When you’re sick but need to be productive anyway, what do you do?
When a productive woman gets sick . . .
I’ve received requests for this topic from a couple of listeners. As I was returning from a recent business trip, I started feeling pretty sick, and it got progressively worse and stuck with me for over a week. There must be something going around because several law partners, my coach, my audio editor, and my show notes coordinator were also feeling ill around the same time.
When you’re sick, it’s difficult to try to stay as productive as you would be when you’re feeling 100 percent. How you handle productivity depends on the kind of illness, of course, and how long it lasts. You may find yourself dealing with productivity in ways different than your normal routine.
Here’s what I did wrong
- I waited too long to go to the doctor. What started as the flu could have been taken care of if I had gone to the doctor sooner. Putting off going only allowed my doctor to treat the symptoms that followed, and prolonged an illness that had morphed into other things.
- I went to work while I was sick. It felt necessary at the time because I had been out of the office for travel. Unfortunately, in doing that I exposed my coworkers to my germs. I also risked doing a poor job with my work. Sickness and/or medication may make us careless, despite even the best intentions to get our work done.
Here’s what I did right
- I got ahead. We never know when illness will strike — either ourselves or others. There are some things we can do to be prepared for these times when we can only do the bare minimum:
- Try to always keep a few prepared meals in the freezer for those times you’re not up for cooking.
- Get ahead in job responsibilities.
- Avoid procrastination–you can’t always count on having the last-minute time to finish important work.
- I tried to get the rest I needed. Even though I went to work while sick, I allowed myself to leave work early to rest. Before leaving, I got done what I needed to, and I delegated other tasks.
- I gave myself the weekend off. I basically let myself stay in bed all weekend. Even though I had plans on my calendar, I put those aside to allow myself to heal and rescheduled appointments for when I would be feeling better. Letting myself not do the things I had planned was important, even though it can be difficult.
- I looked through my task manager and skimmed through what was due. I asked myself, “Will the world fall apart if I don’t do these things?” The answer, of course, was no, so I deferred everything and pushed them forward a few days. (My task manager lets me do that with a click of a button.) I gave myself permission not to do these things.
- I slept as much as I could. Our body needs more rest when it’s fighting off illness.
- I drank plenty of orange juice and water, even if I didn’t feel like it. Remember to drink plenty of fluids; having a fever can cause dehydration.
- I made myself eat a little bit. Even though nothing may sound appetizing, going too long without eating may make you feel worse. Try to eat something nutritious to give your body the energy to fight the illness.
- I kept things tidy. I didn’t get up and clean, but I did keep a wastebasket nearby for tissues, for example. It’s easy to let a mess accumulate and get away from you when you’re sick, but if you’re like me, you may feel even worse if it gets too messy.
- I took a shower. This can help your symptoms, as well as boost your mood. Once I got out of the shower and into clean pajamas, I felt more like a human being.
Remember, being productive isn’t about checking things off your to-do list; it’s about leading a worthwhile life. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a break. We’re human beings, not super humans.
Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a break.”
Other things to keep in mind
- Give yourself permission to get to a doctor so you can recover more quickly.
- Defer tasks, projects, and appointments to allow yourself time to recover.
- Do what you can in terms of projects or tasks, but you’re the only one who can decide if you have enough energy and brainpower to do these things. Stick with low energy, low-risk tasks.
- Take this time to review your project list. Give some thought to the next steps of these projects or if they still reflect your current priorities.
- Since even when you’re sick you might have brief periods when you feel relatively better, use that time to lie on the couch and go through your emails, delete spam, send quick emails, or let people know you’re not feeling well.
- Consider putting an out-of-office reply on your email to let people know you won’t be as quick to respond for now.
- If you really must work, take lots of breaks and make sure you stay hydrated. This may be a good opportunity to try the Pomodoro Technique. During breaks, you can walk around a bit or even put your head down on your desk.
- Keep a notepad and pen nearby and take notes about things to do when you feel better again. You won’t have to use brainpower to try to remember them.
- Ask for help. Ask coworkers, friends, and family for help, if needed. If someone offers to bring soup or help you out, let them. Use a service for errands like groceries, if you can.
- If you’re like me, there’s something in us that wants us to believe we’re critically important. But if it’s not a matter of life or death, the world will continue to turn even if we’re out for a few days. Things will still get done.
What do you think?
How do you handle your tasks and obligations when you’re sick? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this episode. Please feel free to ask your questions or share your thoughts with me by emailing me, commenting on our Facebook page or leaving a comment below.
Reminders and Notices
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- Visit the new “Resources” tab at the website. There you’ll find links to resources we produce, like the project planning template, the digital toolbox, Emily Prokop’s weekly docket, the decluttering questions tool from episode 83, and a printable of the 13 Questions to Improve Productivity from episode 87. I’ll also be adding info about books and other resources I recommend.
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