Nicolas Bouliane

Slowing down Posted on

I’m too busy.

Adulthood feels like being on treadmill that never stops. When I slow down to catch my breath, I must make up for it later. While I’m on vacation, chores and bills pile up, waiting for my return. Nothing is ever just done. The treadmill is just the overhead of running a business, of being an adult.

I’ve been at it for a while, but recently the treadmill has been going faster - too fast. My work is preordained for months, and I never to build new things, to play or experiment. Not without neglecting something.

Objectively, things are fine. All About Berlin - the website I run for a living - is steadily improving. The digital garden grows, flowers and bears fruit. But it’s a big garden. I spend more and more time on upkeep, rarely finding the energy to plant seeds.

I want to slow the treadmill down. I want to give myself more slack to build great things. This is a post about what I tried, and how it went.

Sleeping dog


When I was in college, I built websites for small businesses. Things beyond my control sometimes went wrong, and it was my job to fix them right now. I’d get a frantic call from a client because their email server went down, and I had to drop everything and fix it. Even during finals week. Even on a family trip. Even when nursing a hangover.

Since then, I’ve been exceedingly wary of creating time-sensitive work for myself. Better automate a job at a convenient time than being bothered at an inconvenient time. I never want to interrupt a vacation to renew an SSL certificate again.

However, I still need to bite the bullet sometimes. I wrote a few important calculators that need a yearly update in January. I will update them for a third year next week. I’m getting much better at it. Each year, the code is a little easier to update, the tests a little more thorough. Eventually, I hope that it will mostly update itself.

There’s one last task that requires a lot of maintenance: my guide on choosing a German bank. Banks frequently change their terms and update their fees, and it’s a pain to rewrite the guide every few months. I’m thinking of either hiring someone to update the information, or sharing the work with other websites that have similar guides.


If I can’t automate something, I try to do it a lot less often.

Bookkeeping is an unavoidable part of self-employment. Every month, I must ask all of my partners to send me their conversion numbers so I can issue an invoice. Then I must create the invoice, send it, and make sure that it gets paid. It’s tedious work.

I convinced most of my partners to switch from monthly to quarterly invoicing. That cuts my work by two thirds. I’m considering yearly invoicing for some partners.

When I can’t automate billing, I prepay long in advance. My hosting bills are covered for the next 5 years. That cuts down on bookkeeping.


My main work - researching and editing guides - is fully manual. It involves monitoring dozens of topics, and updating the website when something changes.

There is just too much to keep track of, so I use Wachete to do it. It monitors pages for changes. I watch hundreds of pages about German law, taxes, bureaucracy and other topics. If a page changes, I get an email. This is how I keep the website up to date without losing my sanity.

I also use Better Uptime to get notified if something goes wrong with the website. So far, it never happened. I’m still looking for a similar solution to monitor backups and other background tasks.

I’ve recently implemented “time bombs” on All About Berlin. They’re little snippets that fail to compile after a certain date. Here is an example:

The rules will change in April 2024.{{ fail_on('2024-04-01') }}

This content has an expiration date. After April 2024, this page will not build. It’s a loud reminder to update it. For me, that means one less thing to monitor.


I have created a small community of immigration experts. We share knowledge and answer each other’s questions. It allows me to answer tricky questions in minutes instead of weeks.

I also moved from a content management system to a static site generator. It completely eliminated website maintenance work, and made me much more productive when editing content. It did for my work what a sharp knife and a well laid out kitchen does for a chef’s. I wrote about it.

Saying no

When I started All About Berlin, I often used the line “what are they gonna do, fire me? ask for their money back?” Somewhere along the way I lost the arrogance and started taking my work much more seriously.

I often find myself in a position where helping someone costs me very little, and has a huge impact. But the costs add up, and they speed up the treadmill.

I got better at saying “no”. It’s harder when someone you respect has a great idea, but there just isn’t enough time to do it. When I started my career I was the one pestering others for a chance, an opportunity. Now opportunities fall on my lap and I’m too damn busy to exploit them.

I know that I don’t owe anyone my time and energy. I’m offering a lot of valuable information for free already. I don’t feel great about declining people, but it has become a necessity.

Telling people this was a relief. I had to start telling people to find help elsewhere, and to set clear boundaries with my vacation responder. It allows me to really disconnect and unwind. As I am typing this, my vacation responder has been on for 8 weeks, and guess what… the website still runs fine!

Doing less

More and more, I do less and less. I have shelved many projects in 2023 to stay focused on what matters to me.

I try to keep my business lean. I don’t want to waste time on ceremonial aspects like printing stickers and business cards, running a newsletter, being a guest on podcasts and so on. I try to do what needs doing, and nothing more.


It worked, mostly. I managed to set everything aside for a few weeks to make use of the nice weather. For a few weeks in May, nothing got done, and it felt great. On rainy days I would just make a few small fixes and keep up with emails, but that was it.

It felt good to be back in control of my time.