I pushed myself to the brink of disaster.

I woke up Christmas morning exhausted, sick, and fifteen pounds heavier than I was two months before. I was at the tail end of a seven-week marathon of ninety-hour workweeks and my body and mind were paying the price.

Extra work doesn’t mean that your body has to end up in shambles. Overcome fatigue with these seven tips.
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The fourth quarter of the year is by far my busiest time. For one of my clients, the four-week stretch from Thanksgiving to Christmas accounts for more than 50% of the revenue for the year. For others, it’s equally as important.

For the three weeks before and during that stretch, I was up most days before 6:00am and rarely in bed before midnight. In between, I was able to spend a little bit of time with my family thankfully, but otherwise it was all work, all day. Day after day after day.

By Christmas morning, I was mentally and physically fatigued. I had a horrible cold that lasted far too long, and my pants didn’t fit very well.

I was an absolute mess.

Sometimes you have to push. That is a fact of life. There are times that call for extra effort, extra focus, and extra hours. But when you do, it doesn’t mean that your body has to end up in shambles.

Here are seven things I learned this year and what I will be doing next time I have to really push it.

1. Eat right.

This becomes more important than ever. My diet became a smorgasbord of refined sugars, fatty meat, and chips. I ate crap and later felt like crap. The right thing to do is eat healthier than normal.

Plan ahead and cut a lot of fruits and vegetables up on Sunday. Eat lean meats and snack on almonds or other nuts. Eliminate refined sugars as much as possible.

2. Exercise.

Get in at least a little exercise every day. I love to run, but I can’t do six miles on the treadmill in the morning when I have a long day ahead. But I could have done one or two. Find twenty minutes and make it the best twenty-minute workout ever. If you’re a runner, run your fastest mile or two. Learn to speed up. It will benefit you later on your long runs.

If all else fails, I can at least get in a couple of 5-minute workouts. If you want a guide to how to get in a good workout in 5 minutes, check out my ebook The 5-Minute Workout.

3. Be proactive with supplements.

To beat a cold, I make a natural cold remedy that works every time. Next year, I will begin taking this remedy proactively when I have to push it to fight off colds before they happen. It also happens to be very energizing and healthy.

4. Give up something.

A hobby, guy’s night, anything. Give up something for this season that is time consuming to get a little extra sleep and/or time with family.

5. Limit caffeine.

As much as you may feel like you need a boost, limit your caffeine intake. Plan out when and how much caffeine you will ingest. The typical cup of coffee has approximately 100mg of caffeine. A healthy amount is 200-300mg daily. Much more than that gets into dangerous territory according to the Mayo Clinic.

My two rules from now on: I will spread out my caffeine intake in smaller amounts and no caffeine after 5:00pm.

6. No electronic devices in bed.

When you hit the bed, you need every minute of sleep you can get. Don’t disturb your sleep by using a device in bed. Put away the phone or tablet and start snoozing.

7. Take a nap.

I have personally found that I can get about one hour less sleep at night if I get in a twenty-minute nap during the day. That’s a forty-minute win. For more on naps, Michael Hyatt has some great articles on the topic. I will not miss my nap next time I have to push it.

Next time I really have to push myself, I will be ready. I’m following my own tips here.

What would you add to this list? When you really have to push it for an extended period of time, what do you do to stay healthy? 

32 thoughts on “How to Push Yourself…and Not Pay the Price

  1. Todd Liles says:

    Create a hard deadline that you absolutely will not work past. This forces you to focus, get it done, and take much needed breaks. I’m doing that this month as a personal experiment.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      I like this Todd. And going along with this, making sure that when you are off work, you are OFF WORK. Once you hit that hard deadline, dont look at email, respond to texts, etc. Be present where you are. You’ll appreciate it, and so will your family.

      1. Todd Liles says:

        Yesterday was my first hard deadline. The major goal was to not do ANY Social Media or computer related work for after 6 PM every night. I will still think on my business, but it will be very limited. And Yes! I’m going to stick with it for 21 days.

      2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        way to go! I think exactly what the deadline is probably isnt nearly as important as setting it and sticking to it. I think your body has more energy when it senses that you are in control, rather than at the mercy of outside influences and priorities…if that makes sense?

