Managing Fatigue in the Workplace, Part 1

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I think everyone can relate to the idea of being tired at work. We all feel burned out at one point or another, whether it be from stress, overwork, or just a serious case of the Mondays. Fatigue can be both physical and/or mental, depending on the kind of work you are tasked with doing. It is also not uncommon to feel physically wiped out due to being taxed mentally, or vice versa.

However, when you live with a disability, fatigue can be a daily reality and one of the biggest challenges when trying to be productive at work. For myself, one of the biggest eye openers when I returned to work following a brain injury was the level of fatigue I experienced. It was not uncommon for me to go home after work and nap for several hours, and most of my evenings were spent simply recovering from the work day. 

During my rehabilitation, my doctors and therapists were adamant about the fact that I needed to manage my fatigue. They gave me several pointers on how to do so and helped me develop a plan which could aid in my recovery. Hence the inspiration for this series of posts. 

While my experience directly relates to dealing with a brain injury, properly managing fatigue can help anyone with a disability be more successful at work. We always tell prospective job hunters to have a plan in place to tell your employer how you will deal with your disability at work - doing this allows an employer to see your ability, rather than disability. 

Without much further ado...

Managing Fatigue in the Workplace, Part 1: Keeping an Activity Journal

(Cue the eyeroll)

Is there anything that gets more eyerolls than telling people to journal? I know because I have done and seen it happen myself dozens of times. I am pretty certain my sigh was audible from blocks away when my doctor first told me to keep an activity journal. Journalling often falls into the area of life where some of us do it, many people wish they could make more time to do it, and still others scoff at it. 

The good news is that an activity journal is a lot different than a personal journal, or travel diary, and takes a lot less work. The even better news is that it can be really helpful in managing fatigue. 

If you find yourself getting very fatigued at work, or in your daily life, an activity journal is a tremendous resource for understanding how your body works and what is wearing you down. It allows you to move from generalities like "work is tiring", or "I am on my feet too much", to finding out how your body specifically responds to different tasks throughout the day. It will also let you see how different tasks can combine to wear you down. Once you understand how you are getting fatigued you can then begin to arrange your day and schedule in ways that will help mitigate this.  

The simplest format for an activity diary is to jot down at four different times during the day of what tasks you did and how you are feeling. A good starting place is once when you get up, then at noon, when you finish work, and again in the evening before you go to bed. Each entry need not be more than a couple of lines or jotted notes on what you have been doing, and your level of fatigue. 

Keeping task of how you feel first thing in the morning and in the evening can also allow you to see how the level of activity in your personal life may be affecting your work life. Spending all night cleaning the house, doing laundry, or socializing - things we take for granted - may be wearing you down as well. 

If you really feel that certain tasks at work are wearing you down then you can also log your activities more frequently. 

For myself, I started off using a small notebook to track my daily activities and then eventually switched to a diary app (there are literally dozens of them) on my smartphone to make things easier. 
After only a week I was able to look at my log with my doctor and begin to strategize ways to minimize stress on my brain and body. 

We will be back later this week with ideas on how to reduce stress and fatigue at work, but the first step is knowing what exactly the problem is. Yes it may sound cheesy, but I encourage you to give an activity journal a try, you may be surprised by what you learn. 

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