Thursday, February 24, 2011

How do you work when you’re not at 100 %?

There are many reasons that you may find yourself at less than 100%.  Sometimes you are distracted by things going at home or maybe you are getting a cold.  It may also be a reoccurring or chronic illness.  

I have the usual family issues that come with having an 18 year old away at school in another city, a 15 year teenage boy who finds sport in challenging me, a 6 year old who is smarter than her parents and a very active 4 year old boy who bounces off the furniture regularly.  But my biggest problem is the migraine headaches that I inherited and have plagued most of the women in my mother’s family.  I am lucky that they are not as severe as when I was younger and that I have learned ways to minimize them, although it doesn’t always work.  But the fact is I still have to go to work some days when I’d rather hide out in a dark room with a cup of tea and a couple ibuprofen or acetaminophen.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting you go to work when you are sick.  I am a firm believer in taking time to be healthy, but particularly with chronic reoccurring illness, sometimes you have to go to work despite the pain. 

How do you plod through a day when you feel awful? 

First, you must find ways to relax and minimize what you are feeling. If it is stress from issues at home, then ten or twenty minutes of meditation may help you refocus.  And if you think you don’t have time to meditate, let me tell you that the increase in productivity will far surpass the time spent relaxing and refocusing.  Relaxation exercises can also help you release some of the pain or discomfort from chronic illness.

Even with meditation and relaxation, you may still find yourself at less than peak performance.  I always suggest having your next day planned out the day before.  The last thing you do as you are getting ready to leave the office for the day is to make a list of the top 5 things that you want to do the next day.  With this practice, when you’re having a less than stellar day, you can easily look at your list for the day and reschedule anything that is not urgent.  I also suggest trying to reschedule anything that will require intense focus, because this may be challenging.  Next, try to keep a list of simple things that are not urgent and do not require too much thinking.  It may be a good day to do a bunch of short follow up emails to ensure work is moving along.  That way when you are back at 100 % you’re not wasting productive time waiting for others and following up.  Do not send big emails that require careful wording.  You can draft them if you wish, but hold off sending until you have reviewed them with a clearer head.  Imagine writing an email to a client that you are having difficulty with right after you’ve had a disagreement at home.  I suspect the tone of the email may reflect a little of your current frustration. 

Sometimes there is a tendency to surf the internet, play internet games or follow your social networking sites when you’re not up to par.  Avoid this, because what starts out as a ten minute break will become a two hour waste.  If you’re going to do that, you might as well have stayed home.  Instead, look at work that needs to be filed, or emails that need to be archived.  Maybe you have FYI files to review, or maybe this is the day you can sort through the trade magazines or clean your office and purge.  

Whatever you do, reward yourself with more frequent breaks where you stand up and stretch.  When I have a headache I tend to go from my usual 2 cups of tea a day to 4 or 5.  It gives me the mental break from my computer, the physical break while I make my tea and well…for me a good cup of tea is like comfort food; it always makes me feel better.

You can be productive even when you aren’t 100%, just choose your tasks wisely.  Maybe you can even embrace the idea of clearing up some of those small to-dos that were hanging over you.  Today was one of my less than 100% and so I took a moment (ok-20 minutes) to write this piece.  But I might wait to review before posting to save you from my awkward sentences and horrible headache grammar. 

Enjoy a productive day!

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