I’m among those fortunate enough to enjoy her job. It’s been a long time since I dreaded Monday morning. But that doesn’t mean the transition from sabbath to workweek always goes smoothly. Like this Monday, for instance.

Thanks to my body’s response to these longer summer days, I’m often waking with the sunrise whether or not I’ve gotten the sleep I need. And I probably haven’t since I also have difficulty falling asleep before it gets dark. This close to Summer Solstice, there simply isn’t eight hours of proper night right now.

And this week, that derailed my Monday. So here’s a play-by-play of how I managed my limited energy to keep the day from being a total train wreck and still begin my week in a way I could feel good about.

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Sunrise: I can’t be awake. It’s not even 5am. Brain, go back to sleep! But I have to pee. And I’m already composing my to-do list for the day in my head. Besides D. has to leave for work early anyway. So there is no going back to sleep. I get out of bed feeling bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and optimistic about the day.

By 6am I’ve packed my husband’s lunch and seen him off, loaded and run the dishwasher, and opened the house to let in the cool morning air (we were in the middle of a little heat wave). I feel like a productivity rock star.

I take a coffee break.

By 7am I start to feel woozy and remember my short night’s sleep. I make a stronger cup of coffee and drink half while checking my calendar and email. I update and print my daily log pages for the week. I notice a longing to do nothing but organize and purge all the old paperwork that has been accumulating in my office, rather than do anything on my to-do list.

By 8am it’s clear I’m in trouble. I lay down and listen to one of those refreshing soundscape things. I aim for 20 minutes of shut-eye. I make it to 15. Darn that coffee! Also, with the house open I can’t help but hear the neighbor’s barking dog. And a jay. It sounds really close. Is it in the garage? It is. Aw, f*ck it. I get up to rescue the trapped bird.

8:30am. Maybe I should eat something? I have been awake for four hours. Technically, it’s lunch time. I make and drink a green smoothie. The fuel gives me at least enough cognitive resources to see and begin to accept that it’s not going to be a desk day. I check in with my accountability buddy and commit to doing brainless chores rather than my usual Monday admin tasks. I remain in my favorite cushy chair playing mindless games on my tablet anyway.

10:30am. Food and rest are finally kicking in. Or I finally commit. I’m not sure which. I’m reminded of the saying: If you can’t be happy and productive, choose one. At some point, you have to acknowledge: this is as good as it’s going to get – and make a decision from there. I double-check email to make sure there are no fires (there rarely are) and go for it.

  • Get dressed. (It will help to get out of your pajamas.)
  • Go outside to water plants and refill hummingbird feeder.
  • Start laundry. I fold last week’s laundry that is still sitting in baskets in the bedroom while listening to Jamie Ridler’s podcast (oh, that voice!).

11:45am. I’m feeling better. Movement and time to percolate is good. It occurs to me that maybe it wasn’t so much the sun that woke me up, but the intense experience of synthesizing all the insights and ideas that have come from the surveys over the past few weeks. Hmmm. Continue folding laundry.

12:20pm. Take another break to eat.

1:30pm. Resist the seriously strong urge to further fuel myself with more sugar and caffeine, since that’s how this whole thing got started. If I hadn’t had that iced latte Sunday afternoon, I would have fallen asleep earlier and, even if I had woken with the sunrise, I still would have been more rested. I choose to just keep moving rather than cave or beat myself up about this stupid little cycle of stimulant doom.

1:50pm. Bathroom: you are mine! It’s my least favorite household chore, so it was… gross. Earth Wind & Fire to the rescue! That’s the waaay. Of the wooorld…

2:30pm. Done! That was satisfying. Continue drying and folding laundry. Collect and take out trash. Wash the dishes that couldn’t go in the dishwasher that morning. Remind myself to stay hydrated with water.

4pm. Use my last bit of oomph to power through dinner prep… And then crash.

I ate a larger dinner than I needed (confused body or emotional reward, I couldn’t say). And it was harder to wind down and fall asleep than I would have expected in the circumstances. (Part of my strategy in focusing on physical tasks wasn’t just that they needed fewer cognitive resources, I was also hoping to wear myself out.) But at least I went to bed not feeling guilty about blowing everything off because I couldn’t do precisely what I had planned for the day.

