How To Be Productive When You’re Super Tired

Being really, really tired, too tired to do get into your normal work groove, is a blessing… IF you’re willing to downshift and accelerate.

My secret: I keep my mind in gear by keeping my body in motion.

When I’m tired, I have a very short attention span. If I sit down, I’ll either fall asleep, wish I were sleeping, or waste time by surfing the web.

I’m standing up right now, at my kitchen table. Too tired to sit down. I’ll type a few sentences here, then go wash some dishes, then take a look at my Trac list, sorted on Covey’s quadrants to pick off anything urgent.

I usually take my shoes off when I’m inside. Not today. Too hard to shift gears when I need to step outside on a whim. For example, I have a “stair scape,” the outside stairs are loaded with plants. Good day to prune and repot. And there’s the garage… always the garage. Anything to stay in motion.

Part of extreme fatigue is induced by dehydration. Black tea and coffee are diuretics. It took me 15 years to figure that once I’m caffeine saturated, I need to drink a lot of water and get some exercise to drive the hydration back into my body. If you don’t get any exercise, the water just passes right through you. I’ll be drinking a lot of water today, and taking some fast walks around the neighborhood.

How did I get here?

Here’s my current situation, on Friday June 26, 2009. I’ve spent most of 2009 busting hump. Typically, I’m working 6 days a week. Usually from when I get up (between 5:30 – 7:00 am) until I fall out of my chair (between 10:30 pm – 1:30 am). I got off the coffee about 3 weeks ago, but I’m working my way through a huge bag of Peet’s English Breakfast blend black tea my friend Walter brought over (Thanks!). Most of the work I’m doing is intensely creative like writing blog posts, or learning I’m fundamental skills for web programming, WordPress, sales, and marketing, which are new fields for me, or all at the same time.

In short, I’m really busy.

Fatigue is where productivity tools shine

If you have been reading along, you are familiar with several of the productivity tools that I use. On days when I’m really beat, all of them come into play.

I also have a secret weapon, “Dave’s Market Quadrant” which provides me with an amazingly simple method to extract exactly what needs to be done. It will work for you too, give it a try!

The articles here on There Is NO Box are a part of my strategic plan. Since I tend to write down what I’m doing anyway, it makes sense to write them somewhere that’s easily accessible. In the future, instead of having years of material locked up on out-of-date wikis, or old versions of MS Office, these process documents will be posted for easy reference on the web. This may or may not benefit you, it certainly benefits me!

Going through Trac tickets

So, I don’t actually use Trac daily. I use it… often. Like today when I’m tired. Going back through tickets displayed in the Covey report on Trac, I am immensely satisfied to close several obnoxious tickets that have been bugging me for weeks if not months. Some of these chores just got done. Close those as “fixed” or “finished.” Some didn’t, and it didn’t matter. Close these with a comment and a “wontfix.” Some of the “wontfix” might get reopened later, I’ll worry about it then.

Clicktime time tracking — another secret weapon

I have had an account with Clicktime for time tracking for over 3 years now. I first got the account to track “sweat equity” in a startup venture. While that’s a tale for different day, I got in the habit of keeping track of my time. This habit is useful for a couple of reasons:

  1. For consulting, time tracking is more than useful, it’s necessary when billing clients by the hour.
  2. For entrepreneurs, finding out how long it takes to perform tasks allow you to outsource, bid and make projections much more effectively.
  3. Long term examination of your time reports let’s you check your accuracy for time estimation.

That being said, keeping track of time is boring, so I don’t do it all the time, and rarely fool with it when I’m in the groove. More on time tracking in general and Clicktime in specific in a future post. The important thing is that if you aren’t tracking your time on a regular basis, you need to start doing that right now.

Fill-in-the-blank structures

Long time readers have visited Website In A Weekend, a sister site to There Is NO Box which is dedicated to all things WordPress. I have an ongoing “productivity war” with my friend Deacon on who can produce 101 things the fastest. My thing is blog posts on WordPress, his is some sort of art print. Working on this project is an excellent productivity default. Another fill-in-the-blank is this series on productivity. There’s another dozen posts on productivity in my draft queue. Being too tired to work on anything “productive” is the perfect time to write about productivity.

Catch up on reading or videos

Catching up on reading has an additional benefit of inducing naps. Just about every genius on the planet from Poincare to Edison to Da Vinci recommended taking a nap.

Required reading only, no diversion for fun!

I find it better to read in hard copy as well, not surfing the web or reading ebooks. For important ebooks, I’ll print them out and take notes in the margin.

Play to your strengths

You have to accept that your productivity on “down days” is going take a different form than in days when your in the groove.

Play to your strengths. When I’m tired, I’m more of writer than a programmer. I can often write until I’m falling out of my chair. With programming, not so much, I usually need to be mentally fresher to get started programming. Perhaps you’re the opposite: you can program until you are falling out of your chair. In any case, work with what you’re good with.

Very important to stay in Covey’s Quadrant 2; work on tasks that are important but not urgent. You can’t do this in Quadrant I, when it’s “pedal-to-the-metal firefighting.”

  • Walter

    Awesome points, and glad that you’re putting that Peet’s Breakfast Tea to use! -Walter