Working Through Illness

Right now I’m sitting here ill for the first time in years. I very rarely get sick. It’s the worst.

I’d actually forgotten how bad being ill feels. It’s tough to concentrate, and even tougher to work. But I’m here anyway, putting in the hours. In fact, yesterday was my most productive day in weeks.

Why? Because I’ve been forcing myself to work, mostly.

Have a positive attitude

In the end, work output is only governed by a couple things:

  • Ability
  • Attitude
  • Attention span

Sure, being ill kinda sucks at your attention span. You feel more distant, more crappy. But ability is innate or learnt. It’s not something you lose just because you’re not feeling well. And attitude is something you choose.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Most people fail at work when they’re ill because of their attitude, not because of the illness itself. I’m talking minor illness here of course. But you get the point.

Having a positive attitude about work throughout your illness goes a long way toward helping you soldier on. If you believe you can’t do it, you probably won’t.

Embrace the boredom

Because your attention span takes a beating it’s easy to get bored by work. Often, actually.

There’s moments you’ll just sit there. You’ll have been in the middle of writing a sentence, and then bam. Nothing. Total mind blank. For me, that happens multiple times per paragraph right now.

That means plenty of time just sitting looking into space, wondering what the hell I’m doing.

I’ve found that by embracing the boredom, I can continue working. Not at peak performance, but everything’s relative.

It still sucks to be doing nothing. But if you focus on the fact that generally you’re making progress, the second-by-second boredom doesn’t really matter.

Stay as healthy as you can

To make sure you’re still working as much as you can, make sure you stay as healthy as you can.

That means plenty of fluids, regular breaks, and some fresh air once in a while.

If you’re into your fitness (and you’re not going to make the rest of us ill) hit the gym. Do something not-too-intense. Maybe a swim. Or even a long walk. Getting your blood flowing can only be a good thing.

Sitting in an office probably isn’t the most conducive to recovery either. If you can work remotely, do that. If you can’t, ask if you can do that anyway.

Try to get better as soon as possible

Of course, just because you can work while you’re sick, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing something about it.

If taking some time off will genuinely make you recover faster. If you know your body ticks like that. Just do it.

The most important part is getting back to 100% quickly. Even if it means taking some time off to recuperate.

Drink some tea, make some soup, Netflix and chill. Whatever floats your boat.

Then get back to work and crush it.


I’m just a guy from the UK that’s okay at writing, better at startups, awesome at making coffee.

I curate a weekly email digest and publication called Starting Up.

This is day 83 in a 365 day writing experiment. You can check out why I’m writing every day here.

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