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Four ways to manage an illness and maintain performance at work

Headphones, a keyboard, a journal and a mouse on a pink deskPhoto by LUM3N.

When I first got sick, I was blown away by the amount of time involved in managing an illness. Between research, doctor’s appointments, therapy visits and insurance bureaucracy, I was sinking 10+ hours a week into my care. And that’s not counting the hours lost to feeling unwell.

As if sustaining a full-time job with a full-time illness weren’t hard enough, many of these appointments and phone calls can only occur between 9-5. This seriously cuts into the workday.

Here is the formula I developed for maintaining my performance at work while taking the best care of myself that I possibly could.

1. Prioritize health first

Whether we articulate our priorities or not – we all have them. When push comes to shove, something within us guides our decision making about what we’ll do and what we’ll drop.

When the tradeoff is between health and work – health needs to win out most of the time.

It’s hard to train our brains to prioritize a doctor’s appointment over an important meeting, but there will always be another meeting. Work is endless, but you only have one body. The better you care for yourself, the better your work output will be.

Optimize for the long term and make sure that work commitments aren’t routinely bumping out your health commitments. And if your current job truly prevents you from taking care of your precious body, it might be time to consider an employment change.

2. Keep your calendar up to date

Make sure not to miss or reschedule a meeting last minute due to an appointment that you’ve known about for a while. Barring the exceptional last minute doctor’s visit, block off your work calendar when you have a medical commitment. Don’t forget to include travel time.

Reschedule any work meetings as far in advance as possible. You don’t have to disclose the reason, just ask to reschedule. This is a simple but effective way to show respect to your coworkers and take responsibility for your health at the same time.

3. Become an expert estimator

Though your illness may impact your productivity, set expectations about what you can do and follow through on those commitments.

Learn to estimate how much time it will take you to do your work. Consider the task itself, your other work commitments and your upcoming medical commitments as you generate an estimate. When you’re given an assignment, ask follow up questions so that you have enough information to make an accurate estimate.

Offer a specific date to have it completed by, and check that date works for the other party. Make sure to complete the project by that date, and if you get off track, reach out right away to arrange for a different deadline.

Pull in a manager if a tradeoff decision needs to be made. Setting boundaries and following through on your commitments is better than overcommitting and failing to complete your work.

4. Proactively check in about performance

Every other month or so, ask as your manager how you’re doing. This simple question demonstrates that you care about your performance and you welcome feedback.

If your manager says you’re on the right track, you’ll know that your process is working. If you receive negative feedback that relates to missed work, thank your manager and take time to think it over. It’s possible that you may need to arrange to reduce your workload in order to take care of yourself and fulfill your commitments to your team.

Remember, it’s always better to hear constructive performance feedback by proactively requesting rather than waiting for an official evaluation.

How do you manage your workload on top of managing an illness?

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