By Leo Babauta, ZenHabits
“A man grows most tired while standing still.”
It’s tough being tired all day. I’ve had days like this, when I’m struggling through the day and don’t have the energy to tackle anything that matters.
Hell, I’ve had years like this.
When you’re tired, not much seems appealing. Life is dulled, and you don’t get much accomplished. Worst, you don’t have the energy to change the situation.
These days I don’t have many days like this, but when I do, I rest. We have gotten good at ignoring our body’s signals. Much of our lives is training our minds to pretend our bodies aren’t tired, so we can be more productive.
This is wrong. It ends up in burnout and less production, because we inevitably run out of energy. Listen to your body–your long-term health and sanity depend on it.
Why We’re Tired
Mostly we’re tired because we don’t rest enough. Yeah, I know: duh, Leo. But if it’s so obvious, why do we ignore it?
The Spanish famously have siestas. When I get tired, so do I. It’s a luxury not everyone can afford, but even when I had a day job I would find ways to sneak into a back room and take a power nap of 20 minutes.
We don’t rest enough. It’s not as important as other things: waking early, getting stuff done, attending to a thousand meetings, being sucked into the world of online connections and reading, godforsaken television.
So we cut rest in favor of these other things that are much more important, and then wonder why our energy levels are low.
But there’s more. If you’re like me, you drink coffee in the morning. You might drink more later in the morning, to keep yourself energized. By the time afternoon rolls around, you’re in caffeine withdrawal. This is often why people are sapped by mid-afternoon.
We also run ourselves too fast, like a sprint, when life is much longer than a sprint. Try it: Go outside and sprint all-out for two minutes. Stop, breathe for a sec, then sprint again. See how long you can keep that up. Most can’t go very long. Our days are like a series of sprints.
Note: Sometimes chronic fatigue can be a sign of deeper problems. For athletes, it’s often a sign of over-training. For others, it could be a sign of depression or other medical issues. If it’s a continuing problem, I would recommend getting checked out, just in case.
How To Get Started When You’re Too Tired To Start
My first suggestion is to take a nap. If you’re too tired to take other steps, taking a nap is easy. If you can’t take a nap, at the very least disconnect from digital devices. Computers and smartphones are powerful tools, but being on them for too long tires us out.
Disconnect, get outside, take a walk. Cancel an appointment or two if you can. Stretch. Massage your shoulders. Close your eyes for a few minutes. Breathe.
These are small things you can do right away, and they will help you become more rested.
Once you’ve taken the first steps, you’ll be a bit more rested and can take a few more steps:
1. Sleep more at night. If you’re not getting at least seven hours of sleep, you’re probably getting too little. Lots of people need a full eight hours, and some need more. Go to bed earlier–the Internet will be fine without you. I like to read before bed (a book, not websites) as a ritual that helps me sleep. It takes awhile before your sleeping patterns change. If you have insomnia, try my simple cure.
2. Take stretch breaks. We sit for too long at the computer, sapping energy. Get up, stretch, every 20 to 25 minutes. Walk around for a minute or five. Move in any way you can–do push-ups, squats, lunges, jump up and down, do a dance. Get the blood circulating.
3. Exercise regularly. You needed me to tell you to exercise, I’m sure. But it’s amazing how even a little exercise can help you to feel more energized throughout the day. A huge workout session can leave you exhausted–in which case you should rest–but shorter workouts leave you physically just a bit tired, but mentally you feel amazing.
4. Cut back the caffeine. If you go cold turkey with caffeine, you’ll really have no energy. But cutting back a little at a time, while doing some of the things mentioned here, won’t be bad. And you’ll skip the afternoon withdrawal, which can ruin half your day. If you feel tired from drinking less caffeine, take a short nap.
5. Be less busy. Seriously, we’re too busy these days. Cut back on commitments, put space between things, allow yourself to have a slower pace. Your energy levels will thank you.
6. Focus. While most people multitask, in truth that’s mental juggling. And there’s only so much you can do in a day. As most of you know, I advocate single-tasking. It’s basically doing one thing at a time, and being fully present while doing that task. This really transforms anything you do, from work tasks to conversations to chores like washing the dishes. It’s less tiring, mentally, and it can make anything you do more enjoyable. Life is less tiring when you single-task.
7. Hydrate. This is actually a huge factor that most people don’t realize is making them tired. Drink water throughout the day. You don’t really need eight glasses of water (we get some in food and other drinks), but drinking more water doesn’t hurt. Your pee should be a light yellow if you’re well hydrated (not clear, definitely not dark yellow).
8. Freshen up. Sometimes a quick, cold shower in the afternoon or evening can be refreshing. Or change your socks. If you’re sweaty, a fresh outfit also helps. Wash your face. You’ll feel brand new.
9. Work on something you’re excited about. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll feel energized. If you don’t really care about your work, you’ll be dragging. Read this if you need help.
10. Work with interesting people. If you work with other people who are passionate about something, you’ll feel more excited about the work you do. It’s incredible to work with a partner or group of people who care about what they’re doing, who are fired up. If you don’t have that, seek it out.
11. Learn what makes life effortless. We thrash about in the water all day, making the swim exhausting. Instead of working against the world, learn to glide. I write about this more in my new book, The Effortless Life. More soon!
“A lot of people are tired around here, but I’m not sure they’re ready to lie down, stretch out, and fall asleep.”