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How to Stay Productive, Even When You’re Sick


It happened again. I had the perfect rhythm going—I was waking up at a great time every morning, I was spending time in prayer and Bible reading, my to-do lists were under control, and I was even exercising every day. “Finally,” I thought, “things are back under control.” And that’s when it happened. I got sick.

In an instant, my perfect routine came tumbling down. I was too sick to exercise without having a coughing fit, and I needed to get more sleep to recover from my illness, so that pushed back my wake-up time. That, of course, cut into my time in the Word. And after that, all my other best-laid plans fell like dominos.

It can be frustrating to get sick just when things seem to be going right. But that’s life after Genesis 3. The trick is to not let a temporary illness derail you entirely from your productivity. So, how can we stay productive during illness? And more importantly, how do we get back on track after we recover?

Here is a 5-step plan to stop illness from ruining your productivity.

1. Consider

Just how sick am I?

The first step is to properly assess our physical condition. Often we feel the pressure to keep going even when we are nearly at death’s door. But it is important to consider that when your body is telling you to rest, it might be right.

It is true that there are some duties in life that simply cannot be avoided, even when we are unwell. The bills still need to be paid on time, the kids still need to be schooled, and emails still need to be sent. But often we push through serious sickness instead of resting for the sake of stuff that really can wait. We do this for the short-term benefits, but we may be creating worse long-term repercussions by toughing it out.

Going to the office, making a bunch of phone calls, or keeping that appointment while you are still sick may mean you don’t get behind on things. But often it really just results in lower quality work, a protracted illness, and spreading your nasty germs. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to stay home and recover.

But how do you take the time to recover when so many things demand your attention?

2. Convalesce

The path to recovery is simple: Rest, but don’t get lazy.

Illness can sometimes be a gift in that it forces us to slow down, rest, and reflect. So, take that opportunity to get some sleep, spend time in prayer, do some reading, and reflect on what you are doing in life, where you are heading, and how you are walking with the Lord. For me, many of the most important changes in direction I’ve made in life have come when I’ve slowed down, either during a vacation or from being sick. Don’t waste this gift of forced rest.

There’s a difference between taking rest and taking advantage of your sickness. Don’t spend your recovery time binge-watching all 209 seasons of Veggie Tales. But to be honest, I doubt many Christians who are given to laziness read blogs on productivity. I think the pendulum likely swings the other way for most of us. We want to burn brightly for the Lord, but sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can burn so brightly that we burn right out. Deliberately burning out may sound noble, but it’s actually quite arrogant.

Remember, however, that even though you are resting and recovering, the world continues to spin. So, when you are sick make sure you communicate.

3. Communicate

To alleviate the pressure of taking a reprieve from responsibilities, and to ensure we don’t leave anyone in the lurch while we are out, we need to clearly communicate. Yes, get your rest, but keep up on important email if possible, otherwise set up an out of the office reminder or delegate responses. Also, reschedule any appointments you may have. Give everyone a heads-up.

Consider, what are the bedrock non-negotiables that I need to be keeping up with while I’m sick, and what are the things I can let go until I’m recovered? Figure that out, and just decide what to do about the important stuff. Often, most things are less urgent in reality than in our minds.

Delegate anything you can. If you think you will be too sick to lead your Bible study or drop the kids off for practice, is there someone who you can ask to do it for you?

Defer everything else. Anything that cannot be delegated will have to be deferred. But you must clearly communicate to all concerned parties that you will need to put off those dates to another time. Everyone gets sick. They will understand.

4. Climb

Even once you’re back on your feet, you need to admit that it’s going to take a few days or weeks (depending on how sick you were) before you’re back to 100%. It’s a slow climb back to being productive again after getting sick.

Don’t sprint to the gym and start maxing out your deadlift on day one. And don’t think you’re going to be able to pick up where you left off with that super-spiritual groove you were in. These things take time.

climb-bridalveil-falls

It’s a slow ramp-up. Give yourself time to get back your vigor. But be diligent to climb back into your rhythm, step-by-step. It can be hard work, but it’s worth it to put in the effort. I find that it’s most beneficial to get my morning routine back intact first. Everything else seems to follow once I have that.

5. Construct

Finally, after you recover from being sick and are back into your productive routine, consider constructing a plan for next time this happens. Often, forced rest uncovers the places where we don’t have redundancy built into our responsibilities. If you are a single point of failure in multiple areas of your life—meaning there is no person or system that can cover for you in the short term—that’s actually a problem.

If you lead a Bible study do you have a backup leader? If not, that may be a failure of discipleship on your part. At work are there systems that only you can manage even the most basic functionality of? That puts your employer in a precarious position. Consider cross-training someone. Do you trust your spouse to know how to help pick up some of the slack at home? Consider, letting go a little bit so that they can back you up when illness takes you down for the count.

Make a plan while you’re healthy, so it’s not a crisis when you get sick.

Conclusion

It is possible to stay productive while you are sick. Sometimes that productivity looks a lot like rest. But that’s okay as long as you have a plan in place. Having a game plan for when you are incapacitated is just another sign of being a good steward. So, for the next time you get sick, remember to consider, convalesce, communicate, climb, and take the time to cultivate a plan so that your responsibilities are still being fulfilled. Then you will be able to get back on track quickly once you are recovered.

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Slave of Jesus Christ, husband, father, and Director of Digital Platforms at Grace to You. I also blog for The Master's Seminary.

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