The key to avoiding burnout is to do just enough every day. While that advice is simple, it’s challenging to apply because life is complex. What is “enough”?
When we look at productive people from the outside, we often assume that they are working 18 hours a day. We see people like Stephen King who publishes a book a year, and think, “Wow, that guy must write all day long.” That’s not the case.
In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King writes the following:
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words.”
That might take a few hours, not the entire day. In fact, in his memoir, he writes about having enough time in the day to go for a walk, read a lot, spend time with his wife, and watch baseball.
If you’ve done enough work, it’s time to call it quits for that day. And for Stephen King, enough means writing 2,000 words. To avoid burnout, we need to figure out what enough is for us. That’s the only sustainable way to have a long and consistent career.
Figure Out Your “Minimum Output Level”
To apply this strategy, you need to know what your “minimum output level” (MOL) should be per day, week, or month—depending on what type of work you’re in. You want to get clear on the key measure for your work.
Let’s continue with the Stephen King example. His key measure is words. So where did he get his 2,000 words a day from? This is what he writes:
“That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.”
To write a book in three months, he simply needs to write 2,000 words a day—that’s his MOL. Now, notice that he doesn’t want to write a book in one month.
This is where most of us screw up. We take daily actions that are simply not sustainable. We set those goals without thinking about the end result.
One of my friends recently said, “I plan to run every day. And my goal is to run 50K a week.” What’s that? Do you want to run a marathon? I asked. He just wanted to run more and stay in shape. Running those types of distances are fine if you’re training for a competition, but if you have other things in your life, it’s just too much. I’ve made that mistake as well and ended up injured.
We often take on too much. And as a result, we burn out quickly. Here’s a better strategy for figuring out your MOL, and how much energy you should exert every day:
- Set a realistic goal that you control and gives you enough time to complete your objective (be ambitious but not crazy)
- Break it down to minimum daily actions
Let’s say you set the goal of starting a profitable side-business within one year. And you break it down into daily actions. This is what it could look like on a day-to-day basis:
- You set aside one hour every day to work on it (not just some days)
- You’re okay with calling it quits after you’ve put in the work
- You don’t look at other people with side-business and think, “I should work harder.”
- You enjoy your days
- You work on your side-business every day
- But if you’re feeling bad one or two days, you don’t
- You don’t beat yourself up for that
- You pick it up again
And finally, if you’re really busy, and you think to yourself, “I need to do MORE,” remind yourself that you’ve done enough.
It’s all about LONG-TERM results. How do you build a profitable online business with 10 income streams? You start with creating one.
Avoiding Burnout Requires Saying No
Here’s what I’ve learned after studying personal productivity for 10 years. It’s easier to say “yes” than to say “no” to yourself and other people.
We should not underestimate the draw of external things on our attention. I’m talking about these types of thoughts that you might have:
- I need to grow my business faster
- I need to get a promotion every two years
- I need to post something on social media every day
- I need to work out every day
- I need to buy a new house
The list of “needs” we have is endless. This all leads to chaos in your mind. As a result, you can’t think clearly and your natural tendency is to create order. We try to organize more by using complicated to-do lists or productivity systems that push us to do more work.
When I created my productivity system in 2016, I built it on the foundation of doing the same amount of work in less time. To me, that’s the essence of doubling your productivity. It doesn’t mean spending twice as much time.
I think it’s a mistake to simply do more in more time. That takes all the fun out of life. Who cares about 10X-ing your productivity if you have to give up a happy life? Not everyone needs to be Elon Musk who works 100 hours a week.
Instead, focus on what you want to get out of life. If we think about that deeply, most of us realize we don’t need much. By getting enough work done effectively, you’ll have more free time for other things. And those other things are what give us energy, joy, excitement, etc.
Optimize Your Life and Work For Consistency
Every time you think you need to do more, you probably need to do less, but more effectively. The reason for this is the length of life.
While our days are short, our lives are long. When we try to cram everything in a short amount of time and expect too much of ourselves, we burn out. It’s a universal law. I’ve never met a person who’s immune to that.
But if we do enough every day, we can avoid burnout. The key is to optimize your life for consistency. And when you’ve done enough, call it quits and pick it up the next day.