Fatigue can hit you out of nowhere, and when it does, it can really harm your productivity. While taking care of yourself during this time should be your number one priority, that doesn’t mean your day-to-day responsibilities just disappear. Whether you have a nasty cold, a bit of jet lag, or had a little bit too much fun last night, there’s going to come a day (or maybe even many days) when you have to push through tiredness to get things done. I’m sharing how I stayed productive on my tiredest days to help you create a game plan for coping with extreme fatigue.
What is extreme fatigue?
Being tired is not the same thing as experiencing extreme periods of fatigue. When you are simply tired, you can feel better by taking a nap, sleeping in, or getting general rest (hello, bubble baths). Fatigue can be a debilitating condition characterized by a persistent and overwhelming sense of weariness that significantly impairs your ability to function physically, mentally, and emotionally.
How to identify extreme fatigue
There is no one cause of fatigue, but if you have recently experienced a sleep disorder, chronic illness, mental health issues, or excessive physical or mental exertion, those events may be to blame for how you’re feeling. So, how do you know if you are experiencing extreme fatigue or are just really tired? These are the common signs of fatigue to look out for:
- Persistent tiredness even when you get adequate rest
- Reduced energy levels that make it hard to perform routine tasks or engage in activities
- Experiencing a mental fog that leads to difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or mental confusion
- A feeling of physical weakness—such as muscles feeling weak and heavy—that makes physical activities challenging
- Frequently experiencing headaches or feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Changes to your emotional state, like increased irritability, mood swings, or emotional sensitivity
- Reduced interest in activities, hobbies, or social interactions
If you feel like you may be experiencing extreme fatigue, make sure you check in with your doctor to determine if you need more than just a few good nights of rest to recover. In the meantime, here’s what it was like for me and how I pushed through to tackle my to-do list.
My experience with extreme fatigue
My first experience with fatigue took me by surprise. As someone who always gets eight hours of sleep, exercises regularly, and works hard to find a good work-life balance, I am typically very energetic. I don’t even drink coffee. Then, I found out I was pregnant. I knew I would experience a drop in my energy levels, but what I didn’t expect was an extreme wave of fatigue that lasted for two months. I was used to knocking quite a few things off my to-do list before 9 a.m. but suddenly found myself lacking the energy or motivation to even get out of bed.
I knew my body needed rest, but my mind couldn’t help but feel unsettled by the change. I didn’t feel like myself—at all. Once I worked through those initial feelings of guilt and uncertainty, I realized I needed to adapt. As a freelance writer, I have the flexibility to choose when and if I work, which was helpful during this challenging period. But this high level of autonomy also meant I had to find ways to push through the fatigue on my own. My business couldn’t come to a halt just because I wasn’t feeling my best after all.
How I stayed productive
I simplified my beauty routine
What do makeup and haircare have to do with work? I hop on a lot of video chats and need to be ready to see my clients face-to-face. I found that the more I exerted energy on one task, the less energy I had to give other tasks. To help start my day off on the easiest possible foot, I massively simplified my beauty routine.
I knew it was time to say goodbye to blow dryers and hot tools. What an arm workout, right? Instead, I turned to heatless curlers I could sleep in, sturdy hair pins for really lazy hair days (this one is a game-changer if you have a lot of thick hair like me), and deep conditioning hair masks that could help tame frizz. As a beauty writer, I usually love playing around with different makeup looks, but this 5-in-1 skin-perfecting foundation and concealer (it’s also a dream for on-the-go touch-ups) covered my bases quickly without requiring multiple products.
If you don’t have an extensive beauty routine, consider simplifying some other areas of your life. You may find that now is a great time to invest in some easy pre-made meals instead of cooking. Maybe you need to outsource housework or gardening. Think critically about what processes you can streamline in your life to make it easier to focus on the areas you really can’t cut back on.
I planned my day strategically
Most days, I had normal energy levels first thing in the morning. I quickly realized there were only a few hours each day when deep work was really possible and I had to make the most of them. Taking a meeting in the morning or going to an early appointment could waste some very precious, energetic hours.
I’m a huge proponent of using Calendly to make scheduling meetings easier for my clients (these are the other productivity tools I rely on as an entrepreneur). The best part of this tool is you can choose what times you want to list as available each day, that way, someone can’t try to snag any open spot on your calendar. Once I realized I needed to have some heads-down time in the morning, I adjusted my calendar only to take calls in the afternoon when I had enough energy to chat but not to do my best writing. I also scheduled appointments for later in the day when I knew I wouldn’t want to work anyway.
Friendly reminder—if you are going through a period of fatigue, be kind to yourself. For me, this meant needing to adjust my expectations of how much work I could complete in a day. The STIL Get It Done Planner was a huge help here. There are pages where you can design your ideal day, which gave me a chance to pause and think about when and how I could be most productive. This planner also has daily pages where you can choose what your three most important tasks are for the day. I liked that I could create a more ambitious to-do list while also making it clear what my priorities were in case I couldn’t get to everything I wanted to.
I shocked my senses
I’ll be honest—I took a lot of naps in those early days of pregnancy. However, there were some days when I could not call it quits early and had to keep going so I could meet all my deadlines. To give myself a quick boost of energy (without turning to caffeine), I discovered giving a pleasant shock to my senses could really perk me up. A few of my favorite ways to shake off the feelings of fatigue and brain fog were:
- Enjoying a hot shower with aromatherapy steamers
- Taking a brisk walk and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine
- Completing a quick online pre-natal workout with the Pilates Class
- Drinking bubbly water or a beverage with a strong flavor, like ginger and lemon
- Opening all the windows to let light and air in
- Blasting Taylor Swift instead of my usual calm focus music
I asked for help
Being pregnant is a unique situation, but there are many times in our lives when we can experience extended periods of fatigue. Chronic illnesses, burnout, grief, and all kinds of curveballs that life throws our way can make it really hard to be our most productive selves. There is no shame in asking for help during these challenging times.
Asking my husband for help when I needed it made all the difference. He really took the lead on cooking dinner and heavy housework so I could rest as much as possible when I wasn’t working. Having my husband tackle a lot of my non-work responsibilities made it possible to save up my energy for work projects. He also spent a lot of time lounging about at home with me on the weekends so I could really rest on the days I didn’t need to work. When our family came to visit, I set clear boundaries about how much energy I could give them. If I was feeling fuzzy and wanted an extra set of eyes on my writing, I asked my editors to take a closer look at my copy.
We all face challenges in life and fatigue is often one of them—not feeling like you’re facing it alone can even give you a bit of an energy boost. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, you deserve it.