What Chronic Illness Taught me about Productivity









One of the toughest things about living with a chronic illness is that it becomes very challenging to keep things going. Living with fluctuating symptoms is a bit like doing an outdoors job that requires dry weather in a changeable climate. One day you can get things done and another, you can’t.

This can be incredibly frustrating. It can feel like as soon as you get your momentum up and start making progress, you hit a bump and are unable to work for a day or two, or three. Who knows?


But frustration doesn’t help your mood and it doesn’t help you to get things done, in fact, it can delay the return to productivity. So how can you keep things going when you body is going through a tough time?


1. Percolate

This is a good habit even when you’re in fine health. It basically means making good use of what’s usually referred to as “dead time”. That could be time resting due to physical symptoms, or commuting time, time waiting in a queue, any time that you would normally consider wasted. In truth, no time should ever be dead time. That’s a terrible waste. Dead time can easily be converted to creative thinking time, planning time, learning time (by listening or by reading). Percolating and filtering ideas is the precursor to accomplishment. Many writers choose to spend time thinking in this way ahead of sitting down at the keyboard, so that by the time they are ready to type, they have something to say.

2. Flow

Take the pressure off and go with the flow. Some days you can get loads done, other days you can’t. If you’re having an off day, don’t write it off entirely, use the time to rest and restore, meditate, contemplate, daydream and keep your mind flowing in the direction you want to take.


3. Chip Away at Tasks

This has been a very valuable lesson. Living with chronic illness means you can’t tackle big tasks in one go. You can only do little bits at a time. But by keeping focused during downtime you can pick up where you left off and find that steady progress can be made. It’s a bit like the story of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady can win the race and get plenty done.

4. Micro Actions

When really challenged, either physically, or circumstantially, one sure way to keep moving ahead is to commit to micro actions. I learned this from the days when getting washed and dressed seemed like a major challenge. Everything had to be broken down into tiny tasks within tasks, if I was to get them done at all.

There were days when to get dressed I would count my clothes, and each item that I got on my body was an achievement - an item ticked off the “to do” list. One sock, yay! Another sock, job done! And so it went until I’d taken a shower and got dressed at the speed of a snail on a slow day. But it didn’t matter. I’d done it. And it felt a whole lot better, and took less time, than sitting in a chair saying to myself “I just don’t know how I’m going to do this”.

Micro actions are still my preferred method for tackling many tasks, from household chores, to cooking, to writing and recording projects, simple little steps that keep you moving and stop you looking up at the enormity of a project and freezing; micro actions are a great way to progress toward glowing satisfaction at the finish line!