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Over my vacation I was battling the flu. Now that the worst of it is over and I’ve returned to some sense of normalcy and productivity, I decided to take this time to write about my experience because there were a few takeaways (yes, even from being sick) that I thought would be helpful to share. As a driven and ambitious young professional, nothing is more menacing than the threat of sickness. For us, sickness = less productivity, lost billable hours, and an overflowing inbox.

But the reality is that sickness is inevitable; so what that says to me is that maintaining your edge is all in your attitude. What I’ve seen is that people typically deal with being sick one of three ways.

1. You deny that you’re sick at all and try to plow through.

And while this may seem like the epitome of champion behavior, it also opens the door to “crash and burn” syndrome. You find yourself ignoring all of the signs that say you need to slow down and take care of yourself. You become more sluggish and start paying less attention to detail, which can lead to some costly mistakes in your work.

FAIL.

2. You succumb to and wallow in your sickness.

You draw the shades, cuss the dog, put on the depressing music, and hug your cup of Theraflu tight. You’ve pretty much given up on the idea of work. The problem is that that looming deadline is still there. But you don’t care. The universe has cursed you and you intend to let her have her way, therefore nothing gets done on your watch.

FAIL.

3. You admit you’re sick and make the best of it.

WINNER!

You have accepted the fact that you’re sick so you’re going to make sure you get the treatment that you need, but still try to be as productive as possible in the interim. This is definitely the most desirable way of dealing with illness. Yes, you should definitely see your doctor and stock up on your meds and chicken soup.  Take time to rest yourself and regain your strength. However, you may want to plan small intervals of time where you focus on getting some lightweight tasks done.

So what kinds of projects should you try to tackle? What worked for me was periodically logging in to my email and sorting through what could be answered quickly and starring what required a little more thought.

Another thing I did was use some of my energy spurts to get a jump start on projects that I knew I needed to work on in the very near future. I accomplished this by just keeping a small notebook next to my bed, so that as I was laying there thinking healthy thoughts, when I happened upon a fabulous idea about a project, I could capture it quickly and continue to flesh it out little by little. Now a modification to this would be if you’re not feeling up to writing, downloading the Evernote app for your Android device or iPhone comes in handy because it allows for dictation of your thoughts which you can always transcribe later.

Now I know you’re probably saying, “this is typical workaholic advice”. However, there are some advantages to this approach. Allowing yourself to do nothing for days on end knocks you out of the swing of things. Not only do you fall behind in your work, but your brain eventually becomes adjusted to the inactivity and it gets harder to get back to your normal pace once you’re feeling better. It’s like trying to go 0-100 mph in 60 seconds. While Jaguars may be built for this kind of speed, the human body isn’t. I always remember the advice I received in college from my fitness instructor. She said that the people she often sees quit exercising early on are the ones who tried to do too much too fast. She recommended starting slow, pacing yourself, and then building up to a more intense workout. She never recommended giving yourself a break (meaning stopping all activity). She just recommended scaling back until you felt comfortable upping the ante. This is also a great piece of advice to apply to our careers as well.

So the bottom line is that your health is extremely important. How can you give others your time and expertise if you’re not well? But depending upon the severity of the sickness, it doesn’t have to mean that you completely shut down either. There are ways that you can scale back to allow yourself time to recuperate, yet still remain productive.

What are some ways that you stay productive even when not feeling 100%? I’d love to hear from you!

2 comments

  1. So true!! I hate when sickness stops in my in tracks, but often it's because I was "burning the candle at both ends." My body just wanted a good movie on the couch and a nap! I try to stay productive by making sure I don't lose that balance in the first place – taking time to exercise, to sleep, and even catch up on a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory (<3 Sheldon)!

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