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Staying productive with a chronic illness is challenging, but it isn’t impossible. Prior to having a chronic illness, you may have been a busybody, always on the go with loads to do. But now those same things may seem next to impossible. So, how can you be productive when you have a chronic illness? Is it even possible? Well, here are a few tips that I’ve found useful over the past couple of years. Hopefully, they’ll help you as well.
The information provided in my blog posts is strictly from my own experiences and is not intended to replace medical or professional advice. Do not disregard any medical advice you have received after reading any of my posts. For more, please read mydisclosure page.
- 1. Ask for help if you plan on staying productive
- 2. Prioritise
- 3. Respond and work around your flare-ups
- 4. Learn the best way to manage your illness
- 5. Be flexible and slow down
- 6. Utilise any aids, tools or resources
- 7. Make necessary adaptations to your home or place of work
- 8. Set Realistic Goals
- 9. Break down large tasks into small chunks
- 10. You’re doing your best. Stop beating yourself up!
- Staying productive with a chronic illness is possible!
1. Ask for help if you plan on staying productive
Okay, now you may wonder- “how will asking for help boost my productivity?”. Well, let me explain.
Living with a chronic illness slows you down, making daily activities more difficult, so being productive goes out the window.
Which is why asking for help is so important.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know how difficult it is to ask for help. In some ways, it can make you feel you’re incapable or a burden to others.
But changing your attitude towards asking for help can make it a little easier.
Think about it this way, if you’re having a really tough time with your illness, things like laundry and going grocery shopping may drop to the bottom of your to-do list, because your body just won’t allow it.
So instead, your laundry piles up, your refrigerator becomes more and more sad all because you were too prideful to ask for help.
When you eventually get back on top of things, things will have piled up so much that you have to exhaust yourself to get it all back in order, possibly making your illness worse.
Instead of using energy you don’t actually have, reach out to those you love and trust for a helping hand.
If your pride is still standing in the way, here are a couple of examples of asking for help without feeling like a burden.
- Grocery Shopping – If you can’t make it to the supermarket, ask a friend or family member to do your shopping for you. In return, you can offer to cook them a meal or do their shopping when you’re feeling better. That way, not only are you asking for help, you’re offering it too.
- Getting to and from appointments – If you need a hand getting to and from your appointments, ask a friend. If the idea still makes you feel uncomfortable, ask them to come in with you instead of waiting in the car. That way, they’re coming to show their support rather than feeling like you’re using them as a taxi service.
Living with a chronic illness often reduces the amount you’re able to do, which is why prioritising is so important.
It’s so easy to push yourself to get more done. This is something I still struggle with to this day.
Sometimes, listening to your body and resting can make you feel as though you’re not being productive. Which is far from the truth.
Listening to your body and prioritising rest is probably the most productive thing you can do as someone with a chronic illness.
So how about this, instead of trying to push yourself beyond your body’s capabilities, prioritise your tasks and only do what is important.
In order to do this, it’s important to know what your limits are and understand what works for you, for instance-
Triggers – Make note of anything that triggers your illness/pain – e.g. stress, certain foods or too much activity.
Monitor – Monitor how much time you can dedicate to certain activities. For example, I can vacuum for 20 minutes before I need to stop or take a break.
3. Respond and work around your flare-ups
Every chronic illness, along with flare-ups, will differ depending on the condition and the person.
But knowing how to respond to your flare-ups can help you manage your levels of productivity.
A lot of times we focus on how we feel when we wake up, but what do you do when a flare-up hits you mid way through your day or whilst you’re doing something.
This has been happening a lot to me recently.
I’ve been in the middle of working, shopping or just watching TV and my pain flares up like the bitch that it is.
So, here’s what I do.
If I’m in the middle of doing something important and suddenly a flare hits, I stop for a few minutes, check in with myself and decide whether I can continue with my day or if I need to stop at that moment.
What I’ve realised is that sometimes the initial shock of my pain can cause me to go into panic mode, meaning I don’t give myself enough time to assess how much I can actually do.
So if a flare up suddenly hits or even if you wake up in pain, give yourself at least 5-10 minutes to assess how you truly feel.
Ask yourself :
- Can I finish what I’m doing right now, or do I need to stop right away?
- If I need to stop what I’m doing, is there an easier task that I can manage instead?
- My day has to pause right now. What can I do to manage my symptoms or feel better?
Doing this will help you remain productive by understanding what you can realistically manage.
That could mean you can manage another hour of getting things done or that you need to rest for the day.
4. Learn the best way to manage your illness
Working out the best way to manage your illness is one of the most important things you can do to be productive.
This is as you’ll know what helps you to move around with more ease, and what tools, medications and resources are most helpful and reliable.
If you’re not sure how to manage your illness, here are a few things you can try:
- Trialing different medications and documenting which help the most.
- Working with your doctor or specialist to put together a treatment plan.
- Creating routines to suit all parts of your life.
- Trying out natural or holistic remedies.
- Speaking with a therapist.
- Learning the best ways to move your body and making use of mobility aids if necessary.
It may take a little time to understand what works best for you, but it will be beneficial in the long run.
Knowing all the things that help you manage will allow you to work within your limits and, as a knock on effect, your productivity will naturally increase.
5. Be flexible and slow down
As I previously mentioned, it’s so tempting to push yourself so you can get more done, but that can be counterproductive.
Instead, slow down and make your routine as flexible as possible.
For instance, let’s say you’re trying out a new medication. The side effects are worse than you thought, meaning you have to put your plans on pause or shuffle things around.
This is just a brief example of why having a flexible routine is important.
I’ll use the same example of new medication. Your doctor has given you a new medication to try out, and of course, with any medication, there are potential side effects.
