When you’re self-employed, being too tired to work can be rough.
Unlike employees who can slouch from time to time and still collect their paychecks, the income of small entrepreneurs is generally dependent on them actually working.
But trying to get your tired backside to do something when you just don’t have the energy can be as painful as pulling teeth and as futile as trying to drag a dead horse. It just ain’t going to happen.
Perhaps you have been pushing really hard on a project without taking regular breaks or time off. Or you have been dealing with an intense family emergency. Or maybe it’s a just lack of sleep. Either way, you’re experiencing minor to severe fatigue.
There is, of course, a fine balance here. As a creator, it’s important to have discipline. To create even if you don’t feel like creating. In this article, I’m not talking about something a pep talk or energy drink could cure, I’m referring to the times when you are bone-tired.
To figure out the most productive thing to do, determine your energy level
To make this article as practical as possible, I won’t just give general recommendations, I will give them based on your energy level.
Here’s how to determine your current energy level: On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “I have the energy level of a hibernating bear” and 10 is “I could move mountains” where are you at?
Energy levels 6–10
- If your current energy level is at a 9 or 10, go move mountains! This is the time to do things that require extraordinary creativity, courage, or grit. If you’ve been meaning to pitch someone you admire, now’s the time. If you’ve been wanting to create a business model, get going. If you’ve been planning to create an ambitious book proposal, go get ’em, tiger!
- If your energy level is between 6 and 8, it’s a good time to focus on the regular tasks in your business: creating content, marketing, doing work for clients, admin work, etc.
Energy level 5 or lower
- If your current energy level is at a 5, you’re right at the border of “too tired to work.” You might like to try to increase it to a 6 or higher. What can help with that is getting fresh air, meditating, physical activity such as going for a walk (if you’re able to do that), listening to upbeat music, or drinking plenty of water (dehydrating can cause fatigue).
- It can also help to connect to your passion for your work. Passion is a great source of energy!
- If you can’t increase your energy level, give yourself an hour and try working on your regular tasks. If you get nowhere, abandon these efforts and instead follow the suggestions below.
- If your current level is 4 or lower, you could give yourself an hour and try if you can productively do your normal tasks. Unless you’re experiencing these feelings of fatigue every day due to external circumstances (such as a newborn baby), I would advise against it. You probably won’t get anything useful done so it’s more productive to follow the suggestions below.
- If you're habitually at level 4 or lower, it might be a good time to plan a vacation.
Productive things to do when you’re too tired to work
For the purpose of this article, we’ll define “too tired to work” as energy levels 5–1. Of course, there are distinctions between these levels. While a car with a half-full gas tank can still get you far, the same isn’t true for one that’s running near empty.
Here’s how to use this list: Ideally, do the thing that’s associated with your current or any lower energy level. If you want to try a suggestion from a higher energy level, at least don’t go more than two energy levels up. For instance, if your current energy level is a 2, the suggestion for level 5 is probably not a great fit for you.
Energy level 5: Learn something new
- Since this level is right at the cusp of “normal functioning,” it’s a good idea to take it just a notch down. Instead of creating, this can be a good time to consume and learn something new. For instance, if there is a business-related course or a book you have bought but not finished, now is a good time to focus on that.
- If you don’t have any unfinished courses or books, please don’t buy anything new (unless you had been meaning to anyway)! You could instead read some business-related articles that teach you new things.
- Learning something new will have you feel productive and you will have learned new things you can apply when you feel more rested.
Energy level 4: Clean up your inbox
- Unless you maintain a perfect inbox zero (where you have no emails in your inbox), your inbox could probably use a “spring cleaning.” If you don’t yet have a folder system in place, sort all emails into 3 folders: trash (emails you don’t want to keep), respond (emails you want or need to respond to), and archive (emails you want to keep).
- If it doesn’t take you long to do this, you can start responding to emails that just require a quick, simple response. You might want to leave the more complicated, important ones for times when you are more energetic.
- If you have a perfect inbox, you can instead clean or organize something else, either digital or in the physical world.
Energy level 3: Nurture your professional relationships
- At level 3, you have just enough energy to scroll through social media posts or articles. While social media is typically not a productive use of your time, commenting on the posts of people in your professional sphere (for instance, fellow creators) from time to time helps nurture the relationships you have with them.
- Think of some professional friends and colleagues you haven’t connected with in a while and go to their social media profile or blog. Find some interesting posts and then comment on them.
Energy level 2: Relax and do something fun
- When you’re at level 2, you too tired to work but not tired enough to sleep. Clearly, this is the wrong time to focus on productivity. Most people work too much and play too little so why waste time being unproductive when you could instead have fun?
- Taking it slowly when your energy is low also helps you adjust to the natural ebb and flow of business. As my friend Stephen Cull put it: “most Western education brainwashes people to compulsively work harder the more fatigued they become, which causes predictable fluctuations in the markets during stressful periods…. Intriguingly, successful business people tend to do the opposite…”
- Great options for this energy level include catching up with friends or family, going for a walk, meditating, or reading a non-business book (may I suggest fiction books for their many benefits?). You could also watch a show or movie although that’s probably less likely to restore your energy levels than the other options I mentioned.
Energy level 1: Sleep or nap
- This is literally the most productive thing any of us can do: avoid the harmful effects of sleep deprivation (for instance, deficits in attention and working memory) by getting adequate sleep! By getting at least 8 hours of sleep tonight, you set yourself up for success tomorrow.
- By taking a power nap during the day, you also give yourself the chance to increase your energy level from where it’s currently at.
If you’re too tired to work, pick something to do that’s appropriate for your current energy level so you can be productive in aligned ways!
By skillfully managing your energy, you can be as productive as possible at every level. Instead of fighting the wave, you can ride it. And what could be more productive and energy-efficient than that?
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