Medicine Bottles from New Orleans Pharmaceutical Museum

How to be productive while you’re sick.

There’s nothing fun about having a cold, and certainly nothing funny about the flu. But sometimes these things happen while you’re in the middle of a busy time at work. Despite your best planning, nature can hand you an unsuspected surprise at what seems to be the worst time.

Toward the end of last week, I started feeling low on energy as I went through the day. I wasn’t sleeping well and woke up feeling fatigued. It was hard to concentrate during meetings and impossible to find energy, motivation, or focus to dig into complicated projects. I was getting sick.

On Saturday morning I woke up optimistic that a trip to grocery store would start the day right. It felt great getting showered and heading out the door, but by the time I returned home an hour later, I was completely devoid of energy.

For the remainder of that day and all day Sunday I stayed in bed. No laptop, no work e-mail, just rest. Each morning, I awoke feeling a little bit better. By Monday, I was able to stomach some breakfast, attend a few calls, catch up on e-mail and update some pressing files, but I wasn’t able to be much more proactive, and didn’t try. That night I hit the hay as early as I could.

The next day I woke up refreshed, clear-minded, and mostly recovered from my debilitating weekend. Total recovery time? 4-5 days.

Sure, I could have “plowed through” and sniffled and groaned through a few more slides or notes. I could have stayed up later, woken up earlier, but to what end? My recovery time could have easily doubled.

So, how do I stay productive when I’m not feeling well? I don’t.

When I’m sick and out of energy, my body is telling me it needs the time to do what it only it can do: recover. That’s not something that can be sped up, hacked, or improved. It’s just a process that takes time, and the sooner I yield to it, and the more time I allow for it to happen, the sooner everything comes back to 100%. Then, and only then, can I come back and be 100% me and 100% productive.

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