Can Limits Help Productivity Soar?

Photo: Julie Rains

My mobility was limited last month when I sprained my ankle. I found myself having to do things differently or not at all for a while. I missed meetings, outings, and workout sessions. This downtime caused me to consider how my friends with chronic disease (and the accompanying physical limitations) fare. 

Here are their productivity secrets based on my observations:

My mobility was limited last month when I sprained my ankle. I found myself having to do things differently or not at all for a while. I missed meetings, outings, and workout sessions. This downtime caused me to consider how my friends with chronic disease (and the accompanying physical limitations) fare. 

Here are their productivity secrets based on my observations:

  • Contribute however you can, making contributions most suitable to your strengths. My friends are dedicated people, both in the workplace and in the community. When the workload is being divided, they will say something like, “well I can’t do X but I can do Y.” Quickly volunteering for what I do best makes it easier for others to plan. And, I can be more productive if I use talents unique to me. 
  • Know and communicate limits. My friends are clear about what is doable and what isn’t. I like to think that I can do it all, and I possibly could if my days were longer and I didn’t require time for working, eating, sleeping, and exercising. Note to self: don’t apologize for limits.
  • Don’t waste an action. Having a sense of what is essential and what isn’t is valuable. Planning, routine, and focus are keys to efficiency. Energy expended should relate directly to established goals.
  • Accept help when appropriate. Time- and energy-saving options via free or paid services (ranging from grocery shopping to bulky-item carrying) can improve productivity. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help. Hanging around people who are willing to help rather than judge is extremely useful (one of the reasons to make reading Zen Habits a habit, in addition to my daily dose of Wise Bread and its productivity tips).
  • Think ahead and ask questions. I do like adventures but I can see the value in knowing the details of physical accommodations for planning purposes. Just slight modifications can make a huge difference in productivity.
  • Take time to rest. Rest may not seem like a productivity tip. Working 50-60 or more hours may be needed to make a project deadline or just get caught up on some paperwork. But too many hours at the office or staring at the computer can backfire, dulling creativity, disrupting sleep, and zapping energy.

and life lessons:

  • Explain, don’t complain. If you’re hurting or have limitations, it may be difficult not to complain. My friends stay positive and don’t focus on the disabling or limiting aspects of a disease. They do, however, calmly explain their physical condition on a need-to-know basis. A brief, simple explanation seems to work best, covering the unasked questions and then allowing diversion to other topics. (For an explain-don't-complain example, see Amy's posts on getting treatment for Lyme Disease.)
  • Understand that not being indispensable doesn’t devalue you as a person. I have felt that if a workday, event, or project went well without me, then I was no longer a viable part of the group. My talents are valuable even if they are not continuously and perpetually needed.
  • Realize that relationships rule. Avoiding unnecessary activities doesn’t necessarily lead to better relationships but it does allow more time for forming and cultivating friendships, including those with your family.

My new year's resolution, then, is to accept limits (I can't do it all) and focus on what is important to me. I hope my productivity soars.

Like This Article? Pin it!

No votes yet
Your rating: None
No votes yet
Your rating: None

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Guest's picture

I've had a similar experience for the past few weeks after I slipped on ice and broke my ankle.

I was shocked to learn that I actually save money shopping online for groceries, because even though I make a list (always), I am hopeless at comparison shopping in the store and get easily distracted by "bad foods." After I bit the bullet and ordered groceries online, I found I was not tempted by things I shouldn't get and could choose deals much better when I could see everything and compare before deciding. I'm eating healthier and cheaper now.

I doubt I would have tried it without being unable to get out of the house.

Guest's picture

I can totally relate to this post. I have to pick and choose what I do, not due to my own limitations, but my daughters. She has a severe disability with seizures and needs a lot of care. I tried early on to do everything, but as she's gotten older, and less portable, I've had to make some decisions. But love to do and be and go. So I set some ground rules. I never put myself in the position where I'm indispensible. I always let people know my situation, that I could be called away at any moment, and I have to be home when she's not in school. Most people are very understanding, and even feel good about me working for them because they know they are helping me and my family (I do tech support for small business and individuals). They know I will do my best within that framework and they accept it up front.

I'm also a volunteer musician, but I never play a part where I'm a leader or playing a main instrument. That way, if I'm not there, the other instruments can carry along without me.

I'm also never in charge of anything. Managing my daughter's care and my home and family is enough. I also don't do things I dread. If I don't look forward to it, then I'm probably not going to do well at it.

I guess I used to feel guilty saying no to different "opportunities" but now I don't at all. I state my situation matter-of-factly, not whiny, and leave it at that. There are others who can do what I'm being asked to do.

I had to put things in perspective in my own head. My family comes first, and that's what I should be doing, not pleasing others. Like you said, I do what I can, when I can.

Great post!

Guest's picture

You have taken a very positive approach to something, some people may spend a lot more time bellyaching about.

You have also listed some really simple and useful ways one can use to overcome the feeling of self defeat that comes with a setback.


Guest's picture

Thank you for taking on a difficult subject in such a positive, constructive manner. My disability is mental, not physical (I'm bipolar), but a lot of the advice applies to me, and I will definitely put it into practice. It's also important to remember that when you have a disability or are a caretaker, you have an invaluable opportunity to teach people that the mentally ill (for instance) aren't monsters and have a lot to contribute. In addition, I've been amazed at how kind and accommodating my coworkers and workplace have been when given the opportunity. People love to help and be helped. It's part of human nature.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments. I had not thought of parallels to caring for a child with special medical needs or mental disability so I appreciate your mentioning those. I could add learning disability to the list.

I also tried the grocery shopping service that friends have mentioned. I had tried it when my kids were younger but there were quite a few nuances in the interface that made it difficult to shop. I was surprised at how well the newer design worked: you can check what's on special and the price comparisons were simpler than analyzing bar codes at the stores (I can never tell whether the price per ounce is for the regular or sale price); and impulse buying is definitely curtailed.

I'll also mention that the book Two Old Women (an Alaskan legend) has helped me to see limitations/disabilities differently from the perspective of helping and being helped.

Guest's picture
Anonymous Blogger

This article really touched me deeply. Often, people will disabilities get very good at coping with their problems, so good that many around them wouldn't suspect how hard things really are for them. Despite that, though, we often don't give ourselves credit for how much we do -- and not just despite of our disabilities.

I'm glad that your situation was only temporary. And I'm so glad that you chose to write about it.

@ Leigh Ann,
I'm so glad that you haven't given up music altogether. I also play. I had to quit for a while and give up a lot of dreams. I felt awful for letting everyone down.

It's been scary returning, especially since I'm playing a lead part in a rather small band. I keep fearing that day when I won't be able to make it, but so far so good. I've had to say "no" to many other things, though, for it to work out.