Chronic illness

Tips for feeling productive with low energy

Pain or fatigue can easily get in the way of feeling productive. Simple tasks are much harder for any of us when our brains feel foggy or bodies are worn out. With chronic illness, low energy is very common and regular productivity may begin to feel out of reach. Try these ideas for feeling productive while low on energy.

Commit to just getting started.

A multi-stage, time-consuming project can feel impossible when you are low. Break it down into chunks, and just commit to starting the project. Low energy isn’t just physical. Low physical energy can worsen with the addition of anxiety and fear. Completing only the first part of a project can help envision the project as a series of simpler portions. And starting is always the hardest part of any unwanted project.

Change your environment.

If you sleep in your bedroom and you start to make a habit of using your bedroom for productivity, your focus can suffer.

Use another room or area to work if possible. And if you do that consistently, you will start to associate the other place with productivity, improving your ability to focus.

Wherever that place is, try to make sure the environment stays tidy. A computer sitting on a small corner of an untidy kitchen table can distract you and even transfer to how you view your project itself as an untidy, complicated chore. If you move all items except your computer, book or journal fully off the table, you allow your mind to concentrate simply on your task and not on an environment of clutter.

Depending on how your health is on a particular day, lying down may be your only choice. But if there’s a couch or comfortable reclining chair in a room other than your bedroom that you can tolerate, you’ll have a better shot at productivity.

Use the Internet wisely.

Prevent distraction

If you have access to the Internet, you already know there’s hardly a better tool for productivity. Yet it’s equally easy to waste time online. If you have a tendency to lose hours of your day to mindless browsing on social media, playing games or watching videos, give yourself some ground rules. Set goals and use distractions only as rewards for after you’ve finished something.

Whatever your specific weakness may be, there’s probably a browser extension that can help. Extensions can:

  • Allow you to block a site that typically distracts you, such as Facebook, for however long you want.
  • Block the backgrounds of web pages so that all you see is text.
  • Alert you periodically to rest your eyes or stretch, which can help with focus.
  • Check out this list of 10 extensions to help here.

These things may seem cumbersome and silly, but once installed, they can save you a lot of the mental energy it takes to block out visual or other distractions and focus on the task at hand. (See “Train Your Brain for Monk-Like Focus” for more on this.)

Accomplish more

Once you’ve cut back on distractions, you can use your computer to do whatever it is you’ve been struggling to accomplish. The Internet offers many opportunities that don’t require high energy, such as:

So fatigued that you can only tolerate video? Try learning a new skill. Watching others do something is an effective way to learn. Get inspiration from the many people with chronic illness who use crafting skills to sell or fundraise on

red phone

Pick up the phone.

Are there any tasks you’ve been putting off that you can solve with a phone call? Now is your chance. Dialing the phone doesn’t take a lot of energy. But that feeling you get when you hang up the phone will let you know you’re being productive.

If you have nothing pressing to take care of, like scheduling an appointment or figuring out what new insurance plan is best for you (try CVC’s guide), think more broadly:

  • Check your bank statements for auto-payments you could cancel to save money.
  • Call your representatives regarding something you care about, such as rare disease awareness.
  • Call your grandmother, or any other person in your life who will appreciate the gesture.
  • Reconnect with an old friend.

Other ideas to note:

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