Chronic Pain and Productivity

Ever since I decided to make writing a major part of my life I wanted to know how I could be more productive. I still had my day job with a three hour commute daily. That in combination with my chronic pain and fatigue, I felt like a failure for not being able to do the things the productivity gurus told me to do.

Productivity tips I absolutely hate

Waking up early or go to bed late

I can’t wake up at 5 am and write one or more hours before I leave for my day job. Neither can I go to bed an hour later if I have to get up at 6 am. I’ve read so many articles claiming that sacrificing sleep will be worth it in the end.

Plan out your week/day

Sit down on Sunday evening and plan the week ahead. This one works if your life is predictable or with small variables. I’m not even talking about emergencies. My life is very unpredictable. Every morning I have to assess how many spoons I have and what I want to spend it on. With my day job, those spoons would go towards the things necessary to get through the day. Now that writing is my day job I can be more forgiving towards myself. I don’t have to do my skincare routine every day. Or dress up in fancy clothes with shoes that are a risk for my ankles, but are office appropriate.

Below is my alternative tip.

Be healthy

I cringe every time I see this. It might not be phrased like this, but it’s often implied. “Eat well, exercise, get enough rest. Do whatever you need to do to be healthy.” You just told me in your first tip, to sacrifice my sleep, so what do you want?

My chronic pain is triggered by things outside my control. I can’t control the weather and make the temperature an even 21 degrees Celsius all year round. Nor can I stop my joints from subluxation. Most of my joint pains are caused in my sleep when I don’t have control over my body. Every morning is a new surprise. I can’t just ‘be healthy’.

Productivity tips that work

Take breaks

Everyone needs a break. Just powering through your work won’t make it better. Take regular breaks and assess your energy levels. Can you continue with the task you’re doing? Or do you need to do a different task? Can you do something to make yourself feel better?


Delegating isn’t something you can do for every task, but it will help you. At work, you can ask a colleague to help you with a difficult task, and you can help them with a task. If you live with someone, go over the chores and see what things you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. But don’t expect people to do everything for you either.

Say ‘no’ more often

This is a lifesaver for anyone, but it’s something I had to learn when my health took a nosedive. Be choosy with how you spend your energy. Do the things that make you feel happy and not because you have to.

Pomodori sprints

One thing I never thought worked for me, was sprinting using the Pomodori method. You crack your brain for twenty minutes, then take a five-minute break. Do another twenty minutes of work, with a five-minute break. After the third sprint, take a longer break. By hyper-focusing on the task at hand and ignoring everything else, you can get a lot done. After those 20 minutes, you have time to look at your phone again.

Some people use sprints all day long for all of their tasks. I can’t do that with my energy levels, but doing one or two sprints in one hour with a longer break after is doable. Try it and see how far you can get.

Productivity tips that work for me

Get enough sleep

I can’t say this enough to everyone who struggles with health issues. Don’t underestimate your need for sleep. Your body needs more sleep to recover, especially on bad days.

Daily to-do list

After I do my morning routine and know how much energy I have left, I can plan my day. I pick six things for my to-do list: three professional and three personal/house chores. By just picking three for each category, I only look at the tasks which deserve priority. For my professional tasks, I usually pick one large, a small one, and one that requires planning. Just to change things up. For me, working with tasks works better than blocking time to work on something. Try what works for you.

Keep a list to write tasks as they come up and you can’t do them now.

Take a break

I’m saying it again but take a break. It can be a five-minute break or three days. I know I’ll have bad days and it’s perfectly okay to take a break from work and practice some self-care. If you don’t actively take a break, you’ll be bummed out because you didn’t complete your goals, which results in more stress. Saying “not today” and allowing yourself to rest up, will help you in the long run.

Take your meds

Don’t forget to take your medicine! Sometimes painkillers are the only thing that will make me feel human. If you need meds to get to that point, that’s okay. We all need a little help.

Create a work environment that works for you

You want to be productive whenever you’re here, so it has been able to let you do your job. Your workspace shouldn’t hinder you. Get into ergonomics, find a good chair, decorate the wall with things that give you energy, put on music (if it works for you), and get into the flow zone.

I hope this helps you get stuff done when you’re not feeling 100%. Are you struggling with your (mental) health? How do you cope with it and doing your job/house work? Leave your tips or experiences in the comments!

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