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How I Work When I’m Sick

(Not: FIVE Tried and True Methods for KicKing Your COLD in the BUTT and getting back to work TODAY!)

I’m getting over the Mother of All Colds. It was one of those colds that felt like a marathon. For 2+ weeks, I had to carefully manage my energy or I would be exhausted and utterly useless. I’m happy to report I reached the finish line, with only a lingering cough to deal with.

I’m also happy to report that, during this epic illness, I still got stuff done. Important stuff. Stuff that moved my business from “hey, I launched a product” to “hey, people are signing up!”

As someone who has spent a good part of my career studying workplace stress and health, I wish I could offer a magic bullet to dealing with workplace illness. But I can’t. However, I can describe what I do, in hopes that some of you might find it helpful.

How do we deal with sickness? We know the basics. It’s what our doctors have been telling us for years: rest, drink lots of fluids, and use whatever remedies keep you comfortable.

Typical suggestions address the what. What about the HOW? How do I work when I’m sick? How do I rest, drink fluids, and apply remedies when I have 10 gazillion tasks on my list???

Here’s how I made it though the marathon, still maintained a steady (yet slightly slowed) level of productivity, and did not get exhausted.


  • I took at least one 15–90 minute nap every day. As a solo entrepreneur, I work from home regularly, so this is fairly easy for me. I’m also a good napper. I regularly enjoy taking naps even when I’m not sick. But, there were a handful of days where I wasn’t working from home and had meetings pretty much all day. On those days, I left early when I could. People understood. They want me well and didn’t want me sneezing all over them.
  • During the WORST days, I stayed home. All day. And rested. All day. I didn’t work much at all these days and when I did, it involved reaching for my laptop from the couch, responding to a few important emails, and then taking a nap.

How can you predict your worst days? My doctor once described to me how colds follow a predicable pattern where they reach peak severity right around the middle of the cold cycle:

Colds last an unpredictable amount of time (something like 3–14 days) so you have to figure out when they are at the peak of severity. For me, it’s usually around day 2–3. But, for this last cold, it was actually closer to day 7 because the cold lasted about 14 days total. So how do you know when your cold has reached peak severity? If you get up in the morning and thought of even making breakfast is exhausting, that’s probably a sign you’re in for the worst that day. Stay home.

  • During the non-worst days, I managed my energy levels and hyper-optimized my work. What is the ONE CRITICAL thing that needs to get done today? If there was nothing critical, I just did whatever I felt like. Whatever my tired brain wanted to work on.


  • I drank warm lemon water every morning. I took a coffee cup, squeezed half a lemon into it (seeds and all; they usually just stick to the bottom), filled it with water, and microwaved it for 90 seconds. (Cooking times may vary. Try 30 second intervals until it reaches desired temperature). I’m not a coffee drinker and lemon water is part of my regular morning ritual. When I’m sick, I heat it up for the added “aaahh, that feels nice” benefit.
  • I keep that coffee cup with me all day and re-fill it regularly. Sometimes with lemon water and sometimes just plain ol’ H2O.
  • Yes, this means I have to get up to use the bathroom a lot, but I figure, I need to get some physical activity while I’m sick, so having to use the bathroom forces me off the couch.
  • I made soup (or got someone to make it for me) whenever possible.


  • I took long, hot showers. This isn’t something I normally do because I have sensitive skin, but as a temporary remedy, the steam is wonderful at breaking up the congestion.
  • I tend to avoid medicinal cold remedies. I used to swear by Mucinex D, but after some testing, realized that I get over my colds faster when I don’t take it. Do what works for you.
  • My other favorite natural remedy for colds is restorative yoga. And my favorite restorative pose is leg up the wall pose. As long as I’m not having a coughing/sneezing fit, it’s pure bliss.

Here’s to getting things done, in sickness and in health!

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Written by

Career Coach for Tech Managers. I help tech managers upgrade their careers, their teams, their paychecks, and their lives.

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