      3. Todd Liles says:


  2. Eric Nagel says:

    When I have a busy day, my morning trip to the gym is often the first to get cut from my schedule. But when I skip that, I find I’m more exhausted throughout the rest of the day.

    If I can just get out the door, I can do at least 2 miles & be back home in 20 minutes. That investment in time will more than pay for itself later in the afternoon.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Amen to that.

      The other day, I was still in the midst of my two week cold, had to get up at 5:30 after going to bed well after midnight, and I woke up in a haze. There was no way I was going to run a mile, let alone two or four as the calendar said I was supposed to. So I literally went to the basement and did a fifteen minute workout. I walked a half mile on a sharp incline, did a few pushups and crunches and stretched. I barely broke a sweat, but I can say I did it. That is what mattered on that day.

      1. Bret Wortman says:

        That’s the attitude I need to just get started exercising. My morning is all about getting out the door, and I’m wasted in the evenings after getting the kids to bed. I just need to do _something_ to get started!

  3. Dan Erickson says:

    I slacked a bit with my health over the month of December, but I didn’t let it go too far. But I have in the past. My favorite on your list, and one I still need to work on is: “no electronic devices in bed.” Beds are for… sleeping.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I think it’s wise advice in general. I haven’t used an electronic device in bed other than to set my alarm in more than four years except for one night when Tara and I played a game on her iPad. I slept horribly for the first hour and I usually fall asleep in less than five minutes.

      Lesson learned.

  4. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    This may not be possible in some pushes, but when I was working 70+ hours a week in my last job, the most important thing for me was Sunday. I needed that day to recover. Because I’m a Christian, Sunday is the Sabbath, hence, no work. But it goes further than that, I had to focus on spiritual things, Church, serving others, spending time with family. And (and this is most important) REFUSING to work. I wouldnt answer texts from people at work, I would resist the urge to plan my week.
    I believe the Lord was inspired (understatement of the milennia?) when he said “six days shalt thou labor…but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it though shalt not do any work”
    That is what I did to stay healthy, physically and mentally.

    1. Jon Stolpe says:

      Take a sabbath one minute every hour…one hour every day…and one day every week. This is a good place to start.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        I like that Jon! great way to look at it!

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      That was the one day I did keep.

      It certainly helped!

  5. Jon Stolpe says:

    I’d be curious to learn your “natural remedy” for the cold. It appears that I’m starting to fight one of these myself.

    One item that I would add to your list: Stay in God’s Word. Why is this always the first to go? I think it’s the thing that needs to be a top priority.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Agreed and I totally forsook that. Ugh.

      My remedy?

      Every few hours I drink a mix of:

      3-4 drops Oregano oil

      1 tsp Olive Leaf Extract

      5-6 drops Grapefruit Seed Extract

      1 ML of Umcka (Pelargonium sidoides roots)

      I mixed it with about 3 oz. of juice or water. It’s terribly disgusting.

      I learned to use a small plastic cup and squeeze it so it’s like a funnel because the oregano oil burns like crazy.

      I do that about five times a day and the past two times it worked insanely well. This past time, I didn’t start it soon enough and I only took it when I remembered…and was sick for ten days.

      I think the key is that if I so much as feel the sniffles to start taking it and see what happens. The stuff isn’t super cheap but I figure each does costs ~$0.50. Totally worth $2-3 a day to get better fast.

      1. Tom Dixon says:

        No Oreos?

  6. Jeremy Carver says:

    Tell it Matt! This is so important for people to get their heads around. We had a customer pay the ultimate price last month. He literally worked himself to death. He was trying to outwork problems in his business rather than work on the solution. He was consumed… not eating enough, not sleeping enough, not spending time with his family. He was stressed, frail, and panicked. He wouldn’t listen to me or anyone else, for that matter. The combination of stress, and excess caffeine (he was abusing 5 Hour energy shots) caused him to have a seizure, fall & hit his head. He died in the hospital.

    We have got to take care of ourselves! We tell ourselves, “It’s only for a short time.” But then it isn’t.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      OK, so that might be one of the best comments ever. In a sad way, but wow.

      Thanks for sharing Jeremy. Shocked me enough that is for sure.

