How to Get Things Done When You Feel Like Crap
Sickness tends to strike at the worst possible moment. Here’s how you can power through.
When you wake up with the sniffles or the start of a nagging cough, of course it’s on a day where you’re crazy busy. Sickness tends to strike at the worst possible moment—like the day that you have both a huge work deadline and you have to shuttle your kids to the doctor, or the day that your children have swimming practice and a piano lesson (oh, and you’re out of groceries). It’s not always a coincidence—chronic stress can harm your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infections, like a cold.
Sure, it would be ideal to surrender and completely take the day off (and if you can, do it!), but here's some real talk: When you're basically the CEO of your household, a sick day is not always an option. Use these tips when you need to power through.
Cut corners. Tasks that are less urgent and require a lot of mental focus or physical energy can wait. Quiet that ambitious voice in your head and do only what you have to do—the smaller the jobs, the better. Skip the elaborate braised short ribs for dinner, and stick with something easy that you can throw together in less than 30 minutes, like a quick pasta dish, grilled cheese and premade soup, or—gasp!—a frozen meal (your favorite food blogger will forgive you). And when it comes to putting your kiddos to bed, ask yourself if they need that bath tonight or they must read three books. You don't have to be Supermom every single night. Taking it easy will give you more time to rest or sleep, which should be your priority, because skimping on zzzs can weaken your immune system and make it harder to fight off a cold.
Take medicine. You might fall into the trap of thinking you’re not “sick enough” to take medicine, but there’s no need to suffer through annoying symptoms when you’re trying to get stuff done. When used as directed, over-the-counter medications like Robitussin can provide relief when you’ve got a cough or cold, so you can move on with your day and do what you need to. Be sure to opt for a non-drowsy remedy during the day, and take it at the first sign of symptoms to salvage your day.
Delegate or reschedule. When you’re feeling weak and unable to do everything yourself, tap into your support system. If you can, ask your partner or an older child to do laundry or take out the trash. At work, turn to a colleague to share in the responsibilities for a presentation. Cancel any non-essential lunch plans and reschedule for a later date. Lighten your load—and don't feel guilty about it. Those who care about you will understand, and you can return the favor on days when they’re running at less than 100 percent.
Head to bed mid-day. Try to squeeze in a power nap in the afternoon; a little shut-eye may help you tackle the rest of your to-do list with more energy. But keep it brief: A review of multiple studies found that a nap under 30 minutes promotes wakefulness and enhances performance and learning ability. On the flip side, the same review found that if you nap for more than 30 minutes, you may experience "sleep inertia," that groggy and disoriented feeling that may make you less productive. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your naps to around 20 minutes, and setting an alarm so you don’t go over.
Use caffeine wisely. It’s possible that a cup of coffee could give you a boost when you’re dragging. In one study, when people with colds were given caffeinated coffee (consuming, on average, 97.5 milligrams of caffeine, about the equivalent of a 12-ounce cup of coffee), the drowsy effects of the cold were basically eliminated, making the caffeinated group as alert as those in the healthy control group. But go easy on the coffee and keep an eye on the clock. If you chug a triple-shot venti caramel macchiato at 5:00 p.m., you could have a hard time getting your zzzs later and end up feeling worse the next day. A study on the effects of 400mg of caffeine (about the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee) on sleep found that having caffeine even six hours before bed can disrupt your slumber.