We’ve all been there. It is late in the day. You’re drained. You have a task that you know needs to get done, but every attempt to finish seems to get nowhere. You imagine all the work that lies ahead of you. If you’re like me, you may start having negative thoughts about yourself. How do we recover from exhaustion?

Sleepy Friends... by subtlemd, on Flickr
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The first step is to recognize that something is wrong. For me, this is actually the hardest step. In the exhausted state, the mental resources we need to reflect are in very short supply. A vicious cycle can develop where we bang our heads against the wall harder and harder as our energy goes from low to empty. This is where we need a short break. Stepping away from your work can allow the energy reserves to fill just enough to allow reflective thought.

Once you’re aware of a problem, identify and mitigate it. Maybe you have a side-task that is turning into irritation. Can it be addressed and set aside such that it no longer weighs on your mind? Perhaps you’ve been in meetings all day and you’re socially depleted. Earplugs and an empty corner may be what you need.

Often you’ll be generally tired with no clear identifying characteristics. In this situation, I find that switching to another type of task works best. As we go deeper and deeper into our projects, we can become locked into unproductive patterns of thought. Switching contexts resets our short-term patterns and can break the endless loop of try-retry-fail.

Most of the strategies you’ll develop to deal with exhaustion will be complementary. Environment permitting, I try to stack as many as convenient.

Our objective is to turn the reflection, identification, and mitigation process into a reflexive habit. Consistent repetition is key. You may wish to reinforce a successful recovery with physical rewards, like chocolate.

Feel free to share your own strategies for exhaustion-busting, and good luck!

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