      1. Jeremy Carver says:

        Wife and 3 daughters kind of sad. Kind of puts pushing too hard into perspective, doesn’t it? We’ve all done it. I ended up with relationships and health that needed some serious attention, but there was no permanent damage to either. Our customer never thought he was making choices that jeopardized his or his family’s life, but he was. Are we? Question for you Matt… Do you think I should write about it from this angle? Also, he subscribed to my posts… What if his wife continued to check his email and read it?

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        Hmmm tough one. Personally, I wouldn’t write about it for at least six months and keep it general of course.

        Ultimately, you have to ask yourself this question, “Do I possess knowledge that could help other people?” You do.

  7. When you write curriculum you start from the end – the desired outcomes. Those outcomes are set before you as you design each lesson plan, exam, activity, etc. I think we need to examine our desired outcome of our life and work back from that. If our desire is to be successful in business, then our design of how we live our life will be dictated by that. If our goal is more eternal, then we create our lifestyle to fulfill that outcome.

    I can’t help but think that you were not the only one in the family “suffering” during this time. Remember, not many say that they wished they worked more when they are laying on their death bed. Most regrets are around relationships. The most important relationship being that of our relationship with God. Put that first and all the other “stuff” will fall into proper perspective.

    Often staying healthy means saying “no”. No to added work, responsibilities, social gatherings, extended family obligations (not imediate) and the myriad of other things that eat away at us. Although most are “good” things – we sacrifice our “best” to accomplish them. (Saying “no” was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I really had to look at why – and realized my “self-worth” was really wrapped up in my performance as viewed by others. Once you can let that go as a priority, it is easier to say “no”.)

    Good health to you!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Definitely not the only one suffering. My wife had no help around the house a d felt very alone.

      Thankfully we are more prepared for it this time and can adjust our weekend schedules to allow for more family time.

  8. Tom Dixon says:

    I have noticed a huge increase in my energy levels in the afternoon by watching what I eat. I am able to get so much more done without the candy bars, chips, and fried foods. Exercise also keeps the energy levels up – I just need to start doing it in the morning to jump start the day versus right before bed…and you’ll have to pry my iphone out of my cold dead hand before bed.

  9. Carol Dublin says:

    When I get overloaded, I do everything I can to protect at least a little of my quiet time in the morning. Devotions/prayer, writing and running – even if I have to shorten the time spent, it’s important to start my day right. It’s disaster otherwise.

  10. Judi Moore says:

    Matt, your 4th quarter “lesson” is so familiar to me. I spent all those years in the mortgage business, learning it the hard way, too. If I could share 2 more things that I think will help for the next time:

    Don’t even think about working the weekend. The minute you get stressed on Tues and Wed, you’ll start a stack of things to tackle on Sunday when no one is bothering you. I know things “come up”. But, you can take care of a Sat or Sun task when it’s actually necessary and then walk away. Don’t look around to see what else could be done. You’re not productive without a break and if you’re not looking out for you, no one else will see the need.

    Offer household help in the form of “errands”. Done right, driving around doing menial pick-ups and drop-offs (alone) can be a very creative time. If you decide before you leave that the traffic, the red lights and the rude cashier aren’t going to even be noticed by you, you can spend your stoplight time planning out that response, that ad, or an upcoming meeting. Stop on your way home and bring frozen yogurt and you could be King.

    It is possible to permanently harm your well-being by putting yourself in the position of working instead of living. I’m happy that you saw the results and recognized them so you can change it up going forward.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Absolutely Judi!

      I did set a rule that I would not work past 2pm on Saturday’s and none on Sunday’s. That helped a lot because I still got some good time with family and time to recharge my batteries.

  11. Lily Kreitinger says:

    So true. Dead people make for poor leaders, poor parents and spouses. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Quote of the year!

  12. Just found your blog via Jon Acuff. I found this article very helpful, thanks for sharing. I am trying to implement more exercise and eating nuts instead of chocolate bars!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Hey now…chocolate bars are the one exception to the rule… haha.

      Actually one thing I will treat myself with is 1/2 of a raw cacao bar in the early afternoon. Just a little caffeine boost and not too bad for me. It’s not as tasty as a Hershey bar, but much better for you. Try it.

      Thanks for reading!

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