Three days later, I can honestly say it actually set me up for a good week. It was no problem to shift Monday’s tasks to Tuesday. And I cleared away so many basic tasks in the first half of the week, that I now have a lot of open space for writing and planning in the second half of the week – which is always a treat.

And I was clever enough to take notes on Monday so maybe the day could continue being useful in the form of a helpful missive, written once my brain cells were restored by a good night’s sleep. It may not have looked like I was working, but I was working. ;-)

So: What exactly did I do that you can do too?

First things first: I tended to my physical needs. In hindsight, I should have skipped the second cup of coffee and gone straight for the smoothie.

I said Yes, And. As in: Yes, I didn’t get enough sleep. And I can do something productive anyway. I wasted only a small amount of what little energy I had on arguing with reality.

I didn’t hide. I reached out for support and encouragement from my accountability buddy – just like do every work day, none of which are ever perfect.

I remained experimental. Not everything I tried worked, but some things did. And that made all the difference.

In choosing how to be productive, I focused on tasks that matched my ability to focus and concentrate – which was almost nil. I also followed that original intuitive impulse to clean, which gave my thinky-mind the break I didn’t realize it needed until hours later.

I fueled those tasks by listening to cheerful and motivating music and radio rather than the spinning thoughts of my own tired brain. Note: I also didn’t attempt something like tracking a long, technical podcast for the sake of using my time more “productively.”

And I took a lot of breaks. It doesn’t normally take me a day and a half to clean my house (I finished up a few chores on Tuesday). But if I was going to get anything done at all without hurting myself and make things worse, I had to pace myself properly.

Overall, I focused on managing my energy, rather than my time or to-do list.

Had I done it the other way around, I would have been miserable and far less productive – and that would have had negative consequences that would have rippled through the rest of my week.

What would I have done had it absolutely positively needed to be a desk-day? I can’t say for sure. These things are improvised on case by case basis. But I probably would have:

  • committed only to doing what was truly essential,
  • moved through those tasks by taking ridiculously small steps,
  • not actually worked at my desk, but on my laptop from the comfort of my cushy chair,
  • leaned more heavily on my accountability buddy,
  • made sure I was eating nutrient dense food fairly often,
  • taken lots of breaks to move or close my eyes (depending) and also shower,
  • and, if I’m being honest, probably abused some caffeine – which would have likely gotten me out of the house for the strong stuff and the change of location would have been helpful, so it probably would have worked out in the end.
  • Plus, I also probably would have ordered take-out for dinner.

Because an off-day isn’t about trying to be the best version of yourself, simply a decently functional version of yourself.

• • • • •

On days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and things aren’t going according to plan from the get-go…

  1. You can throw up your hands and give up on the day altogether (not great).
  2. Or you can strong-arm yourself into doing what you’re “supposed” to be doing – an act of willpower that burns through the very cognitive resources you need to do the work at hand before you’ve even started (also not great).
  3. Or you can work with the reality of the day and find some kind of win-win solution – one that leaves you feeling good about your choices and satisfied with your actions, while preserving your momentum rather than adding to your fatigue, backlogs and overwhelm.

I’ll always encourage you to choose Door #3. It is an option available to you.

I’d love to hear if you most often find yourself in front of Door #1 or #2 – and what you’re experimenting with to choose and open Door #3. Please share your thoughts, concerns, ideas and experiences in the comments below or send me at note at hello [at] thirdhandworks [dot] com.

peace and love,


For more ideas about how to find that win-win solution, get the free guide:

Rolling with the Unexpected: From Aimless to Action in Eight Simple Steps

– which includes the fun and useful Choosy Catcher!

[ note: you probably won’t need all eight steps unless
you’re having a truly terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day ]

• • • • •

Saying Yes, And is something we practice every day in the S4D.

Each day we have the opportunity to be to be imperfectly human in a space where we have the tools, structures and social support we need to follow through on what matters to us anyway. Not through some finger-wagging form of strict accountability to our goals, but through the camaraderie of a group that wants its members to succeed through being true to their nature and taking good care of themselves.

If that sounds like your kind of learning-through-doing community, I warmly invite you to join us.

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