You’re always saying this. I don’t know, I don’t know.
Are you even helping? You’ve been in this sector for 5 years, and you don’t know?!
I snap at my dad. He looks back at me, makes brief eye contact. And in that brief moment, I see the sadness in his eyes. He closes his eyes for a moment.
He’s disappointed. Not with me, but with himself.
Returning home that night after a difficult meeting with a client, I was frustrated.
I was tired of work, after work, before work.
Maybe that’s you today. You’re always exhausted after work. And you wonder why. Or how to even stop it.
No matter how many days of leave you take, how many holidays you go for, how many ‘happy’ things you do, nothing seems to change. It always seems the same.
Do you desperately want a change?
Because I know that night…
I desperately wanted a change.
I asked my dad for advice for changing my job. I told him about how I was rejected from the many jobs I applied for.
I asked for his advice.
All he said?
I don’t know.
I don’t know your field, so I don’t know how to help.
You may be here because you’re looking for some quick tips to resolve the exhaustion you feel after work. But without understanding why exhaustion after work happens, you may end up treating it in a different manner.
Why you are exhausted after work
There are many reasons for exhaustion after work, but they can be grouped into three main categories.
You don’t need me to explain this to you.
You’re too tired, because you’re too physically tired. You’re not sleeping enough, you’re working Monday to Sunday, and you’re not able to get the physical rest you need.
You’re working too much, too hard, and your body is telling you,
I can’t take it anymore.
If you don’t listen, I’m going to break down.
Secondly, you may be physically tired because you’re not used to the changes your body is going through as it ages. You may have made a habit of pushing yourself physically, working harder and harder. As a young person, you may have been used to burning the midnight oil, pushing your body to the absolute limits.
But now that you are older, your body may not be able to do that any longer.
Lastly, you’re physically exhausted after work because you’re on a vicious cycle. As you work more and more hours, you’re less and less effective. Your work piles up, you become more tired as you look at it, and that in turn affects your motivation to finish the work. The vicious cycle continues.
I look at myself in the mirror. The person looking back at me is a shadow of who I once was. Bloodshot eyes. Thinning hair. Shirt hanging loosely on my shoulders.
There’s no smile in my eyes.
And I’m tired. Really tired. I’m rested. I’ve been sleeping a lot recently. But I know that deep within, I’m emotionally tired.
Is that you? Are you emotionally tired? You’re tired of all the emotions you’re getting from work, with no idea of how to get them out of your system. You feel a sense of frustration at the lack of progress in your work.
Whatever it is, you feel this deep weariness within you that can’t go away.
You’re emotionally tired. And the worst thing is…
You don’t know how to raise your mood.
You may look at the word spiritual as something religious. But before you tune out, hold on. It’s not only that.
Spiritual is simply defined as connecting to something greater than yourself.
That’s why the word ‘vocation’ comes from late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin vocation, from vocare, meaning ‘to call’.
It’s a calling. You’re called to do it. It’s not just another job for you to check in your time, like at an ATM, and pull out a wad of money.
You are connected to something that’s beyond what you can see or understand. It can be something like a higher purpose.
For example, you may find passion in your work, because you see how it’s helping young people to understand their purpose in life.
But when you find yourself always tired after work, you may have lost that sense of alignment to something greater than yourself.
What you can do about exhaustion after work
Here are principles that work. Don’t look at it as a series of tips and tricks, because they are not. Rather, they are a series of principles.
Be kind to yourself
Struggled to finish the work you set out to do today?
Blaming yourself for being stupid, lazy, ineffective and unproductive? Notice your self-talk.
How are you talking to yourself when you’re not finishing work? Having all that negative self-talk may be the reason why you’re always feeling exhausted after work.
Because you’re blaming yourself for not having done enough. In your mind, there’s always more to do.
You’re never enough. Never good enough, strong enough, effective enough. How can you rest, knowing that you didn’t measure up to the standards you set for yourself today?
Mind you, I’m not saying that having high expectations is bad. But I’m saying that having kinder expectations of yourself is important.
Be kind to yourself.
Celebrate the progress you’ve made.
When you finish a day of work, celebrate the progress you’ve made.
Write down two things you’re proud of achieving, and one thing you can improve on. This helps you to keep focused on progress, rather than perfection.
It’s progress that helps you to feel like you’re moving. That you aren’t stuck.
Limit the time you spend at work.
