for the sale and pushing for the next best step. Sometimes that’ll be the sale – not always – because I feel like my own tendency was… Also, this is kind of a random algorithm, but balance is so important because, like I said, I realized that pushing for the sale was bad and so, then, my first tendency was to pull back and not push for the sale as much but then I wasn’t really pushing for anything. And so, everything is a balance and I think that how it’s impacting my marketing and my customers these days is that I am trying to be more “pushy” but pushing for the next best action in their best interest as opposed to a sale.
Andra Zaharia: Beautiful phrasing! Beautiful and full of empathy towards both themselves and yourself. It’s so wonderful to watch you and to hear you talk about all of these things because I think that that’s a place that many of us want to get to and the fact that you went through this process of change, of finding what really matters for you and finding a rhythm that suits you and that’s healthy, I think that your examples are so important to show us that yes, we can do that, and that it’s actually within our power, especially on those days when you feel like, “I’m never going to get there”, but you do get there. And yes, there will be off-days even after that, but we’ll already have made all this progress until then, and that’s pretty amazing.
Brittany Berger: I always try to tell myself, “I’ll meet my goals, it’s just going to take longer than I planned.”
Andra Zaharia: That’s such a simple and beautiful way to describe it!
Brittany Berger: I know! I wish it was as easy to actually believe as it is to say. It took me so long, but I feel like most days I believe it now. Not all, but most.
Andra Zaharia: And you share it with others as well because Work Brighter, to me, is just my go-to source when I need that uplifting feeling that’s also very constructive. It’s not just, “be happy”. It’s something that’s very practical and relatable, and I love that! How did growing this community and growing the entire concept happen? How did it change your experience of how you receive empathy and give empathy to others?
Brittany Berger: It’s all been very natural and organic, which tells me that it’s right. Originally, it’s been a long journey. Back in my hustle days, it was a productivity blog and a newsletter and I called it “Work Smarter”, which is now one of my least favorite phrases. And so, it’s kind of been on the journey with me where it used to be all about productivity, just like I was all about productivity and when I realized that obsessing over productivity was very detrimental to me, and I needed to balance that with self-care and hobbies, and mental health, then I incorporated all of that stuff into Work Brighter as well, and it’s funny that the name didn’t even mean that much at first. Originally, the name came from the fact that I just thought a lot of the work-smarter productivity brands were very bland and boring, and you would go to most of their websites and it’s all black and white. And so, instead of the black and white work smarter, it was the colorful work brighter; but I feel like the more I learn, the more meaning is behind it. Again, now it’s also kind of a reminder that it’s about more than productivity and more than just working smarter, and it kind of describes life before and after hustle culture, before you’re working smarter and everything is in black and white, and it’s kind of like the beginning of the Wizard of Oz – like I like to say – the burnout was my tornado, and Work Brighter is kind of like Oz and it’s this technicolor land.
Andra Zaharia: That’s a beautiful description! And it also kind of emphasizes the fact that self-awareness, and all this work that we do with ourselves and others to make our lives better, our businesses better and so on, is a spectrum and there are so many nuances that we can explore, to actually find what works best.
Brittany Berger: Yeah, like I said before, it’s all about context. Nothing is black and white. It’s bright!
Andra Zaharia: It definitely is! You talk about all these very vulnerable aspects of your life, of your personality, of your experience, and I imagine that you get a lot of emotional responses. Did you ever suffer from generosity burnout? How do you manage that, especially given that you’re an introvert?
Brittany Berger: I only share vulnerable stuff when it feels good. Like, if you go to my Insta stories, it’s all very TMI, but it’s not all emotional TMI, like a lot of it is what I’m currently watching on Netflix. And so, I really try hard to avoid sharing for vulnerability’s sake or because I want engagement. I do know that when I get emotional and get personal, I get a good response, and as a marketer, I then, tend to be like, “Okay!” But it’s, again, self-awareness, and it’s asking myself when I’m about to share something personal and something that’s maybe kind of hard to write about, am I doing this because it’s going to make me feel better or because I know it’s going to get likes? I like to remind myself, “Brittany, if you wanted to be internet famous, you could have just started posting pictures of our family dogs a long time ago and it’d be done.” That’s not why I’m online.
Andra Zaharia: So, definitely you can see throughout all these things, how you’re always very attuned to what others might experience as a result of what you put out there, but also, you stick to your values and to your principles, which is something that I always love and admire. So, this definitely works for you in the sense that it is natural and it’s an integral part of your work. Do you think that empathy is something that all brands can practice and that might work similarly to all brands?
Brittany Berger: Yeah, definitely! I think that you can definitely be empathetic for your customers without necessarily opening up and being super vulnerable. So, you can bring more empathy to any situation, and I think that, honestly, it really does, especially for bigger brands that aren’t personal brands, as well, it really has more to do with how you treat others than how you position or talk about yourself and your employees – although that could be a really great part of that, it could also be how you have empathy for your employees. When I think of an empathetic brand, I immediately think of Buffer – from the way that they do their customer service; I am currently being moved from one of their older legacy accounts up to one of their newer pricing plans and just the way that they’ve been going about it from a customer service angle has been wonderful, where they first gave me the new features, and then they said, “You have these new features, now we’re going to bump the price up a little bit.” And you can tell that they went about it with so much empathy. You can also tell from the way their employees talk about the company and working there, and the company culture stuff, that they have that same empathy for their own employees. And yeah, I think that empathy goes so much beyond your copy, or what you talk about. It’s really how you treat the people involved in your business.
