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How to Make It Through a Workday When You're Tired

By Daniel B. Kline - Jul 15, 2019 at 9:45AM

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Too little sleep, and too much to do? We've all had days like that.

On a normal workday, I wake up between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., and get to bed around 11 p.m. I'm not a great sleeper, but being in bed for around 8 hours almost always leaves me refreshed and ready for the day.

On a recent night, however, I had to pick my wife up at the airport about an hour from our home. But a flight delay turned what should have been an 8:30 p.m. arrival into an 11:30 p.m. arrival, which meant I got home at about 12:30 a.m., still somewhat wired from the coffee I had drunk in order to stay alert enough for that two-hour round-trip drive.

I awoke the next morning not exactly ready to face the day.

Normally, as a work-from-home freelancer, under such circumstances I would just take it easy, but my summer travel plans will compromise my work schedule for much of the next six weeks, so I needed to have a productive day. That's possible even when you're tired -- and these tips can help anyone in a similar situation.

A woman surrounded by coffee cups has her head down on her desk.

Sometimes you have to push through even if you're tired. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Be honest with the people around you

If you're hungover or exhausted due to bad life decisions, you may want to keep that to yourself. If you're bone-tired for a reason like mine or due to some other unavoidable issue, it makes sense to share that information.

In some cases, your boss may take pity on you and offer you the afternoon off, or at least send you home a little early. If that doesn't happen, at least your coworkers may be sympathetic and understand why you may not be at your best.

2. Do the easy work

Most people have tasks in their work piles of varying difficulties. That's certainly true for me, and on any given day, I generally do a mix of them.

On days when I'm exhausted, however, I try stick to the easier items. Not "busy work," mind you -- but the tasks I can handle with less focus. That means a hard day or two of mentally taxing effort will be coming later, but well-rested me will be better at handling it.

3. Fake it until you make it

Sometimes you won't have the ability to pick your work, nor the option of slacking off because you're tired. Maybe you have an important meeting or a looming project deadline.

When that happens, you need to splash some cold water on your face, grab the caffeinated beverage of your choice, and buckle down. But don't try to roll through your to-do list nonstop. Break up your workday with some movement. A bit of exercise -- even better if it's outside in the fresh air -- can clear the fog out of your brain for awhile. Even a simple stretch at your desk will have a positive mental impact. And don't forget to eat -- preferably something not too sugary, and with some protein.

You may not be at your best, but you should be able to push through one day and still do a good job.

Avoid these situations

Sometimes life forces you to work tired (just ask any parent).

However, having to get through a dragging day is different than choosing to do so. You should avoid late nights ahead of work days when you have a choice, if only because it's hard -- maybe impossible -- to perform at your best when you're running a sleep deficit.

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