It’s 10 am. I’m just starting my day. Earlier this morning, I managed to pull myself out of bed and dragged myself through a usual breakfast.
Now, seated at my desk, I know there are several projects I need to work on. I sit looking at the screen before me. My brain feels numb; I’d rather sit and do nothing. Or curl up in bed again.
I open my email box. Browse through some of the mail. The subscription emails get my attention.
The next thing I know I have over a dozen tabs open. On my phone, I’ve been moving between Facebook and Twitter. And there’s YouTube.
It’s nearly lunchtime.
Do you find yourself with no drive to do anything? Things you once loved to do no longer interest you? Even if you set your mind to it, you find it hard to convert into actions. You feel lethargic — out of sorts. Mentally, your brain is fogged.
You have several projects you’d like to work on. Some are even personal projects. But somehow, you cannot begin.
During times like this, when you’re low on energy and drive, you tend to indulge in effortless tasks. Like surfing the net or indulging in food.
Anything but the tasks you have to do.
You are not alone. I have felt it too.
As a freelancer, I am my own boss. But for several weeks, months even, I don’t have the drive to get going. Unless forced to by a client deadline.
After months of this state of chronic lethargy, I took matters into my own hands. I took concrete steps that brought me immediate results.
And so can you.
Read on to beat the s#!t out of your lethargy and take control of your day.
First get health issues out of the way
First things first. Get any health issues out of the way.
The symptoms of lethargy and lack of drive can indicate many potentially harmful health conditions. Factor those out of the equation.
The most serious concern is depression and can affect many other areas of your life. Symptoms of depression include feeling sad or empty. You notice changes in your food habits — either loss of appetite or increased consumption resulting in weight loss or gain. Activities you once enjoyed no longer interest you. Overall, you feel worthless and have recurring thoughts of death or suicide.
If this is true meet a counsellor immediately.
Constant fatigue and listlessness can indicate other health issues like sleep disorders, changes in blood sugar levels, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, hormonal imbalance, or thyroid disease (especially in women).
If you are lethargic and lack motivation and drive for even the most everyday activities, meet your health practitioner. She will have you do a few tests to eliminate any health conditions.
Once you’re sure it’s not health-related, it’s time to shake off that lethargy and bring back the drive that you know you had until not so long ago.
It takes resolve. But it’s not difficult.
We are what we eat. And garbage in means garbage out.
A lack of energy and drive could stem from unhealthy eating habits.
Start your day with a good hearty breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day. Our lifestyles sometimes force us to skip breakfast for brunch. I know people who do this every day and who suffer from acidity and intestinal abnormalities.
Diet is a big factor in fighting fatigue. Eating healthful snacks throughout the day can keep your energy levels at optimum through the day. Snack on fruits, nuts and seeds.
Switch to meals comprised of fresh vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and plenty of water. Avoid fried food, high-fat foods, highly processed foods, and soda.
Finally, avoid stimulants. Go easy on the caffeine. If you must, keep it to one or two a day. Try green tea (without sugar) as a healthier beverage.
And keep yourself hydrated through the day with lots of water. The recommended level is 3.7 litres a day for men and 2.7 litres daily for women.
The average human being needs a good eight hours of sleep every night. But not everyone is average. Some of us need more, others less. Then again, some of us may have a sleep deficit accumulated over the years.
The key is to find your sweet spot.
Besides the duration of your sleep, quality matters. Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated, and the mattress is firm enough to support your body’s contours. I find sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor to be much better than foam or synthetic materials.
Wake up feeling refreshed without a sore back or stiff joints. That’s the key.
Sleep no earlier than two hours after your supper. This aids in proper digestion and can affect the quality of your sleep.
As a freelancer in the creative field, my work is predominantly behind a desk. A sedentary lifestyle means my body does not get any physical movement through a workday. That makes exercise all the more vital.
Incorporate at least 10 minutes of vigorous exercise every day. Ideally, aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily.
But exercise, especially for me, is a bore. I’ve never been able to stick to a routine. That’s why exercise should be fun. Try something outdoors and natural — like cycling, a jog in the park or a swim.
The movement can play a big role in boosting energy levels and bringing by your zest for doing things.
Meditation is not just for monks in crimson robes sitting in monasteries in the mountains. Although, that is where I first learnt how to meditate. Today, mediation is a part of my everyday routine.