Forcing yourself to go beyond the working hours to finish what you set out to do?
Limiting the time you spend at work cuts the chaff from the wheat. It forces you to focus. You stop saying later later, because you don’t actually have later. You only have the time until the end of your workday to finish what you set out to do. Notice how you tend to hit deadlines? That’s because there’s a finite end to the time you need to ship the product/report/work task. You work towards that.
Similarly, in your work, setting a limit on the time you work to will make you more effective, not less.
As Jim Collins, the famed business philosopher once said,
Time is finite. Work is infinite.
Work expands to fill the time you allocate it.
The more time you spend on work, the less you produce in work.
So work less, live more.
Put proper boundaries
You’re always exhausted, because you’re never off work. With Microsoft Teams, Slack, Outlook all readily available on our phones today, you’re never off work. Work is just an app away. A single notification can make you go back to work.
Having healthy boundaries helps in allowing you to rest, rather than to have your mind always switching between work and rest. Even when you’re supposed to be resting, your mind can’t trust you. It might think that the next ‘Ting’ on your phone is a call for your attention to work. How do you expect to not feel exhausted? You’re working 16 hours a day, not 8!
Delete that email app
Do you have email on your phone?
Me too. It was a bad idea.
I found myself checking it always. The day I deleted it was the day I finally felt freedom. No longer tethered to my email, I didn’t have to worry about being disturbed on a Saturday afternoon with a director’s email, filled with tasks I couldn’t act on.
No, scratch that.
I didn’t want to act on what she emailed me.
Delete that email app. Set a clear boundary between your work and your life.
Change your clothes
John, the one thing that helped me when I was a mental health practitioner, was…
changing my clothes. Every night when I went home, I would take a bath, and change into my home clothes. It helped me to feel more at home.
I thought that was ridiculous advice from my professor, until I tried it.
When you’re at work, you wear something formal. Changing out of that helps you to peel off the work personality.
You put a formal change of clothes, and your mind eases out of the work mode. It eases into the home mode.
Be deliberate about taking a bath, changing your clothes, and wearing something comfortable at home. It will help you to put greater distance between yourself and work, so that you’re able to rest in peace. You don’t have to rest with half of your mind still on work.
Plan out your rest
If it’s not planned, it’s not happening. You may tell yourself,
I’m going to do nothing this weekend and rest.
Chances are, that’s not happening. Planning out a rest day can help you to look forward to something. It no longer becomes something that just happens, but something that you look forward to.
It’s a chance and choice to create the rest you want.
You’re always exhausted because you may not have something you’re looking forward to. Start small. Here are some things you can try.
- Plan out a meal with a friend on a weekday night
- Plan out a movie night with your family
- Plan a walk with your dad
- Visit a new place over the weekend
When you do something like that, you realise that you will begin to feel less exhausted. Life begins to have more color as there are things you do outside of work that rejuvenate you.
Rest with creative pursuits
You may think of resting as lying on the bed, binge-watching Netflix… but chances are that you aren’t going to feel more rested from that.
Let’s look at the model below.
This is what I call the model of churn. Negative emotions enter you from work. You attempt to get rid of it through methods of consumption.
More Netflix, more scrolling through Facebook, more instagram pictures consumed.
But these methods of consumption actually do not release the emotions within you. Instead, they only churn them, putting them back within you.
There is no catharsis.
But look at a more creative method of expression. Like pottery or writing or art. When you do this, the emotions in your heart, and the thoughts in your head flow through your hands. They find release.
Here are some ways you can try:
- writing fiction
- playing musical instruments like a piano, or a guitar
When you do this, you find that your creative pursuits allow you to rest. They bring you joy for the sake of doing them. There’s no specific performance indicator. There’s just you, and the joyful pursuit of creation.
I’m walking with my dad around the block.
I share about how my day has gone. Strangely, even though its 1130PM already, I’m not tired. I’m rejuvenated by our conversation. It’s offered me hope.
From the sour, dull, and horrible state I was in, I feel better now.
You’re always exhausted after work? There’s 3 reasons. You’re physically, emotionally, and spiritually tired.
Work has sucked you dry. It’s by being with people you love that you’ll find connection. It’s by doing meaningful activities that you’ll find release for your emotional tiredness. It’s by intentionally resting, that you’ll find physical restoration.
Most importantly, remember,
Whatever happens, it’s going to be okay.
There’s no need to push yourself like a hound. You’re enough as you are.