Battling fatigue


With apologies to Mel Brooks and Madeline Kahn, "I'm ... ZO ... tiahd!"

What do you do when fatigue interferes with your motivation to work your plan?

I have many days where my entire day is trashed by lack of sleep the night before. I think last night I had a block of 2.5 hours and another block of 1.5 hours. The rest of the night was interrupted by coughing (mine) and upset toddlers. I'm vertical and I can think (a little), but I have no motivation to do anything I owe that isn't attached to a deadline.

What do you do in this situation? Do you let go of your demands on yourself and let yourself be useless for a day, or do you have some strategy for getting things done anyway?

the tired

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Plum tuckered

Shris, I feel for you. I have days like this too.

If possible, I let myself collapse for a while, or that day. If I have demands on me that I cannot avoid, I do whatever it takes to meet them - drink coffee, eat sweets that are bad for me, whatever. I always pay a price for doing this later on, and so it's no my first choice.

No one can function when they are not getting enough rest, so I say if possible, give yourself a break.

Shris, it really is hard

Shris, it really is hard trying to live a normal life when you have little kiddies claiming so much of your time.

I find that if I have a cold or flu, headache, backache, or sinus infection or other pain, it's really essential to get a good night's sleep in order to function the next day. If I have pain I take either Advil PM or Tylenol PM. They have painkiller and the ingredient in Benedryl (which is what helps you sleep).

Tylenol sells the Benedryl ingredient (phenylhydramine HCl) as Simply Sleep. This stuff isn't very strong and you have to be ready to climb into bed and get to sleep when they kick in or they won't work. Of course you want to be able to respond to the kids if they need you, but I find I can wake up if I hear something and get back to sleep easily. My doctor suggested just taking the Benedryl if I don't want the painkiller because of the possibilities of liver damage from too much Tylenol and other problems.

Try the Benedryl and see how it works. It gets me to sleep without totally knocking me out and I get through the next day much better.



Mostly I find it quite easy to fall asleep. The coughing interfered last night, but it usually isn't illness.

The problem is that there's almost always something that gets in the way of sleeping, just enough to put me off my game. External factors, like my daughter waking to get a drink of water, or my son waking up to be sick himself. Or internal factors, like wanting to spend just another minute reading or posting or doing something fun.

I can't just let stuff go ALL the time. Now and then, yeah. Sure. But what about after the second week in a row? ..or the second month in a row? There's only so much wallowing a person can really allow herself, you know? At some point you have to suck it up and do it anyway, I guess, but that first step is a doozy. It feels like climbing mount everest to do anything more complicated than email. But it's mostly psychological. Being physically tired only has so much to do with the amount of energy required to run a mouse or type on a keyboard. :)

I manage to suck it up enough to attend my conference calls, discuss technical details as needed, document actions, respond to emails, etc. Why doesn't that translate to working on something that doesn't carry a time expectation? I did actually try to put some artificial time expectations on a couple of my to-dos, but it's kinda like setting your alarm clock ahead by five minutes. You *know* that buffer is there, so you roll over and hit snooze.

How do you get over the 'poor me' and get back to doing? How do you 'suck it up' enough to lift the 20-lb pen and do some work when you're tired?


Insomnia - 101

I realise you are tired shris, so I will try to keep things simple. ;)

Sleep patterns can be thought of as habits. Therefore one needs to establish a routine. Try to going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Even if one cannot sleep it is important to remain in bed.

Beds are for sleeping in - Again only sleeping bed. This may seem obvious, but how many times have you fallen asleep on the sofa because you felt too tired to go to bed?

No stimulants before bed - Coffee is an obvious one, how about a game of ... erm, basketball to wear oneself out before bed? Nooooo! One needs to relax, so reading is the better option, and forget that last piece of gâteau au chocolat. Best leave a two hour gap in-between fun and sleep. :)

Onces in bed stay there - Obviously one can get up for the loo or to let the poodle out, but then straight back to bed. (inno is laughing her socks off now. Thursday morning I could not sleep and so she gave me a excellent review of Levenger paper pr0n products. :) )

Thank you, Sardonios

..for the small words and simple concepts.

