3 Ways You Can Be Productive, Even When You’re Exhausted
After the birth of my 3rd child, it began to dawn on me that I was more than just a tired mom. Day after day I waded through a dark fog, barely able to place one foot in front of the other. My children were all good sleepers, so there was no logical reason for me to be so tired.
Although I've never been one who's quick to run to the doctor, I scheduled an appointment for some bloodwork. Unfortunately I came away from the appointment with the answer that everything was “normal” and that I should “take more vitamins.” But I most certainly did not feel normal!
To make a long story short, I spent the next seven years trying new doctors, new supplements, new dietary changes, and I’ve lived through all of it with the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which basically means “You’re extremely weak and tired all the time but we don’t know why.” Yeah, thanks doc. I kinda already knew that. I could go off on a rabbit trail and talk about how so many other diagnoses are the same way -pretty much just giving a fancy name to something you already know. But I won’t get sidetracked there. All I’ll say for now is that praise the Lord I have found some answers that have truly been life-changing for me and my family. I’m not yet at 100% (will any of us ever be until we get to heaven?) but I am definitely in a much better place health-wise than I was 10 years ago.
What I want to focus on is how I survived all those years of living in a deep fog, with small children to care for and homeschool.
Whether you are chronically ill or whether you’re just tired all the time because you have a lot of demands on you that wear you down, here are 3 ways you can be productive even when you’re exhausted.
1. Give yourself grace.
I say this a lot, but I'll say it again: True productivity occurs when you’re productive at the things that actually matter.
My house was a disaster all the time during those early years (my house still needs help – I’m still catching up from years of neglect!) I rarely went to bed with a clean kitchen. My husband took so many of the household responsibilities on him every evening after he’d already worked a full day.
I didn’t do a whole lot, but I was intentional with what I did do.
The children needed to be educated, so I made sure to prioritize their homeschooling each day. I spent my time learning ways to help them self-educate so that they could still be learning even when I wasn’t able to teach them.
Whether you’re chronically ill or just exhausted, you can be productive when you realize that being productive doesn’t mean “doing all the things.” It just means carefully choosing what is most important and keeping your focus there.
2. Make self-care a priority.
You may feel that you’re too busy to stop your day and prepare healthy meals for yourself, to exercise, or to take a nap.
But if you’re exhausted, one of the most important ways you can spend your time is to take care of yourself! Running on caffeine may make you feel like you have more energy, but if it’s becoming a crutch and causing you to neglect proper nutrition and rest then it’s only defeating the purpose. And if you’re tired because you’re not sleeping well at night, you may want to re-think the caffeine for that reason too.
I get it. It feels like such a pain to stop what you’re doing and chop vegetables so you can eat a salad for lunch. It feels like it’s taking up so much time that you could be spending in other ways. But if you prioritize your health, you’ll find that 1. You’ll have more energy for the other things and 2. You’ll think of creative ideas to make self-care more streamlined. For example, you might prepare a list of quick and easy, yet healthy lunches you can stop and eat. You might decide to cut up enough vegetables for a week at a time so you don’t have to do it every day. You’ll learn exercises you can do while you stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes.
When I was so ill that I spent large portions of my day in bed, I used that time to research things I could do to overcome my health struggles. I was productive, but my productivity didn’t look like doing all the things. It looked like having one goal and chasing after it with everything I had.
If you’re exhausted, you can be productive by taking steps to improve your health. Spend time soaking in a warm bath so you can let go of some stress. Take the time to eat well and hydrate yourself throughout the day. Take the time to nourish your body with gentle movement. Take the time to go to bed at a decent hour.
Burning yourself out by going, going, going might make you feel productive, but are you being productive at what really matters? Does your family want the I-got-all-the-things-done-but-I’m-so-grouchy-and-tired version of you or do they want the happy, stress-free version of you who chose to let some things go?
3. Never give up.
I need to be careful that the advice to never give up doesn’t come across as contradictory to what I just said about taking care of yourself.
By telling you that you can be productive by never giving up, I don’t mean to push yourself to do more, more, more.
I mean what I keep saying over and over: Never give up on what’s most important.
When I spent many of my days in bed, it was discouraging to leave so many things undone. But each day I woke up determined to chip away at my priorities.
Regardless of how much or how little you can do, don’t quit! Don’t decide that because you’re so exhausted you’re just not even going to try.
No matter how little you might think you’re doing, if you do the same thing consistently day after day, eventually it amounts to something big!
Teach your children about Jesus today. Then teach them some more tomorrow, and some more the next day.
Eat your vegetables today. Then eat them again tomorrow and again the next day.
Learn a little bit about health today, then learn a little bit more tomorrow and little more the next day.
Whatever goal it is that you’re trying to reach, keep heading in that direction. Don’t worry about how long it is taking you. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually you will get there.
Want more help being productive, even when you're exhausted? Check out the 7 Days to Calm Workbook! I've designed this system to help you create a sense of calm in your home. Once you complete the workbook, your system will be uniquely customized to work with your own personal situation.