Of course you do. We all do. We all feel under the pile at times.
Call it overload. Call it overextended. Call it running on fumes. Call it running on empty. Call it what you like, but it all amounts to the same thing. That we’ve run out of reserves.
We’re tired. We’re worn down. Our energy is depleted. We’re in desperate need of renewal, restoration, revitalization, rejuvenation, and recharging.
So what do we do when we find ourselves running on empty? I’m glad you asked. Here are 20 things to remind yourself of when you’re running on empty.
Plato said long ago that, “The greater part of instruction is being reminded of things you already know.” Most of us have some knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. But when the pressure is on, we often forget what those things are. And by forgetting, we miss the source of our greatest resource – what works.
These are things that can make a difference when you’re running on empty. So let’s get started.
1. Remind yourself that it’s okay to be running on empty from time to time.
As I said a moment ago, we all get overwhelmed from time to time. We take on too much. We say yes a few too many times. So we get behind. We only need to recognize it and admit it. We don’t need to beat ourselves up over it. But if we continue to operate while running on empty, we will probably end up paying a price we don’t want to pay.
We can preclude the price-paying by simply admitting that we’re running on empty. The solution begins with acknowledgment. We cannot change what we will not acknowledge.
2. Remind yourself to take a break from media.
You’ve probably noticed that the modern world is filled with visual and audio stimulation. It’s everywhere and it’s relentless. Human beings were not meant to be bombarded constantly with stimulation that requires our attention. It cannot be sustained indefinitely. Eventually something breaks. Sometimes it’s us. So it’s helpful to back off from this constant barrage and take a quiet break.
Turn off your phone. Turn off the email notification. Move away from your computer. (After you finish this article, I mean.) Turn off the television. If you must have music, make it soft instrumental fare. Just give your mind and spirit a rest. The break doesn’t need to be long. 15 minutes should do it. If you know about meditation and how to do it, I need not say anything more. You already know the benefits.
3. Remind yourself that This too shall pass.
You may need to wade through some muddy water. It may be necessary for you to do some unpleasant tasks. You may have to fight off discouragement or even depression. But remind yourself that this is only temporary.
Think about things in the past that you’ve gone through. You got through them, didn’t you? You survived. In fact, in some cases the challenge was the thing that lifted you to a higher level. It may have been just what you needed to motivate you to try something different, something new.
Just say to yourself: This too shall pass. It should help you when you’re running on empty.
4. Remind yourself that getting a restorative night’s sleep works wonders.
Many times when we’re running on empty, the reason is painfully obvious. We’re tired. And we’re tired from a lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep. You need to get a handle on that.
There’s excellent material available on how to enhance your nightly sleeping experience. Familiarize yourself with the clinical findings and begin to apply them tonight. Sound, lengthy, restorative sleep does as much for our health as almost anything. Don’t forget it. Remember how important regular restorative sleep is.
5. Remind yourself to take time to do things that you enjoy and bring you happiness.
When we’re running on empty, we often lack the energy and motivation to do anything beyond what is mandatory. But it’s critical that we do more than what is necessary. We must also do some things that restore our energy and excitement about life. Remember to work those things in – especially when you’re running on empty. They’ll help recharge your batteries. Whatever they may be in your individual case.
Go to a movie or watch one of your all time favorite films
Read your favorite author
Watch some hilarious television reruns
Go out for a long, leisurely walk
Write a note to someone you care about
Get together with someone who lifts you up, encourages you, and affirms you
Listen to some feel good music
Take a nice relaxing walk in the park and sit on a bench and people watch
6. Remind yourself that a brief nap each day can do wonders for your mental health.
I’ve taken a nap each day for longer than I can remember. I can’t begin to tell you how restorative it is. Even if I’m not tired. Just sitting still and quietly for about 20 minutes is like a special gift given just to ourselves.
Thomas Edison used to take a nap while holding keys in his hand. When he fell asleep, the keys would drop to the floor and he would wake up and resume his work. I’ve tried that, and I can tell you that the keys fall way too soon. But feel free to set the alarm on your phone for 20 minutes. That’s really all you need. Before long you’ll wonder how you ever survived without naps.
7. Remind yourself to say NO – tactfully, kindly, clearly.
One of the common causes of overwhelm is that we say yes when we should say no. We don’t want to hurt the feelings of others. Or we want to ease our guilt. Or we just don’t feel confident enough to say no. If that’s the case, then I recommend practice. Tell someone that you’re practicing the art of saying no, and would they be a willing partner in your training? Then kindly and politely tell them NO. You’ll get good at it before you know it.
8. Remind yourself that cluttered space contributes to an unsettled life.
Take some time to de-clutter your important life spaces. We underestimate how much clutter saps our energy and focus. Clean out your car. You don’t need the old McDonald’s wrappers from 2005 in there. Get rid of them. Only have in your car what you need in your car. Take the other stuff out. Then, when you vacuum it out, you won’t need to spend so much time moving things. It will be quicker and easier to clean.