The habit of going to bed earlier is the one I really need to cultivate. Convincing DH to shut off the dang TV is a challenge, though.

The kids do encourage rising at the same time each day. They have no trouble with this because we enforce the same bedtime with them. I'm just too cool to do that to myself or something.

Remaining in bed is not a problem, though I moved to the couch the other night to keep from disturbing DH with my coughing. I usually do not get an opportunity to fall asleep on the couch anymore. It was a self-indulgent luxury before, now it's impossible. My couch is particularly soft and cushy and very comfortable for sleeping.

Skipping the basketball/fun is an issue, of course, but I'm working on it. I've already cut out the caffeine. Also no booze, since that takes all the rest out of my sleep.

OK, let's take it as a given that I'd really better work on the root cause of the problem--whatever is taking away my sleep. Fine. But there are plenty of other physical and psychological reasons for a lack of desire to work on the to-do list. How do you deal with the lack of desire? Do you ONLY go after the root cause, or do you also have other strategies for situations when you're 'not in the mood'?


more ideas

Shris, I have a few more ideas to offer to help you get sleep faster. (I often have a hard time shutting my brain off myself and frequently loose sleep myself.)

If you have a hard time getting your Significant Other to turn off or down their tv, why not invest in a pair of good noise canceling ear plugs or headphones? This way, your SO can have their TV and you get the silence (or music) that helps you get a good night's rest.

I'm a big advocate for teas. I have a wide variety of teas (with and without caffeine) and when I find myself having difficulties sleeping, I reach for my favorite non-caffeinated Chamomile tea. Some brands even make a special Sleepytime tea that you might want to try out and see if it works for you.

My mom once swore by taking some herbal pill that was supposed to help you sleep better. I tried it and found that it had the opposite effect on me. UGH! So, my recommendation is that if one tea doesn't work for you, try another brand or mix until you find one that helps.

I do hope your able to find sleep.

Well, now hang on.

With reference to the TV issue: Why should the person trying to sleep wear uncomfortable earphones or plugs? I'd say make the SO wear them. (Or just get rid of the bedroom TV. Remember Elvis' solution? ;)

Tut, tut...

Shoot the television with children in the house. What kind of example would that be? No, simply replace the RC batteries with dead ones and tell DH his TV is no more. Let the children see grown men cry too sometimes. ;)

Thanks, innowen

Thanks for the suggestions, innowen.

On Friday night, I told DH I wanted to go to bed at 10 with no TV. We shut it off at 10 after, but that's waaaaay better than usual. Saturday morning I woke up feeling better, though still not quite right.

Saturday night, I shut off the TV at 10:30. My daughter woke up at 1 wanting something to drink. At 2-something I had a nightmare about my son. So here I am trying to banish the image from my mind. The nightmare part is not usual, but we were in the mall today and a small thing happened that probably triggered it. It was nothing at the time, but it woke The Fear.

I'm trying to decide if I should crack open a paperback I got in the mail last week to help redirect my thinking to less destructive channels. If I do that, I'll be up for another hour at least.

Anyway, the best laid plans sometimes don't work out.


Little changes

Well shris, it sounds like you are making progress. Getting DH to turn the tv off was a good step. I'm sorry about the nightmare... that's not fun. Getting your mind to change gears with a book is a good idea - maybe there are other (quicker?) distractions that would work? Would it help you to journal about such things?



Hi Sarah.

I find that if I talk about the nightmare too much, I remember it longer. My goal with nightmares is to get them out of my thoughts and out of my memory as quickly as possible. If I tell someone what the nightmare was, it lives longer. I don't know if journaling would help or hinder in that respect.

In the end, I was able to distract myself somewhat with the thought of putting grommets on my binder and attaching a long strap. I could visualize that whole process, the finished look of the grommets, and the kind of strap I have in mind. So I had a visual image to focus on that was engaging and interesting to me. Still had to do battle with the nightmare a bit, but dragging my thoughts back to the planner idea eventually let me get back to sleep.