There are various methods of mediation, from different schools. I practice Zen. It’s not meditation but a lifestyle. And no, it’s not a religion. But more on that some other time.
Zen meditation involves concentration on the breath. This brings the wandering mind to focus. It also exposes the extent of random thoughts running through our mind through the day. Over time, these thoughts drain our energy down useless streams.
Use that smartphone to help yourself. I use an app called Insight Timer for my practice. Another app you could check out is Headspace. These apps offer guided meditation for beginners. So it’s a good place to start. Soon you will find a routine that works for you.
Daily meditation can help focus the brain. Yuval Noah Harari, author of the bestseller Sapiens talks about how meditation keeps his mind razor-sharp and open to ideas for his writing.
Mediation has overall benefits on the entire outlook to life. It can help get your mojo back, get you motivated and beat your lethargy and lack of drive.
Monitor inner dialogue
For many of us in creative fields, the fear of failure is constant. Sometimes, it is crippling.
Writers, photographers, filmmakers, designers and other creative types question themselves at various times: Am I a fraud? Do I suck? What if people find out I suck?
When these thoughts are allowed to germinate and gather momentum, they become crippling. To the extent, we cannot bring ourselves even to begin a task.
Vincent Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo in 1888, wrote: “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the head… at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse.”
Identify these crippling thoughts and nip them in the bud.
Mindfulness meditation works here too. Being mindful of thoughts before they control you and drive your actions can be a way to bring back the drive to do the things you love.
Pay attention to your work desk/studio
If you work alone, keeping your motivation levels high needs some help. This is especially true for freelancers in creative fields.
There are simple ways you can help your mind stay motivated and jog that creative dial.
Keep your studio well lit and ventilated. Natural light is best. If not, use daylight balanced light. Working in a dingy studio every day can be draining over time.
Besides writing, I also edit films. My editing studio requires me to keep the lights to a minimum. However, I mix it up. When editing, I use dim lights. But at other times, I open the window to let in natural light.
Further, when writing, I move to another desk that’s beside two windows in a large room. Merely moving around helps keep me focussed and motivated.
Then, get rid of any clutter in your studio. Be zen. Keep just the things you need on your desk and in your studio. A sparse room with just the essentials goes a long way in helping you stay focused and creative.
Try it out. Take an inventory of everything in your studio — from the furniture to the tools and articles on your desk, inside the drawers and cabinets. Put up a garage sale of everything you don’t need — things cluttering your space. These are the things that also clutter your mind. And over time, they drain your energy levels and your drive.
Take mini-breaks to move your body
While at work, take regular breaks to move the body. Briskly pace the room, do squats or situps or better yet, step out of the studio for a quick three-minute walk every other hour.
I use the Pomodoro method to facilitate this. It works for me. That will be the subject of a future post.
Music to pump you up
During your regular breaks in work, pump yourself up with music. Try something peppy. It could be rap, hip-hop or classical. It doesn’t matter. As long as it is energetic.
Good music has a way of changing the neutron activity in your brain, and that will help get your energy levels soaring.
Rework your to-do list
The first step is the hardest. Often, our lack of drive is because we freeze at the sight of the mountain before us.
It’s like a mountaineer looking to scale Everest. He cannot see the peak and therefore doesn’t know how to get there. But that’s why mountaineers have camps along the way to the summit. The target is not to scale the peak in one go. It’s to get to the next camp. Then to the next. And the next. Until finally, voila! It’s the summit.
Use the same strategy for your work projects. Break down the bigger projects into bite-sized tasks. Each task is something that’s achievable in a finite amount of time. The smaller the task, the better the chances you will begin and hence complete it.
I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system in combination with the Pomodoro Technique. And its helped me edit films, write blog posts and reply to emails.
I will explain my method in a future post.
So there you have it. Bite-sized actions you can take to kick that feeling of lethargy and fogged mind. Those feelings that keep you from doing the things you love.
I experienced it too. But then I decided to take control.
You can do the same, starting today.
I wish you the very best in your endeavours. If this has helped you, let me know in the comments. Share it so others may also take control again. If other actions have helped you, let me know in the comments.
The world’s a much better place when bright minds create. Kick the s#!t out of that lethargy and create again.