Last Monday was a bad day. I felt like a giant pile of garbage and all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed, watch Netflix and drink copious amounts of tea all day. Unfortunately when you work for yourself, days like this can be pretty expensive because no one can do your work for you and freelance clients don’t offer sick days. Damn it. Now that I have a child, days like this are even more expensive because I still have to pay for the childcare I arranged before I knew I was going to feel like giant of sack of shit, regardless of whether my child actually attends or not. That’s a new fun parenting thing I learned this week. Unenthusiastic fist bump.
It was a precious day that I had set aside to get a whole lot of stuff done so I could actually spend some quality time with my family later in the week. I didn’t have a choice but to power through. I knew that I was just randomly having a low energy day. It didn’t mean I was anxious, or depressed, or that I needed to make any dietary changes. I was just a bit flat, for no reason. And you know what? Sometimes that happens and we don’t have the option to fall in a heap, we just need to get on with it. Annoying right?
Here are some ways I make it through the day when I’m just not feeling it.
1. Do only the most important stuff
Do only what really needs doing on low energy days. If you’ve got grand plans to clean out the storage cupboard, tackle a big report or knock over the first chapter of that book you’ve always wanted to write, low energy days are not the time to do this. Those tasks are hard enough on high energy days. Do the very bare minimum of what needs doing – emails, meetings, follow-ups, fishing off things you’ve already started – and save the big grand tasks for days when you’re feeling more up to it. Also, if you can manage it, give yourself an early mark. Being good to yourself on low-energy days generally pays off in a quicker recovery time. When you’re feeling a bit slumpy, it’s not the time to burn the candle at both ends. That means no Marie Kondo-ing your kitchen, baking for the kid’s lunchboxes or researching health insurance. Nope. Save that shit for another day.
2. Do everything as quickly as you can
Speed is your friend. Use timers, use rewards, use pure damn willpower but get everything done as quickly as possible. When you’re feeling a touch slouchy, your day will deliver consistently diminishing returns. In summary, that means you’re going to get more shit as the day goes on and your ability to effectively get things done is going to get worse and worse. Slam through what you can in the first half of the day and take it easy in the afternoon. Even on high energy days, I struggle to be productive at 4pm. Most of my work days are a race against the clock to get my most important stuff by 4pm when my brain decides float off. That happens at about 2pm on low energy days. Get everything done ASAP so you can fall in a heap as soon as humanly possible.
3. Fake it
A positive attitude can make all the difference on a low energy day. As an extrovert, I find being around people or having lots of meetings to be very beneficial on low energy days as it’s gives me an extra burst of stimulus, thus increasing my energy levels. If you’re an introvert, try doing solo tasks that require a bit of concentration. Avoid people as much as you can on low energy days and extroverts? Surround yourself with ALL the people. As I work from home, I find getting properly dressed and putting on make-up to be a big help. It just feels like I’m awake and ready to tackle the day. If you work in an office, try to find a physical task marker that signals an energy burst. It might be making a cup of coffee, turning on your concentration music, or popping on your noise-cancelling headphones but having a physical action that marks the start of concentration is an excellent Pavlovian trick to make yourself turn on focus mode. I’ve been using Toggl app to time how long I spend on tasks and it’s a rad motivator. I start the timer and I’m like ‘Shit! I’m timing myself! Do something!’. I don’t know why it helps but it really does. There’s something super depressing about checking the timer to see you spent a full 45 minutes watching a vlogger you hate on YouTube.
4. Have a quick rest
I know this option isn’t available to everyone but if you can, have a nap. When I was a teacher I’d go to my car on my lunch break and have a little nap. I’d then return to work feeling ace and raring to go in the afternoon. I do feel like people get a bit judgy about naps but honestly, they can stick it. Naps are great and I’d much rather have a nap and be firing on all cylinders in the afternoon than mooch around like a zombie because I’m tired. This sounds totally weird but I go to the gym (most) mornings and if I’ve had a bad night sleep, rather than skip the gym, I still get up and go but when I get home I’ll have a quick 20-minute nap after my shower. It’s a lifesaver. It does seem strange to have a nap first thing in the morning but really, I’m just being a grown-up about it. It’s much better to invest 20 minutes in a restorative nap than waste 7 hours of your workday operating at half mast.
5. Get some goodness into you
I’d avoid self-medicating with sugar but my magic combo is a flat white, a Berocca and some paleo muesli with yogurt and that will give me the afternoon boost I need to function like a human. Avoid the temptation to eat chocolate biscuits or sugary treat food. It will give you a buzz for sure but it’s very short lived. A nutrient dense snack is a much better option.
Additional reading for the keen beans…