How do you stay productive when you’re ill?



Executive coach Terez Rijkenberg is an MBA graduate, author, speaker, and facilitator who blends productivity and mindset strategies to give busy executives simple ways to overcome procrastination and self-doubt. Terez is passionate about helping people achieve more success without all the stress so that they can create the ultimate life-work balance.

Q: How do you stay productive when you're ill? A: Focus your attention on what you need to help your body heal.

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I have a terrible cough and chest infection and I feel awful.

And over the past few months, I’ve had food poisoning, Covid and an injured vertebrae.

Soooooo…. I’ve had a lot of practice over the past few months of managing my mind about how to stay productive and on track with my tasks and goals while I’m ill.

I also know that illness is something we all go through. Whether that’s physical, mental or emotional illness.

All kinds of illness should be treated and given the respect it deserves in order to heal (first priority) so that we can be productive (second priority).

It’s so funny how when we are ill we think:

  • “I’m falling behind”
  • “I’m not on track with my goals”
  • “It’s going to take me forever to catch up”

And we waste a large amount of mental energy worrying – which adds to our mental and physical exhaustion – and delays our healing process which ends up proving our thoughts true.

PLUS a lot of us continue to try and maintain our “productivity” through the illness, which keeps us from healing quickly and creates an added layer of resentment towards our current situation.

This strategy of worrying or continued “productivity” never work in the long run.

So how do you stay on track when you’re battling an illness:

1) Focus on what you can do to help your body heal

When you are ill, this becomes your main priority. What will help you get better faster? What do you need? Maybe this means rest? Maybe this means small activities to keep your mind busy? Maybe this means seeing a doctor? You know the answer that’s best for you. Don’t be in a rush – your recovery may take longer than expected. Whatever it is, focus on what you need to recover. Because if you get better faster, you can get back to peak performance faster too!

Here are some of the simple activities that help me heal faster:

2) Have a shower

This works a charm for me. If I wake in the morning feeling crappy, I have a shower and feel at least 20% better. 🙂 

3) Move a little

It’s easy to just want to stay in bed all day, but sometimes the movement and small actions actually create a bit of energy and motivation. If this doesn’t work out (like for me today) then just hop back into bed feeling proud of yourself for giving things a go.

4) Do what you CAN, not what you SHOULD

Interestingly when we are ill and think about all of the things we SHOULD be doing, it creates anxiety and overwhelm and then we don’t do anything at all except create more stress which keeps us from healing. Instead, focus on what you CAN do given your specific circumstances.  You may have to delegate or delay certain tasks. And that’s ok. Think about the actions and tasks that you still might be able to do. Taking action, even small actions can actually help to keep your mind off of struggling with your symptoms. Use this time to perform low impact, but high-return tasks like meditating, reading; watching courses and Ted Talks etc. Think about your goal-related tasks that you absolutely love and don’t mind doing (for me it’s reading and planning). Try doing more of those during this time.

4) Manage your mind

This is a big part of getting better. Often we make things worse for ourselves when we make having the illness mean things like: “I’m falling behind” or “I’m not being productive” or “people will think I’m slacking”. You have to work hard to manage your mind during this time to remind yourself that this happens, and the best way to use this time is to create an optimum environment for your body to get better as quickly as possible. 

I hope you don’t get sick, but if you do, I hope these help you get through with as little agony as possible.

I’m off to do some more rest and recovery!


  • Remember that when you are ill your first priority is to create an environment and a schedule that allows you to heal as quickly as possible, productivity is always a second priority here
  • Use the tips above and whatever else works best for you to rest, recover and heal
  • COACHING: If you would like more 1-to-1 support for you or your team on how to focus on your well-being for peak productivity, then book a free consultation with me here.

Your coach,


Want to know more about how this can apply to YOU?

Why not sign up for a FREE 30-min consultation with me. We will explore your goals, the obstacles that are currently getting in the way and how you can overcome them. It's easy once you have a strategy.

Want to know more about how this can apply to YOU?

Why not sign up for a FREE 30-min consultation with me. We will explore your goals, the obstacles that are currently getting in the way and how you can overcome them. It's easy once you have a strategy.


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