What To Do When You Just Can’t Do Another Thing

tired business people

“When I’m not running in circles, I’m pretty much collapsing in a heap.”

That flew out of my mouth one day when I was on a call with a few of my friends trying to find a time to get together.  They told me it should be the title of my next book.

And yet, I know the importance of taking regular time to rest.  Well, intellectually anyway.  I can see it in my clients – when they begin to tell me the same things over and over — when all they can seem to talk about is what  they have to do, or how exhausted they are.  And I certainly know it from my own experience.   It’s that old familiar feeling of rolling a huge ball up a hill only to have it come careening back down again.

There is never a shortage of things to do, people to get back to, and in my case, kids to shuttle from practice to sporting event to some other gathering.  I know I need a time out when my surroundings begin to reflect my state of mind – becoming cluttered, messy, and completely disordered.  When I am tired, I don’t make decisions very well (if at all).  I tend to leave them for later, when I will have a little more energy.  But then I use the piles that have accumulated around me as an excuse for why I cannot rest – at least not now – not with everything looking like this!  And the cycle continues.

My head tells me this makes perfect sense.  But my heart and the rest of my body is screaming for relief.

bigstock-Woman-doing-yoga-in-child-s-po-28363586In yoga classes, there is something called “child’s pose”.   You start by getting on your knees and sitting back on your heels.  The knees can stay together or move wider apart.  And then you simply lean forward slowly onto the ground with your arms either by your side or stretched out in front of you.  Every time I get into that pose, I am reminded of how at least one of my children liked to fall asleep when they were babies.

Yoga instructors tell people that the most important thing in yoga is the breath.  it is important to breathe full and evenly in and out your nose.  When your breathing becomes uneven or choppy, when you start to lose your breath in yoga, you will be encouraged to return to this child’s pose until your breathing evens out again.

At the end of yoga classes, there is a pose – one of my favorites – called “shivasana”.  This one consists of laying flat on your back and relaxing every part of your body while you allow yourself to sink into the floor for about three to five minutes.  It’s the pose that allows your body to integrate all the work you did in the class that preceded it.  And many will tell you it is the most important pose in yoga.  And yet, I often see people leaving the class instead of allowing themselves to experience it.

But I get it.  We are a society that is driven to do more, to be more, to be busy, and to always step things up a notch.  The thing is, when we insist on speeding up when we really need to slow down, we lose touch with the wiser, calmer part of ourselves that has all our answers. We run around doing things that may not even need to get done, and creating more piles and messes for ourselves that we’ll have to clean up later.  We may run fast, but it is often in a direction that doesn’t serve us — or anyone else for that matter.  And it often leads us to crash into walls we would have avoided if we weren’t so tired.

Sometimes you’ll get a rush when you do that.  A rush of adrenaline, maybe.  Or a little sense of accomplishment or importance that comes with being really busy.  But my experience is that it is usually fleeting and often replaced by a feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm and a somewhat panic induced state that leads me to believe I have to run twice as fast just to keep up.

The thing is, I used to think that in order to replenish my batteries, I needed to take a long vacation – leave and go somewhere else, sip a pretty drink on a beach or sleep for days.  And while that is nice, it’s not always necessary.  What I’ve learned – and need to remind myself of periodically – is that it is often a matter of simply pausing every once in a while to check in with myself. It is doing something that interrupts the autopilot nature of the running in circles thing.  It’s like looking into a pond that has been churning so fast that the water is murky.  Instead of continuing to make all kinds of commotion, you sit for a few moments and let the water become still until the swirling debris sinks to the bottom and the water becomes clear.

Sometimes this takes the form of a power nap for me.  Even just fifteen minutes of resting my head will do wonders.  Other times it’s a little walk that allows me to breathe deeply and move around a bit.  Sometimes it’s grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend and getting a little distance from whatever is going on.  And sometimes it means saying NO to things I really don’t have time to do.  Often the clarity and the courage I need to do that comes from the brief pause I took that allowed me to realize whatever I was about to say yes to wouldn’t really have been for the best.

These little pauses shouldn’t be reserved for the times that we feel like we just can’t do another thing.  We need to give them to ourselves frequently. Research indicates that people need a fifteen minute break after ninety minutes of concentration – and some studies suggest that we would benefit from a five minute break after every twenty five minutes.  You might think you are losing (or wasting) precious time, but you’ll find that it is more like an investment that pays dividends when you come back from your short break and are able to do in twenty minutes what would have otherwise taken an hour.

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted – as though you need to move faster but just can’t seem to find the energy – try slowing down for a little while.  Press the pause button.  Find your child’s pose and catch your breath – whatever that may be for you.  Let the dust settle until you can see clearly again.  Chances are that when it does, you will know just what you need to do – or NOT do.  And you will meet whatever challenge or opportunity awaits you with a fresh mind and a new energy and vitality – one that allows you to access the wisdom, creativity and resilience you need most.

“You have to put in the clutch to shift gears. You have to let go to re-engage at another, more high-leveraged ratio. And when you least feel like slowing down may be the most critical time to do it.”


– David Allen’s Productivity Principles

Tired business people image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2 thoughts on “What To Do When You Just Can’t Do Another Thing”

  1. Hi Mike,

    Glad you liked the article. I’m assuming you are referring to David Allen’s Getting Things Done Philosophy. If so, I do think the idea of taking regular breaks is in support of the GTD philosophy as it that methodology largely about using systems to empty your mind so that you can focus on doing what is most important. I believe fatigue can cloud and clutter the mind just as much as any unresolved task. The key is to know the line between a refreshing rest and a procrastinating avoidance mechanism.

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