Usually I just have to find a thought I can cling to vigorously enough that the nightmare can't get hold again. I have a few books I use for this purpose, but it does take a while for the book to overpower the nightmare.


When you're 'not in the mood'

Hi Shris,

I agree with you that one has to work on the root cause for a lack of sleep - and I think that might apply to a lack of motivation, too.

Why not consider tackling these root causes to be a project and start ...ummmm... with the next concrete action? I sincerely hope that this is a viable option for you.

With respect to getting through the days when you are simply too tired to work: maybe it helps to place a little red dot close to action items that can be done in "autopilot" mode? That way, you can tackle the no-brainers first and leave the rest for later. Just don't red-dot anything while you're in autopilot mode... ;-)

Wish you lots of sleep!


Hi Rolf.

When I am unmotivated, I usually can find something I want to work on, it just usually isn't work. :) That is to say, it isn't part of my professional life.

Planning for lack of motivation is an interesting concept--identifying in advance the stuff I can handle when I'm feeling blah. I'll have to mull that one over for a while.


Trilogy - a Game of Threes...

Sorry for the delay in replying, I have been unable to login. :(

"...there are plenty of other physical and psychological reasons for a lack of desire to work on the to-do list. How do you deal with the lack of desire? Do you ONLY go after the root cause, or do you also have other strategies for situations when you're 'not in the mood'?"

True. Assuming one has ruled out diabetes, thyroid problems, etc. Which obviously need to be addressed first, how does one find the will to plan? Throw one's self into the work? This will cause rebellion and guilt, merely reinforcing the problem. It has been suggested one rewards one's self - presumably as a form of positive reinforcement -. This may indeed be effective in the short term, but what when it gets too much again; what of the future?

Sit down and make a two lists. Credits and deficits; Sméagol vs Gollum call them whatever you wish. In the first column write down a short statement of what you wish to achieve. What are your thoughts on this? Are they positive or negative? Sméagol may wish to work through the list and get a promotion, but what is Gollum up to? Every time one writes down a negative thought in column two, find a more realistic statement to replace it then add it to column one.

Make use of a GTD subset: I use a three monthly master list of what Allen refers to as projects. Anything I know I wont be working on in the next three months goes on the deferred list with a reminder in the diary or as the Americans say; 'calendar' ;) Note this is not the same as a someday/maybe these are 'real' objectives such as tax forms. However why review something months before taking action? 'Actions'. I try to keep them down to one page per objective or context, depending on what I am striving to achieve.

How to eat a planner, one bite at a time: Use the five minute rule. One works for five minutes; then assuming nothing more interesting; Erm, I mean pressing pops up carry on. It always surprises me how much I get through this way. :)

Analysis of Paralysis

Hi Sardonios.

The Sméagol vs Gollum approach is something I use frequently when I need to make an important decision--pros and cons, this one vs that one.. Hadn't really thought to apply that in more depth to the things I have to do (rather than decide on).

Coincidentally, I had my bloodwork done last week as a part of a routine physical. My thyroid is fine, no diabetes or other metabolic strangenesses. So I don't apparently have any underlying health reasons for feeling like a limp noodle. :) And mostly I don't feel that way--or at least I didn't until the kids were gestating. It is quite easy to pin the vast majority of my blah feelings to lack of sleep. The remainder is boredom and disgust at the ridiculousness of some work situations. I have a big project waiting in the wings at work that would really light my fire for months. But it's on hold due to political maneuverings, high-level staffing changes, etc. Kinda sucks all the enthusiasm out when there's something interesting, valuable, and useful we need to do, but we can't because somebody else didn't think of it first. Ugh.

Not being a GTD devotee, the 'action' and 'someday' lists for me are not one list. I have a different approach that allows me not to be overwhelmed by the number of things to get done, but they're all still tracked. Each day I have only slightly more things to do than time in the day. :) So it's not like the weight of the world is pressing down on me.

The five minute rule is one way I do try to get over my blahs. It's the "just do it anyway, it won't kill you" concept. It doesn't help the blahs, but it gets a few things done anyway.