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The Productive Person's Guide To Taking Sick Days

Avoid these three common mistakes and you'll strike a balance between resting up and not getting too far behind.

The Productive Person's Guide To Taking Sick Days

[Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland via Wikimedia Commons]

I’ll be honest. For someone who’s such a big advocate of taking time off when you need to, I did a pretty bad job of it recently. In fact, when I came down with a cold, I tried to go to work (and made a lot of my colleagues pretty upset in the process).

Sure, it makes sense that you’d want to be productive when you have "nothing more than a little cough," but it’s important to take a sick day—and if you need to redefine what a sick day means to you to make yourself actually take one, do that!

So before you try to power through another (contagious) cold in the office, make sure you’re not making these three mistakes:

1. You’re Treating Your Sick Day As An All-Or-Nothing Proposition

If it were up to my mother, I’d shut off the internet connection from my apartment whenever I was sick so that nobody could get a hold of me until I got better. "Sick days are for being sick," she’d probably say. "You can’t be sick and work at the same time." However, you and I both know the reality is that even when we’re home sick, we’re awake for a good portion of the day.

You might not leave your bed much (or at all), but it’s natural to start feeling restless after a while. Not to mention stressed from getting behind. For those of you who’ve been in bed for a few days and just can’t take it anymore, I bet you want nothing more than to suck it up and head into work the next day.

What to do instead of going into work sick. Depending on your boss, it might be as easy as being honest: "I’m not well enough to come in, but I can do most of my work from home today." Or, if your boss won’t go for that (or your company has strict policies), go ahead and take the official sick days and then do as much work as you feel up to from bed. Emphasis is on feel up to—which might mean just monitoring your inbox to avoid getting restless.

Yes, it sucks to "waste" a sick day working, but it also sucks to return to the office after not feeling well and then get stuck spending a few really long days in the office catching up. And if you’re the kind of person who can’t bear the thought of getting behind, try compromising with yourself.

2. You’re Trying Too Hard To Get Out Of The House

I took this to a bit of an extreme recently by talking myself into going for a jog. That was borderline idiotic and I would not recommend it. However, even if you’re not as dumb about this as I am, think about all those times when you’ve had a little cold and thought, "Hey, I’ll stay home from work today—and run all my errands instead!"

I get that it’s tough to stay isolated for an extended period, but just as much as you’d want to keep your teammates from getting sick, you should also spare your neighbors from the same fate. Plus, you and I both know that you’re not helping your health by moving around.

What to do instead of going out. If you’re feeling up to it and have outdoor space, feel free to take your laptop outside and check in on things. Of course, use your discretion (and do not go for a run like I did). But if you’ve been home for a few days and are getting better, then treat yourself to some fresh air. However, if you’re barely able to get out of bed, spare yourself the trouble and stay indoors. The only person who’s putting on this pressure to get up and moving is you (assuming you don’t have an evil boss).

3. You’re Working Too Hard

You’ll notice that the first two ways you’re messing up your sick days include a few tips on how to stay productive when you’re feeling antsy. But here’s the thing—when you’re taking a sick day, you are sick. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that while it’s totally understandable not to want to fall completely behind on work, you do need a little time to sit around and take care of yourself.

What to do instead of taking meetings from bed. I’m not here to tell you to do absolutely nothing during a sick day, especially if you know you have a tight deadline coming up. But instead of working a typical day from home, make yourself a list of things that have to get done ASAP. Find some time to do those things, and once they’re out of the way, allow yourself to do something you need in order to get better. That includes, but is not limited to, watching mindless TV, scrolling through social media, and taking midday naps.

There’s nothing worse than having to stay home from work because of a cold, when all you want to do is go to work and get some stuff done. However, you shouldn't always put pressure on yourself to loaf around while you're feeling less than stellar just because you’re taking a "sick day." Don’t be afraid to redefine what it means to you so that you can return to work feeling better.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.

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