By Sarah,

Running a business can be incredibly challenging. Throw chronic illness in the mix and the challenges magnify greatly. There are bad days to juggle, brain fog that clouds your clear thinking and chronic pain which can be a big distraction. However, in order to protect your health, it is important to look at how you can work effectively so that you can work fewer hours but achieve more.

As a sufferer of POTS, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, ME/CFS and chronic migraine, I have experienced life as an employee of a company and later on as a business owner. I know how challenging it can be to get the balance right, but I also know that it is possible to make it work. I now work with business owners and employees to help them find ways of working with chronic illness, so that they can still have a successful work-life balance while looking after their health.

self employment chronic illness: black woman touching screen of smartphone at table
Photo by Charlotte May on

The key to working smarter and not harder is to be more productive when you are working, reduce distractions, increase focus and really take care of yourself at all times. There are a number of steps that you can take to increase productivity and I will cover some of them below:

1. Self-care when self-employed

self care isn t selfish signage
Photo by Madison Inouye on

Firstly, self-care is incredibly important. One challenge that business owners face is that they are too busy working to eat nutritiously, get fresh air, take 10 minutes to do meditation or have a rest. Yet, if you want to do well in your business, you need to look after your health so these activities need to be your top priority. Decide which activities are important for your health. Or perhaps an afternoon nap is in order? Remember, your wellbeing and state of mind are as crucial as your career goals so plan those activities into your week before you add anything else.

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For me personally, an early afternoon walk makes a big difference to my wellbeing, so that is added to my plan. I also add practices such as journaling and meditation to my daily to-do list, as I know these have a positive impact on my mental health. These activities are so important, yet it is easy to forget them. By making them a high priority and fitting your work activities around them, you’re making great strides in looking after your health. This in turn makes you more productive in running your business.

2. Plan your day

eyeglasses on book beside macbook
Photo by Fallon Michael on

Being mindful of how you feel throughout the day allows you to plan your day more effectively. If you feel better in the morning, then it is best to plan your more complex tasks at that time. However, if for example, you’re prone to waking up with brain fog, then it is advisable to focus on your more automated tasks at the beginning of each day, as these don’t require excessive brainpower. Later in the day, you can take advantage of a clearer
mind, to concentrate on activities that need focus or creativity.

Once you start work, the key to productivity is to ensure that you are entirely focused on the task at hand. Before you start working, decide on one task that you want to complete.

3. Task switching

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Photo by Pixabay on

Don’t try and work on multiple tasks at once, as that will dilute the work you are doing and you will waste valuable time switching between tasks. Once you have decided on a task, give yourself a set amount of time, ideally 25 – 30 minutes to work on it and turn off any distractions such as phones and email alerts. Once that allocated time is complete, take a break from the screens and do some gentle stretching. Don’t forget to hydrate! After your break, you can either resume the task at hand or begin the next one. If you work in dedicated blocks of time in this way, you will be so much more productive.

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As a side note, why don’t you complete your most challenging task first, and that way it won’t be hanging over you for the whole day. I subscribe to the theory: ‘Done is better than perfect‘.

When my health condition is flaring, I find that I am very critical of my work and my perfectionism can be paralysing. By allowing myself to accept that my work is good enough, I can achieve a lot more in a shorter amount of time.

4. Listen to your body

close up photography of sleeping dog
Photo by Lisa Fotios on

Another thing to be aware of is that you need to listen to your body and act accordingly. If you are having a particularly bad day, it is important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, nutrition and fresh air. Try not to fall into the trap of prioritising your work over your health, as this will only exacerbate your symptoms. Allowing your body and mind to rest (without feeling guilty) gives you the chance to recover and you are more likely to emerge with refreshed and renewed energy to tackle your work once you are feeling better.

Taking these steps can really help you to work effectively and achieve great things in your business, while also looking after your health.

What are your tips for running a successful business when you have a chronic illness?

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