The past month has been mentally exhausting.
Most people around the world have been quarantined at home. Many have lost friends, loved ones, or people in their cities that make the coronavirus pandemic feel very close to home. People have been laid off. People have stopped being able to live their passions out in the world. Music is being streamed less. Events have been canceled. The world is at a standstill.
And mental burnout feels like you’ve hit a wall.
At this point, we all know the feeling.
Burnout can happen at the end of the day, on Friday at the end of your week, or sometimes it can happen after just a few hours of trying to tackle the day amidst headline after headline of bad news.
Burnout isn’t always this big catastrophic event where your life suddenly resembles a one-sided seesaw.
It can happen in small moments too.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is what causes mental burnout — specifically, what causes it to happen in those small intervals where all of a sudden you feel like you don’t want to do anything at all (even if you need to).
Burnout is the result of a lack of input.
This is my big conclusion.
If I watch myself carefully, I notice that transitioning between too many activities, too often, is what causes mental burnout.
What I mean is, each activity in itself isn’t necessarily what causes tiredness or a lack of motivation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Each activity, once you get into the flow, feels good. You know what you’re focused on, and you have no problem remaining focused for a long period of time.
Where the exhaustion comes in is when you stop doing that one activity, only to immediately move into another.
There is no transition.
If you want to prevent mental burnout during this challenging time, this 1 habit is all you’ll need.
Separate each output activity with a few small moments of input.
After a work session, read.
After a Zoom meeting, go sit by yourself for 5–10 minutes and reflect.
After a morning of working, eat lunch with your significant other, partner, roommate, etc., without checking your phone.
When you separate moments of output with small moments of input, the transition becomes a time to recharge.
Instead, what most people do is compound activity after activity until they have no more output left.
Most of us spend 90% of our days in output mode.
We’re on the phone. We’re answering emails. We’re having meetings. We’re doing the work. We’re doing more work. We’re catering to other people. We’re checking our email again.
On and on and on it goes — never once pausing to give ourselves a moment of transition.
Where’s the input?
This is the most simple, and yet the most impactful habit of all, this habit of input-focused transitions.
Don’t just jump from activity to activity. Don’t book your entire day with output activities. You have to eat lunch, don’t you? What if you never slept either?
There is a reason we need basic inputs in order to survive as humans.
Apply those same principles to the way you live your life and you’ll never burn out.
This article originally appeared on Medium.