One of the most likely side effects is drowsiness and nausea. So perhaps you need to start your day a little later so you don’t feel as groggy when waking up.
For me, my routine has to be flexible so I can plan my days around how much energy I have.
Every Sunday I write out my to-do list and put tasks into categories – urgent, has to be done this week, can wait and brain dump.
I have also come to understand how much I can realistically manage, so I limit myself to 2-4 tasks each day (4 being the maximum).
If I’m having a rough day, I will only do 2 minor tasks and if I’m feeling good, I know I can manage 3-4 tasks without burning myself out.
These are just a few examples of how you can slow down and make your routine flexible.
6. Utilise any aids, tools or resources
Make use of anything that will make life a little easier for you. The more help and support you have, the more productive you’ll be.
If you keep forgetting to take your medication on time, use any tools or resources that may help.
For example, setting a reminder on your phone and using a pill organiser.
Here are a few more examples of things that can help you out:
- Meal Planner – If cooking is an enormous task, having a meal planner will make life so much easier. In one sitting, you can plan out your meals for the week and make a grocery list. If you really want to, you can also meal prep, cook all your meals for the week, put them in containers and store them in the fridge or freezer.
- Scheduling Apps – You can schedule or set up auto replies in your emails. If you’re a blogger or influencer, you can also use apps such as Tailwind and Later to schedule your Pinterest pins and Instagram posts.
- Robot Vacuum – This is something I think everyone should have. A robot vacuum does all the work for you. Turn it on and let it clean away.
- Subscription Services – There are so many subscriptions services available for nearly everything. You can use a subscription service for meals, shopping, medication, clothes the list goes on.
- Cleaner or Dog Walker – If cleaning or walking your dog is a little challenging, hire someone to do it for you (if you can afford it).
- Online services – Just like subscription packages, there are so many online services available. Such as online therapy, virtual doctors’ appointments and zoom. If it’s going to make your life easier, make use of them where you can.
7. Make necessary adaptations to your home or place of work
Being comfortable in your surroundings is so important, particularly if you have a chronic illness.
If where you work, live or spend a lot of time isn’t comfortable, it can really reduce your levels of productivity.
If your home or work environment doesn’t suit your needs, it’s really important to make any necessary adjustments.
This, of course, will be different for everyone, but here are a few examples of things you can do to make your home and place of work more comfortable.
- Install a shower chair if you find it difficult to stand in the shower.
- Grab rails in the bathroom and toilet.
- Putting a chair or stool in the kitchen to use when cooking or washing dishes.
- Clear walkways and pathways of any clutter.
- Put appliances and items you use often in easy to reach places.
- Install a wheelchair ramp.
This will depend on where in the world you live, but here in the UK, it is an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with an illness or disability, such as –
- Providing accessible parking for wheelchair users.
- Changing working hours – e.g. if an employee’s medication makes them drowsy, allowing them to start work later.
- Working from home/hybrid working.
- Adjusting an employee’s workstation, e.g. providing a foot rest or brighter lights.
- Providing the correct equipment for someone with a visual or hearing impairment.
- Allowing frequent breaks for an employee to take their medication .
If you live in the UK and would like more information about reasonable adjustments, check out this guide by ACAS.
8. Set Realistic Goals
When you have a chronic illness, being realistic crucial. So, set achievable goals centered on what you can do or what you’ve previously done.
For example, I may have previously worked out twice in a week with no issues. That doesn’t mean suddenly I’m going to work out five times a week, that isn’t realistic or sustainable.
SET S.M.A.R.T goals
Specific: Be specific about what you want to achieve.
Measurable: Choose something that you can track and see any progress.
Achievable: Don’t set goals that are over ambitious.
Realistic: Be realistic about what you can do.
Timely: Work out how much time you’d like to take to reach your goal.
9. Break down large tasks into small chunks
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve written a long list of tasks, with no plan of attack.
So when you have a long list of tasks, break each one into smaller digestible chunks.
As I previously mentioned, it’s important to understand what helps you manage your illness, have a flexible routine, make use of tools and resources and set realistic goals.
These things will help you break things down into smaller tasks, as you’ll have a better understanding of what your body can manage and what you need to be most productive.
Let’s say you moved to a new area and need to find a new doctor.
Here’s how you could break that down into smaller chunks:
- Research doctor surgeries in the area.
- Make a shortlist of 3-5 surgeries.
- Call each surgery and ask the following questions-
- Do you have any doctors that specialise in chronic pain?
- How do I register with surgery?
- How do I make an appointment?
- What is the general waiting time to get an appointment ?
- Do you have a website?
Breaking things down into smaller chunks will stop you from bombarding yourself with tasks than are unachievable.
Once you break tasks down into smaller steps, you’ll also make better use of your time and energy and boost your productivity.
10. You’re doing your best. Stop beating yourself up!
Although this post is all about productivity, it’s also important to remember that you’re doing your best!
Chronic illness is unpredictable, some days are good and some days are total hell.
Or maybe you can’t do as much as you used to, or think others are doing way more than you.
It’s taken me a long time to realise that everyone’s journey is totally different. Just because someone else seems to have it all together, that doesn’t make you a failure.
Chronic illness is hard, and you’re still trying. That, my friend, makes you awesome!
Staying productive with a chronic illness is possible!
Being productive with a chronic illness isn’t about how much you can cram into one day, it’s all about being realistic, flexible and learning the safest ways to work around your illness.
Some days, you may feel well enough to get loads done and on other days, you need to prioritise rest, which is totally fine, so don’t beat yourself up.
Rest is probably the most productive thing you can do, especially when you have a chronic illness.
I hope you found these tips useful. I’d love to know what helps stay productive with a chronic illness. Let me know in the comments.
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