Clean out the trunk. Especially if you have any dead bodies in there. Or empty beer cans. Or an old cassette player and VHS tapes. Clean out your desk. Clean out your closets. Clean out your garage.
Yes, I know, this sounds like madness when you’re already running on empty, but tidying up actually generates energy. If you don’t believe me, just try it. Start small. Begin by cleaning off your desk. Or your kitchen counter. Or your bathroom counter. It really works, my friend. Just remind yourself that cluttered space contributes to a cluttered and unsettled life.
9. Remind yourself to do a data dump on paper.
Take a full sized lined sheet of paper and a pen. Number down the page from 1-50. Write down everything you feel you need to get done in the next 6 months. Take as long as you need. Stare off into space if you like. Have a cup of coffee or some tea. Get into the moment. Write everything down.
Then sit back and look at the list.
Two things. The first is to notice that it really isn’t all that much. It just seemed overwhelming swimming around in your head. But on paper, you tame the beast. It’s not an oppressive list at all.
The second thing is put a number to the right of each item in the order in which you want to tackle them. Then begin to tackle them one at a time. You might choose the quicker and simpler tasks first. Completing these should inspire you and motivate you to tackle the others.
10. Remind yourself that multitasking doesn’t work and never did.
The further behind we get, the more we tend to multitask. We convince ourselves that we don’t have time to do only one thing. We must maximize our time by doing as many things at the same time as we can.
This is a mistake. It’s misguided. And it doesn’t work. Never has.
We should learn to do one thing at a time. Shifting from task to task is not only inefficient, it increases the likelihood of errors. The quality of our work goes down when we multitask. Study after study confirms this.
And when we multitask, we lose one of the biggest benefits of focusing on one thing at a time – we miss the beauty of the mindful moment. We can take pleasure in doing the simplest of tasks – if we focus on the task we’re doing. Remind yourself that multitasking doesn’t work and never did. Learn to be in the moment.
11. Remind yourself of the immediate and long-term benefits of regular exercise.
One of the key components in physical health is staying active. Movement is the key. So move. It hardly matters what the movement is. Walking, running, swimming, tennis, hiking, sports. You just need to have regular movement several times a week when you get your heart rate up, tax your muscles, and give your joints a workout.
The most important element of any kind of exercise is… you guessed it – consistency. A moderate amount of exercise done on a consistent basis is of far greater value that vigorous exercise done sporadically. It’s the consistency that brings the benefits.
So find a way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. But no less than 4-5 times each week. If you currently exercise regularly, you need no convincing. If you’re about to start, you will be amazed at the benefits. You’re welcome.
12. Remind yourself how important it is to respect your personal rhythms.
Some of us are more functional in the morning. Some of us are more functional in the evening. Some of us are more functional in the afternoon. But nobody is functional all the time.
We all have our unique personal rhythms. We all have times when we’re more alert and our cognition is at maximum. We all have times when our energy level is low and we’re apt to make mental miscalculations. There are optimum times for decision making. There are times when we should delay important decisions. There’s no question that each of us has our own unique rhythm.
The goal is to find out what your unique rhythms are and respect those rhythms. When we deny or fight our unique rhythms, we sabotage our own potential excellence. And we become much more vulnerable to running on empty.
13. Remind yourself that simple is nearly always better than complicated.
Learn to simplify your life. Figure out what things are best set on autopilot. Bill paying, payroll deductions, savings and investments, oil changes, doctor and dentist visits. There’s no need to clutter up your mind with things that can be easily automated.
I love what time management expert David Allen said about this. He said, “Your mind should be used for thinking about things, not for thinking of things.“ In other words, our minds should be reserved for thinking about things that require thinking.
If you want to remember something later, write it down now! Don’t waste your mental resources trying to remember it. Just write it down and use your mind for other things. Just don’t forget where you wrote it down. Constantly ask yourself, “How can I simplify this? How can I make this simpler and less complicated?”
14. Remind yourself to accept what you cannot change.
Some things in life are beyond our ability to control or change. They just are. We may not like them. We may wish they were different. We would change them if we could. But we can’t.
So the next best thing is to accept them the way they are. To even be at some measure of peace with them. Knowing that in the final analysis, all accounts will be balanced. That wrongs will be made right. That justice will prevail. That peace will reign.
But that’s for a future time. In the meantime, we accept what is inevitable. We work hard to effect the changes that we can. But we don’t let what we cannot change take away our current joy and capacity for happiness.
15. Remind yourself to let fear motivate you rather than paralyze you.
Fear has a way of causing us a great deal of stress. It can lead us to make foolish decisions. It can cause us to decide on an action sooner than we should. But one of the most debilitating aspects of fear is that it can paralyze us. Fear of what might happen freezes us in our tracks. Fear of the unknown makes us afraid to move, lest something awful should happen to us.
