We all have days when we’re struggling to get through our workday because we’re tired or unwell. Whether you had a sleepless night or you’re coming down with a cold, there’ll be mornings when you barely have the energy to drag yourself out of bed.
But when you’re living with chronic health problems or disabilities, you might be dealing with exhaustion, pain or limitations on a more regular basis. With symptoms flaring up unexpectedly, it’s just not possible to call in sick every time you feel worn out.
So somehow you’ll have to find a way to function well at your job while still looking after your health. Maybe your situation requires you to consider long-term solutions, like talking with your boss to explore alternatives or adjusting your work environment to meet your needs. But on days that you (still) feel run-down and miserable, what can you do to be as productive as possible?
Short-Term Strategies to Survive Your Workday When You’re Completely Exhausted
- Prioritise. At the beginning of your workday, make a list of your Most Important Tasks (MIT’s). Plan to do your MIT’s during the time of day when you’re most likely to feel OK. When small, less important tasks come up during the day, write them on a separate list and process them when you’re generally less productive.
- Don’t rely on caffeine, sugar and high – glycemic products to get you through the day. Turning to coffee and energy drinks for a quick pick-me-up will make you even more tired in the long-term. Caffeine and sugar will cause a spike in your metabolism, giving you a burst of energy, but it’s often followed by a crash. Try to limit your intake of coffee, black tea and chocolate to 2 – 3 cups a day and choose snacks that will keep your blood sugar levels stable, like raw unsalted nuts, unsweetened yoghurt or a boiled egg.
- Stimulate your productivity by bringing the outdoors inside. If possible, pick a desk near a window and let some fresh air and sunlight in to boost your energy levels. Even better, find a work station with a ‘green’ view. Studies have shown that looking at natural surroundings – even isolated pockets of green in an urban environment – improves your mental performance and benefits your health. Does your office window only offer views of concrete? Chose a nature-inspired screen saver or adorn your cubicle with plants.
- Work smart to conserve your mental energy. When you’re tired, it’s much harder to concentrate on your work. In order to focus and get things done, it helps to block out distractions that disrupt your work flow. Turn off your email notifications to avoid getting sucked into the Internet or put on your headphones to limit interruptions by your co-workers. It’s also important to do only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking might seem efficient, but frequently switching between tasks exhausts your mind and makes you prone to errors, especially when you’re not feeling well. So stick to single-tasking to preserve your brain power.
- Move around regularly. Getting up every hour to stretch your legs will keep your blood flowing and help you stay alert. You could walk over to your colleague instead of shooting them an email.
- Embrace mini – breaks. Take a 3-minute break every (half) hour. Walk over to the printer to stretch your legs, listen to one upbeat song or find a quiet corner to mindfully drink a cup of tea. If necessary, go to the toilets for just a minute to close your eyes and take deep belly breaths.
- Eat multiple small meals instead of three big ones. Eating healthy when you feel exhausted can be tricky. You want to give your body the necessary fuel to perform well, but you don’t want a large or heavy meal to drain your last bit of energy. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep may actually cause you to overeat – up to 550 calories more than usual. Instead of three hearty meals, try to eat five fist- sized portions of energy-boosting foods, like leafy greens,whole grains, legumes, berries and seeds. It’s less taxing on your digestive system and delivers a steady stream of nutrients throughout the day.
- If possible, alternate between physically, mentally and emotionally demanding tasks. By switching between different types of tasks, you avoid depletion in one area spilling over to a general feeling of exhaustion. For example, after working on a challenging project behind your computer, you could do some filing or make a phone call while gently pacing around.
- Boost your energy in natural ways. Experiment with healthy ways to stay alert and work through your exhaustion. Little tricks like splashing cold water on your wrists and earlobes, watching a motivational video or using essential oils such as citrus to reduce fatigue can make getting through your work day a little easier.
- Plan ahead, but take each moment one by one. It can really help to plan your day to manage your energy and reduce stress, but being aware of how much you have to do on a particular day can also feel overwhelming. So take it step by step and focus on tackling one task at a time.
What is your best strategy to get through the work day when you’re not feeling well?