Plummer Cobb is a writer and communications consultant based in Arlington, Texas.

3 Ways to Maintain Productivity (and Sanity) in Difficult Personal Times

Recently, my son William was back in the hospital for respiratory difficulties, and I stayed with him for the majority of the three-week period he was there. In that situation, I know what to expect: worrying about his condition, losing sleep to night-time alarms and hospital staff coming in and out of the room, and being tempted to let my usual diet give way to snacks and comfort food. I also know what it’s like to keep a business running under those circumstances. As a freelance copywriter, I can operate from virtually anywhere, but working from the hospital can be especially challenging, and I've learned a few lessons about making the most of the situation. These actions not only help me be more productive with my business (because I still have that responsibility, after all), but they also benefit my son, since my mental sharpness and focus is imperative when helping make important decisions about his care.

Keep to a schedule (as much as possible). Developing and keeping to a schedule brings some order to the chaos of personally difficult events. Applying a schedule to my and my son’s day is a win for us both. It lets me know when I may be able to get work done, and it helps him feel a bit more normal. I map out a schedule that includes eating times (which aren’t the same for me and my son, since he’s tube-fed), sleeping routines (which include wake-up time in the morning, lights-out time at night, and nap times), when his respiratory treatments and medications will be given (so I can ensure that’s happening at appropriate times), when the doctor will most likely round (which I always want to be part of), and when my other family members will be present and I can step out to make some phone calls or knock out a chunk of a writing project. (Caveat: The schedule I come up with often gets knocked out of whack, but since I have a foundation to begin with, I can make changes as necessary and still figure out when I can be productive.)

Communicate with people (as appropriate). I'm not afraid to let clients know about what's generally going on and that my work might be delayed. My goal isn’t to bombard them with all of the details, but rather, to let them know that the delay isn’t a matter of laziness or neglect. I’ve never had a client respond unreasonably when something like this happens, and they typically appreciate my openness. If a client really doesn't understand that my family is a priority, it's time to rethink whether that client is a good fit for my business. That’s not to say that I expect all of my clients to wait forever for me, either. They have their own businesses to run, so I make arrangements to help them however I can, when I can. If a project really can’t be postponed and I know I can’t get it done on time, I'll ask for help from a fellow freelancer (with the client's permission, of course) to help move the work forward.

Take care of yourself (by eating, sleeping, and stretching). Eat properly. If my diet suffers, my body and mind will too, so I try to avoid the comfort foods and stick to healthier options or have someone bring me something from home. Sleep as normally as possible. Since hospital routines run 24-hours, it’s easy for William (and, therefore, me) to get days and nights flipped, so I try to get us both on a fairly normal day/night sleeping schedule. Stretch often. Stretching several times a day helps me work out some of the bodily stress that builds up from having a sick child in the hospital (and from curling up alongside William in his hospital bed, which comforts him but is hell on my neck and back). This advice may not seem productivity-oriented, but when the body is troubled, the mind will be, too. 

The purpose of these actions is to find some structure and focus in a situation that isn’t usually conducive to either. Keeping a schedule, communicating with clients and colleagues, and taking care of myself physically are key actions for accomplishing that.

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