But we need not fear fear. Fear is simply an alarm that we should heed. It’s a warning for us to take action – not avoid action. Fear is actually our friend rather than our enemy. Think of fear as a sign, warning you of danger ahead. Think of fear as a friend telling you to use caution down the road. Warnings are our friend, as they help shield us from harm.
We should see fear for what it is, and we should remind ourselves not to let fear paralyze us, but spur us on to beneficial action. Ask yourself what’s the worst possible outcome of what you fear? Chances are such an outcome is unlikely. Let that motivate you to move forward.
16. Remind yourself that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Sometimes we lose our way. We begin to put too much emphasis where there should be less. We devote more time to what we should devote less time to.
As Ray Stevens said, “We place value on the worthless and disregard priceless wealth.” Or as Stephen Covey said, “We get caught up in the thick of thin things.”
Not every thing is a main thing. But the main things we should keep in the main place. The main things are the important things. And it’s the important things that we must tend to. We should learn to let the less important things go while clinging to the more important things.
I can’t tell you what’s important to you, and you can’t tell me what’s important to me. But we both must be sure we honor what’s important to ourselves. That we keep the main thing the main thing. And that’s the main thing. The main thing will always be the main thing.
17. Remind yourself that failure is your teacher, not your enemy.
Most of us were taught from an early age that failure is to be avoided. That failure is ugly. That failure is demeaning, if not disgraceful. It should be avoided at all cost.
But this is faulty reasoning. Failure simply means that we’ve not met the goal we set. But there can be all kinds of reasons for this. We may have set the goal unrealistically high. There may have been unforeseen circumstances that prevented success. There may have been unpreventable events that sabotaged the goal. The timing may have been off. The goal may have been misstated.
But failure to reach one’s goal need not derail us. It can simply be the recognition that something should be changed. When Thomas Edison had worked more than five months on the development of a nickel-iron battery, his long-time associate, Walter Mallory visited Edison in his laboratory. Mallory said to Edison, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done, you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned to Mallory with a smile and replied, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”
Failure is often just another step toward success. Learn to see failure as your teacher – not your enemy.
18. Remind yourself to be kind to everyone.
Whenever we’re running on empty, we tend to be short with people. To be rude to people. To be impatient with people. But when we’re running on empty is the best time to be kind. Why is that? People always appreciate kindness. And kindness makes us feel better about ourselves and about things in general. And kindness has a way of coming back to visit us later. Kindness costs so little. But it pays huge dividends.
Do a deed of simple kindness; though its end you may not see.
It may reach, like widening ripples, down a long eternity.
19. Remind yourself to strive for excellence – not perfection.
One reason we may be running on empty is that we’ve been trying to do too much with too little. We may have been striving for unrealistic ends. We may be aiming for perfection. But perfection is mostly a myth. And mostly unnecessary. Striving for perfection will wear you out and wear out those on the journey with you. Strive rather for excellence. Excellence is much more achievable, and you’ll enjoy the ride much more.
20. Remind yourself that we are what we repeatedly do.
The great philosopher Aristotle said more than 2,000 years ago that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
It’s as true today as it was then. We so often end up running on empty because we forget the simple fact that excellence is not made up of huge leaps. Excellence, rather, is made up of countless small contributions made each day toward a goal. Excellence is not so much an event as it is a habit.
And just as bad habits can slowly lead us to a destination we would have better avoided… good habits can lead us to a much better place. As they say, “By the yard it’s hard… by the inch it’s a cinch.”
You can’t eat an elephant in one bite. But you can eat an elephant one bite at a time. A little bit done over a long time gets the job done nearly every time.
Here’s a summary of the things to remember when you’re running on empty.
It’s okay to be running on empty from time to time. Acknowledging it is the first step toward a cure.
Take a break from media. Media is a major source of sensory overload.
Don’t forget that This too shall pass.
Be sure to regularly get restorative sleep. It makes a huge difference.
Take time to do the things you enjoy and bring you happiness.
Don’t forget to take a nap. You’ll be glad you took one.
Just say NO.
Declutter your space and you declutter your life.
Do a data dump on paper to get a fresh and realistic perspective.
Stop multitasking. It doesn’t work. Never did.
Get regular exercise so you can reap the long term benefits.
I was born and raised in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. My dream as a child was to play professional baseball. I made it as far as a baseball scholarship to a Division 1 college. But it’s a long story. I’m a teacher at core, and love to teach anything and anybody who wants to learn. I started out as a public school teacher. But eventually felt called to the ministry, where I spent 32 years as a pastor. I love the outdoors. I love to read. I love people. I love to learn. Not necessarily in that order. I try to take a long walk every day year-round. I’ve done that for nearly 40 years. It’s where I do some of my best thinking. It also clears the cobwebs from my head and the nonsense that tries to take root there. I now run a blog (which you can visit by clicking here), where I discuss the meaning and lessons contained within some famous quotes.