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How to Stay Productive When You’re Sick

How to Stay Productive When You’re Sick

    You’ve got a major project at work this week, and the deadline is absolute. You work hours of overtime, lose out on sleep, and before you know it, you’re sick as a dog.

    It’s a nightmare scenario that we’ve all faced a dozen times before. You’re too sick to work, but still tied up in a project that is too important to neglect. So what can you do?

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    If you need to stay productive while also dealing with a nasty cold or flu, here are some tips that may be able to help you get better while also helping you to deal with your overwhelming workload.

    1. Take a Day Off

    For many people who have major projects on the horizon, this is not going to be a your first option. That being said, you may be so sick that you really don’t have much of a choice.

    As a migraine sufferer, I’ve learned that I can’t be my usual workaholic self when I’ve got my head in a toilet. If you are sick, really, truly, terribly sick, you need to take it easy. Not only will you be back to your normal self much sooner, but you will also prevent yourself from making stupid mistakes at work or while communicating with co-workers.

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    2. Load Up on Cold Cures

    Scarf down six bowls of chicken noodle soup, drink a gallon of OJ, drink lots of clear fluids, and take plenty of vitamins. Take over the counter cold drugs, or herbal remedies like echinacea (after making sure that you aren’t at risk for any unintended side effects.)

    Do whatever it takes to get better. If you eat right and get plenty of fluids, you’ll be better equipped to keep working on important, time-sensitive projects without having to go back and revise your previous work while sick. Just beware of certain drugs (like some sinus-clearing over the counter pills) that can cause drowsiness or the dreaded “medicine head.”

    You may also find relief from taking hot showers, applying hot or cold compresses to your skin and face, drinking lots of hot herbal tea, and sleeping with an extra pillow under your neck to position your head for improved draining of the sinus cavities.

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    3. Work in Short Bursts

    It will take you longer to get in a full 8 hour day, but by working in short bursts with frequent breaks, you can keep up your energy levels and ensure that you stay completely focused on the task at hand.

    This might be an excellent time to experiment with the Pomodoro Technique, a time management technique where you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically. You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes… and when you are feeling under the weather, this gives you much needed rest while also giving you a sense of accomplishment.

    4. Isolate Yourself from Co-workers

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    If you must work, you should work from home, or in some other way that isolates you from your co-workers. That way, if you were working on the same project with them, you wont cripple the whole team by spreading around your sickness. This ensures that even if your productivity is lower, the productivity of the rest of your team will be unaffected.

    5. Look to the Future

    When Alex Fayle of the blog Someday Syndrome is too sick to work, he still manages to stay productive by changing the focus of his work. Rather than work on pressing, urgent projects that he might mistakes on due to his illness, he instead focuses on long-term planning and thinking about his future career goals.

    “I could have gotten cranky. I could have pushed myself and produced utter crap, he explains. “Or I could have taken a break and let whatever was bothering me pass. My lazy tendencies stirred long enough to convince me of the virtue in the last option… But I wasn’t completely unproductive. I also took the time to come up with a series of visions for my future – not the outcome kind of future but an action-based one. I looked 6 months, 1 year, 3 years and 5 years into the future and decided what I was doing… People who picture future actions rather than future outcomes are more likely to achieve their goals.”

    How do you maximize your productive hours when you are suffering from a serious cold or nasty flu bug? Tell us in the comments below, follow us on Twitter, or take the conversation over to Facebook.

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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