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How to Get Work Done When You’re Sick

When we are sick, the best thing to do is to sleep, hydrate, and focus on getting better. However, many of us do not have the option of taking time off to recover. Many workers don’t have paid sick leave options, and others might worry about getting behind on work or school during sick days. As many as 90% of workers have gone in to work sick. If you absolutely have to get work done while sick, you can alleviate your symptoms and break tasks down into simpler components in order to be productive.

Decide whether you should call in sick.

It is possible that you are too sick for work and should stay home. By staying home you can prevent yourself from getting worse and help prevent the spread of illness. You might also help speed along your recovery so that you are more productive when you do return to work. Think carefully about whether you are better off working or focusing on your recovery.

  • If you have a high fever (over 101 degrees Fahrenheit) or spots on your throat, you might have to consult your physician. You should also talk to your doctor if you have trouble staying hydrated or if your symptoms do not get better after a few days.
  • Many workers cannot afford to take time off because of illness. If this is the case, then you will have to find ways to take care of yourself even while working.

Ask if you can telecommute in lieu of a sick day.

It might be possible for you to get your work done from home instead of from the office. This option is great for employees (who can focus a bit more on recovery) and for employers (who do not have to worry about the spread of illness). Talk to your workplace to see if this is an option.

  • In order for telecommuting to work, you will likely require a secure laptop and a high-speed internet connection as well as a reliable phone.

Stay calm.

Being expected to work while ill can be a source of stress. However, stress weakens the immune system and might prolong your recovery time. Take a few deep breaths and tell yourself that you will be all right. Even though you are ill, you will be able to be productive as well as recover from your illness. It might not be ideal, but you will get through this illness.

Organize your work if you feel like you’re coming down with something.

Sometimes we have a day or two of warning before we get sick. Perhaps you might feel run-down, achy, or sleepy. When you feel a cold or other illness coming on, organize your work tasks so that you do not lose productivity during your illness. Get ahead on as many tasks as you can, and consider taking some work home with you so that you don’t have to come into the office.

Break up large tasks into smaller chunks.

Illness makes it hard to focus and can also reduce your stamina. In order to get work done, approach your work as a series of small, manageable tasks. The Pomodoro technique, where you work in short bursts of 25 minutes and then take a short break, is especially useful when you are sick.

  • For example, rather than putting together an entire presentation, tell yourself that you will simply make one slide at a time. After each slide is complete, allow yourself a break to recover: take a short nap or drink some tea.

Work on low-stakes projects.

If you can, focus on lower-stakes projects while you are ill. This can help prevent yourself from making silly errors on important tasks. Consider carefully whether it is necessary for you to do crucial, important work when you are feeling poorly. Catch up on busy-work whenever possible.

  • For example, a day when you are ill might be an excellent time to do mundane, mindless tasks like cleaning out your email inbox, filing documents, or putting together next month’s calendar. Try to avoid tasks that require high-level thinking, such as writing a crucial research report.
  • It is also a good idea to work on first drafts instead of final drafts of papers and projects.You can reread your drafts when you are feeling more like yourself. This will reduce the likelihood of major errors in the final version.

Set priorities carefully.

Workers who are ill are only 60% as productive as normal. This means that you have to think very carefully about what kinds of work you actually have to accomplish while ill. Examine your deadlines and your calendar in order to prioritize which tasks have to be completed during your sick day.

Keep your expectations reasonable.

Acknowledge from the outset that you will not be as productive as normal while you are ill. Be kind to yourself and resist the urge to run yourself ragged. If you push yourself too hard while you are ill, you might delay your recovery or you might feel even sicker. Be productive if you have to, but allow yourself some time to relax and recover.

Consider delaying certain meetings and tasks.

Sometimes we do not have a choice about what work we have to accomplish. But other times we might be able to rearrange our schedules. If you are sick, think about whether there might be some meetings that would be more productive when you are feeling better. Ask about postponing any meetings that are not time-sensitive or meetings where you will be expected to perform at your highest level.

Take breaks frequently.

People who are sick need more rest than usual and also need to stay hydrated. Be sure that you are allowing yourself lots of time to rest in between work tasks. Go to the water cooler, get tea at a nearby coffee shop, or simply rest your eyes at your desk for a few minutes. You will be more effective if you do not push yourself too hard, too quickly.

Ask for help.

Reach out to your neighbors, friends, family, and coworkers if you have to work while sick. Perhaps they might help you out around the house, bring you some soup, or be able to lend a hand with editing an important document. Everybody gets sick sometimes, and your loved ones and coworkers will sympathize with your plight.

  • If your coworkers help you with your duties, be sure that you express your gratitude and that you return the favor when your colleagues feel ill.

Drink three times as much water as coffee.

It is important to stay hydrated when you are sick. But sometimes we need caffeine in order to get through a workday when we are under the weather. Feel free to indulge in the occasional cup of coffee to get through this tough time, but be sure that you are drinking water as well. Drink 3 cups of water for every cup of coffee you have.

Take a nap.

If you are working from home, let yourself take a nap every now and again. Use naps as a reward to treat yourself when you accomplish an important task. These naps will inspire you to accomplish more at work and will also help your body begin to fight your illness.

Make a schedule for your return.

If you are working from home or only working a half-day while you are sick, take a few minutes to organize your return to full-time work. Make a list of the most important tasks that you will have to accomplish, and begin to envision how you will accomplish these. Set a reasonable schedule to make sure that you catch up on what you might have missed during your illness.

Reward yourself.

Use rewards for finishing goals each day. Treat yourself with comfort foods, hot beverages, naps, or your favorite movie to watch while sick. Feel proud that you could accomplish so much, even during your illness.

Consider alternative forms of productivity.

Perhaps you feel too ill to accomplish your tasks for work or school. Your brain might be too sluggish, or perhaps you cannot even get yourself out of the house. If you are feeling so poorly that you cannot focus on work, let yourself be productive in other ways. Maybe you can catch up on sleep, which will make you more effective when you return to the office. Or maybe you can clean your house or prepare some meals to put in your freezer, leaving yourself more time to work later in the month. Think about other ways that you can be productive, even if you are too ill to focus on your job.