Mug with hot drink, glasses and tissues for a sick day

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

If you’re sick, the best thing to do is to rest and just take time off to take care of yourself. However, we’ve all had those days when that simply isn’t possible. Maybe it’s an important deadline, a meeting, a personal project that you really need to get done or you’ve just started a new job and don’t feel like taking time off.

These last few days in Milan have been awful for allergy sufferers; there are so many pollens in the air and I’m continuously sneezing or sniffling, and my eyes are always watering. I totally can’t stay home right now though, so here are my tips on how to stay productive when you’re too busy to be sick.

Go Easy On Yourself

It’s clear that you won’t be performing at 100%. It’s just not possible to be completely on top of your game while you’re sick. Instead of expecting a stellar performance from yourself, realise that it’s ok to take it easy for a few days.

Figure out if you’re well enough to go to work; if you’re not well enough to go to work, you’ll end up just wasting time, as well as spreading germs around. Not to mention, you might make others sick too and just end up making the situation worse. Luckily, in my case allergies aren’t contagious so my coworkers have to put up with serious sniffles and a bad cold in the worst case scenario, but that’s about it.

If you’re too sick to go into work, perhaps evaluate if you can work from home. This will help you recover faster and get back to being 100% productive quickly.


It’s pretty unlikely that you need to get absolutely everything done today. Yes, it’s annoying to fall behind on your schedule, but try to figure out what absolutely needs to get done and what can wait. Once you’ve identified your priorities, make sure to work on those first and leave everything else for a later date.

If you’re lucky and there’s nothing that is 100% necessary, you really should concentrate on taking care of yourself. Does the thought of doing nothing drive you crazy and cause anxiety? Then focus on something that’s easy and straightforward to do.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to catch up on those tasks which always get left behind, such as clearing up your email from junk or organising your computer.

Alternate Work and Rest

If you’re sick, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to work for a full 8 hours as normal. Instead, consider working in short bursts. In between each work period, take a nap or do something you find relaxing, such as reading that book you’ve been meaning to catch up on.

This could be a good time to try out the Pomodoro Method, which I use but tweak slightly to fit my productivity needs.

Work without overdoing it, but whenever you feel like you need to sleep…listen to that inner voice, and just sleep!

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Soup is one of the most popular DIY cold cures, but I prefer herbal teas of various kinds. Usually I find that mauve is particularly soothing and works well, as well as peppermint green tea. Chamomile also works, but tends to leave me groggy.

Another pleasant home remedy is to boil hot water with lemon, honey and ginger; this is particularly effective in easing a sore throat.

Getting enough fluids will help you get better faster and will also help you keep a clear head and stay focused.

Take a Shower or a Bath

I’ve heard contrasting advice on this; apparently, if you’re sick, showers and baths can actually make it worse. If I can just spend all day in bed getting better, sleeping and relaxing, then I’ll skip the shower.

However, if I need to get stuff done, I find it beneficial to take a shower because it helps me clear my head and I also feel like I am “washing away” the sickness. I know that’s just my personal psychological reaction, but I actually feel healthier after a shower. It gives me that added kick I need to get at least some work done before going back to sleep.

Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!

Ultimately, this is works best for me. I try to fit in a nap anywhere I can between work periods, because it’s the only thing that really helps me feel better, even if I’m just at home.

Most times, I work from my bed so when I’m done I can go back to sleeping straight away. Sometimes, I don’t even use my computer; my phone or iPad and my favourite productivity tools, such as Evernote, are enough.

While I hope that none of you find yourselves in this situation, I think it’s almost inevitable. Hopefully these tips will help make your sick day more bearable and productive!



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