Andra Zaharia: I love that example because that’s the first thing I think about when I think of brands as well. I think kindness overflows into the community through everything they do, and they set such a good example for everyone else, and we need a lot more of this and I don’t think there will ever be enough, actually.
Brittany Berger: I know! And I feel like people take the wrong things away from transparent company culture. They think like, “Oh, yeah, we need to make our salaries public or we need to make our income public.” And it’s like, I want to know how you treat your employees when they do something wrong or something like that – so much more than the money and the numbers.
Andra Zaharia: It definitely is! And I was curious if there are any particular people who have influenced you in this journey in the marketing community, who maybe you see not as role models, necessarily – we don’t want to use pedestals here – but people who have led the way in all these conversations and who continue to keep them at the top of the industry agenda?
Brittany Berger: Yeah! I love Ann Handley. I still re-read Everybody Writes so much, and I feel like she is someone who also showed me you can be a fun, quirky woman in marketing and still be really admired and taken seriously, and as a very, very silly woman. That’s something that I needed to be assured of. Another great influence has been Mark Schaefer, not that I’ve ever interacted with him, but the Content Shock blog post changed so much for me the first time I read it, and yeah, I mean, you introduced me as a minimalist content marketer – that is because I read that blog post, I saw a name to what I was feeling, I saw validation and I saw all of this was going to get worse, and I started thinking about it and changing how I approached marketing because of it. And I feel like this whole trajectory that my career is on now, is because I learned about Content Shock.
Andra Zaharia: That is so awesome to hear! I was actually going to get right into this because your content, your approach to content, this counterintuitive advice to create less instead of more – which is still the usual MO, and it’s still something that brands have top of mind. I think it’s so incredibly valuable, especially with the platform limitations that we have now in terms of algorithms and all that. What are the key principles behind your minimalist approach? And how do your customers embrace them? Because I know that they might have a bit of a difficult time adjusting to kind of this new way of seeing content.
Brittany Berger: Sure! So, I like to say that the three rules of minimalist content marketing are to focus on using content over creating it, define what enough content is, and how much content you actually need – and that’s where the minimalist part comes in, since that’s something from the minimalist movement that I’ve been really inspired by – and always remix and repurpose your greatest hits, because, like you said, the algorithms are tricky, and so, sometimes you put out something and the reason it failed isn’t because the content was bad, it was just you might need to tweak something to make the algorithm happier or something like that. And so, I might want to change the wording of that role to never post something just once.
Andra Zaharia: That is so true, and I hope that more and more, not just marketers, but content creators of any sort, really, considered this approach, especially because it helps you to give yourself more time to work on content that almost always leads to better results, to refining it, to taking it a bit further and going a bit deeper into the topic and so on. That’s definitely something that we need more of, and I feel that, as a content creator, I always feel like I would love to spend more time on some pieces.
Brittany Berger: Exactly! We’ve all heard the promote or distribute or optimize as much as you create, and we don’t know how it’s possible because we’re already so busy; we need to take that time away from creating. And so, I feel like a lot of people, when you first tell them to stop creating so much content, they’re like, “Well, I need to put this time into content marketing?” And it’s like, “Yes, into marketing!” And so, it’s not about spending less time on your content or on content marketing, it’s about spending less time on the creation part, so that you can finally have the time and the energy that you wanted to have for the other parts of it.
Andra Zaharia: Beautiful! And to make this, what would be the one thing you’d recommend people to listen to or read or just watch, if they were to start flipping that switch from creating – just focus 90% on creating – to having a more balanced approach?
Brittany Berger: The one thing that you can go do today is, go find your top-trafficked blog post, and most likely it is going to be something that’s pretty old, and I’m going to assume that it’s a little bit out of date in terms of information. More importantly, I’m going to bet it’s pretty out of date in terms of strategy. I bet the calls to action in it are not going to be the most recent calls to action that your business wants to be promoting. And so, I want you to go update your most popular post to make it reflect your current marketing goals. Always remix and repurpose your greatest hits! I talk so much about pop culture and music and stuff in my brand, and it’s not just because I love pop culture. I do. It’s also because they’re good at this. Think about Greatest Hits albums, think about Greatest Hits tours – what can you be doing for your greatest hits?
Andra Zaharia: I love that! You are, indeed, a content DJ, and it’s just been absolutely fantastic talking to you! Thank you so much for sharing all of these insights and your experiences, and to always bring in your whole self to everything that you do. This really matters!
Brittany Berger: Thank you so much!
Connect with Brittany:
Resources mentioned in the episode:
- Book: David Allen – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- Book: Ann Handley – Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content
- Blog Post: Mark Schaefer – Content Shock: Why Content Marketing Is Not a Sustainable Strategy
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