Here’s the thing: running a business when you’re tired

Friends, being tired is not my favourite.

But it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

I’m six month pregnant, and while my physical pregnancy has been something of a dream, my husband’s recent knee injury has put a lot more pressure on my physical, emotional and mental resources. He’s been out of action; I’ve picked up the slack.

So, for the last 6+ weeks, I’ve been really tired. And that feels like the beginning of the end! With the arrival of a tiny human, it’s not like I’m going to get more sleep any time soon.

We all go through phases, whether we’re parents or not, of being more tired (or stressed, anxious, depressed) than usual.

The question is: how can we make sure our businesses still run when we’re not at full capacity?

The answer, in a nutshell, includes adaptability and process. But they’re not things you can always rustle up when a challenging time hits. I didn’t know my husband would be in an accident. I couldn’t plan for it, or for the weeks of unexpected time off.

There’s plenty that can hit us without warning – family sickness, our own ill health, emotional emergencies and challenges, and the good old blues.

But we can build our adaptability – our ability to cope – and a few simple business practices to make sure things aren’t thrown completely upside-down. Because nothing makes an emergency worse than a loss of income and money worries.

Cultivating adaptability

If you’re a recovering perfectionist, and perhaps have preferences for being able to control everything, I’m here to introduce a new friend to you: adaptability.

The great thing about adaptability is that you can begin to cultivate it any time – you don’t have to wait for an emergency to feel the benefits. It’s about seeing what’s most important to you in any given situation and going for that, even if it’s not perfect or what you expected.

You’ll need big doses of acceptance. Accepting limitations isn’t something you see on motivational Instagram posts, but it is vital to effective business planning. There’s a big difference between accepting something as a limitation when it’s not, and having a genuine limitation on your time, resources and energy.

I like to think of them as laws of physics. There are only 24 hours in a day. If you have new commitments (like driving your husband to hospital for appointments), the reality is you have less time and energy for other stuff.

Acceptance. Then, adapt.

Adapting to new information as you get it is a skill we should really be actively teaching in schools. You learn that a supplier is putting up their prices, so you adapt to it by adjusting your prices or going elsewhere. You discover a stockist is changing their practices, and you adapt by making changes yourself, or walking away. These things require awareness of your bottom line values, and sometimes you’ll find yourself figuring them out as you go.

But with every single adaptability challenge, you get better at it. You get better at seeing through the crap and confusion to clarity.

When you’re really tired, you’ll be grateful for this skill!

Creating wise processes

The other thing you can do ahead of a tiredness hit is to create wise processes that allow for dips in productivity and energy. If you manage anxiety, depression, illness or children, I highly recommend doing this.

The idea is to have a few things in place that kick into gear when something hits. It’ll look a little different for everyone, but here are some ideas:

  • Design an order fulfilment plan that doesn’t rely on you. Maybe it’s a local friend, maybe it’s an outsourced solution. But anything that allows orders to stay on is good.
  • Create a backlog of social media and marketing content. Okay, so planning ahead in general is great, but even if you don’t tend to have months worth of marketing scheduled at any given time, having a few images and posts you can post without thinking about it is helpful. Again, we’re prioritising cashflow and sustaining your business.
  • Pre-write out of office emails you can switch on and off as needed. I love writing them like a little letter so that they’re a positive experience for anyone receiving them.
  • Write a three-level emergency plan. Include details like how long you’ll extend lead times for, which clients or colleagues you need to contact, and any business essentials (like paying rent) that will need to happen, come what may.
  • Cultivate a support team. Sometimes just waving the flag of struggle can be a big help. Sometimes you need practical help. Write yourself a list of people you can call on for help, the kind of help they can provide, and their contact details. You could even approach them to say, “I’d like to put you on my support team for xxx. Would that be okay?” And offer mutual support where appropriate.
  • Have an emergency shopping list – for your business and home. This is something I’ve created off the back of the last six weeks. I now have a standard online shop saved so that I can just check out and get food for myself and my family. You might even have something similar for your business. It’s such a relief knowing it’s there!

What other processes could you add into your business to limit any loss of earnings (and sleep) when you’re in a tight spot? Get creative!

But what if you’re really tired right now?

It’s all well and good talking about building up skills and processes when everything feels good. But if you’re really tired, stressed, anxious or depressed right now, it’s not necessarily the time to work on the bigger picture.

First, let’s practice acceptance. You are where you are. Trying to change it or giving yourself a hard time about it does not help. So please let yourself off the hook. My personal experience is that things actually go better in the long term when you can just sink into where you are and give yourself what you need. Don’t pretend everything’s fine when it isn’t.

Once you’ve let go of your own expectations about how you “should” be feeling – and anyone else’s expectations, for that matter – you can get to the heart of it.

  • What do you need first? Is it sleep? Or food? Or emergency care (physical or mental)? Take action on your highest need first.
  • Give yourself time. Email clients, set an out of office, extend delivery times. Making this decision puts you ahead and will allow you to switch off worry.
  • Call in support. Whether it’s calling a friend, asking a partner to take care of dinner/the kids/the household, outsourcing business tasks, or calling a counsellor, do not attempt to get through everything by yourself.
  • Adjust your to do list. There is nothing so clarifying as an illness or emergency (or pregnancy!) to get to the bottom of what’s most important to you. My radical recommendation is to cut your to do list by at least 50%. See what happens.

I have consistently have calls with clients where their business homework is to get more rest and sleep. Because this nourishes everything else in their business and life.

And a reminder that sometimes sleep is the only thing that can sustain us. Other times, we need downtime when we’re not actually asleep, but resting. Quiet time to ourselves.

If everything’s way over your head in the short term, plan some good stuff further ahead: book a day off and protect it, or book some business support (like coaching or a day retreat) so that you can build long-term success.

I get it.

If you’re really tired, I get it. I know it. If you’re struggling right now, you’re not alone.

I hope that sharing some of these ideas and supports helps you, whether you’re deep in it or able to working on cultivating adaptability and processes that will help later.

I’d love to hear your questions, ideas and experiences, so please do get in touch if you’d like to share!

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