Writing, drawing, and coding while tired

This entry is part 16 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Thanks to a bad cold and a bit of a sore throat, I’ve been under the weather lately. Fortunately, I can adjust my schedule to rest as much as I want to. Besides, this is a good opportunity to figure out how to write and do things while tired, because I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last time I feel fuzzy.


Image by Eric Fahrner, courtesy of Shutterstock

The easiest thing to do is to sleep. There are all sorts of other activities that don’t require creative thinking: tidying up around the house, watching movies, reading books, answering e-mail. But I’d really like to get better at writing, drawing, and coding even when I don’t feel alert and awesome. These are skills that get better with practice and rust with disuse. If I can get the hang of making things in suboptimal situations, then fewer and fewer excuses can get in my way.


I want to keep up the rhythm of publishing a post a day. There’s so much to learn and share, and so much gets forgotten if I don’t write. I want each post to share at least one useful point, although the occasional rambly life snapshot works fine too.

Outlines seem to help a lot. The mental effort it takes to outline things seems to be different from the effort it takes to write a post. I can outline when I don’t feel like writing. When I’m writing, I can follow the signposts of my outline.

When I’m tired, my inner editor is even more tired. Since I’m okay with letting the occasional typo escape into the wild and I don’t expect to make sense with every post (that’s what revisits are for!), perfectionism isn’t a problem.

I’m not as bubbly in my blog posts as I might otherwise have been. This is okay. It means that I sound normal. This could even be better, because then people can relate with me more.


I haven’t been going to as many events. I even skipped sketchnoting a friend’s talk because I didn’t feel like wandering too far from my stash of handkerchiefs and water bottles. There are still plenty of things I can do to get better at drawing even when I feel sick.

It’s a good time to practise the basics: drawing simple shapes again and again until I can do them quickly and confidently. The kind of stuff that might be boring if I felt more alert, but which needs to be done anyway in order to build skill.

I can also organize and classify. Every so often, I go through other people’s sketchnotes, clipping elements for my visual vocabulary. It’s boring but useful work.

Book reviews are good, too. Reading books is a great way to learn while passing the time, and doing more visual book reviews means I stand a chance of remembering what I learned once the sniffles are gone.


This one’s the hardest. With limited brainspace, debugging can get pretty frustrating, and I can end up adding more bugs when I try to fix something. Still, here are some things I can do:

Write more tests. These will help catch future bugs and make it easier for me to develop things even when my brain is fuzzy.

Read more documentation and source code. It’s harder for me to absorb new information when my brain is fuzzy, but sometimes things are interesting enough to inspire me to tinker. Emacs and Org source code, CSS tutorials, D3 visualization examples… There’s plenty to learn from.

Work on bugs? I might not feel like writing new code, but if there are bugs that I can investigate, then at least I’ve got the social payoff of making someone’s day.

Work on my TODO list. I always keep a list of small development tasks to work on. Even though I feel dreadfully slow when working while sick, I can still get stuff done.


When I’m sick, my desire for social interaction goes way down. I don’t want to go to events. I don’t want to talk to people on the phone. I’m not even particularly keen on e-mail. This is okay. I compensate by checking people’s social network updates and occasionally clicking on “Like.”

Fortunately, stuffing our freezer full of food means that we’re well-fed even during blah days.

Hanging out with cats means I don’t feel at all guilty about napping in the middle of the day. =)

How do you deal with not quite being at your best?

Series Navigation« Six steps to make sharing part of how you workGetting started with blogging when no one’s reading »
  • Aline

    Have you considered that if you don’t work during this time your recovery may get faster.

    • Could be! Although I suspect that time I slept 17 hours in one day should’ve been enough (at least for that day)… There’s only so much sleeping one can do, after all. =)

  • mom

    Take care. And oh, maybe you can spend part of your “sick time” photographing your cats so that your blogs can be illustrated by your own photos? :) Just a suggestion, :) not trying to add to your load.

    • I draw them on the backs of recycled envelopes. =) I’m getting lots of practice in drawing cats…

  • Timothy Kenny

    Hope you’re feeling better. I like listening to audiobooks or watching tv shows and movies. I recently rediscovered that my kindle can read aloud to me any book in a female robot voice that isn’t half bad once you get used to it.

    Sometimes when I get sick I think it is because I have been working myself too hard and started to value other things over my health. I think its important to switch things up from time to time and not get stuck in a productivity zone for too long because it can make me less creative. I often get great insights into my business and projects by taking time off to do marathon seasons of a TV show or watch a bunch of movies, or read a novel or biography instead of the usual non fiction.

    I do like your idea of finding what tasks you can still do with limited processing power. I usually use the time when I’m not 100% to listen to an audio book or course (for the first time or for a 2nd or third rep) or to review notes or highlights I created a few weeks or months ago and want to review. I also like organizing. When the mood strikes, its awesome to get a ton of organizing done and get totally OCD with it and enjoy the flow.

    • Thanks! I was really into speech synthesis for a while – out of necessity, actually, as my laptop screen had broken in university and could be barely seen at a particular angle. It was fun, and the experience led to my senior-year project in eyes-free computing. One of the things I like about speech synthesis is that you can amp it up to something like 300wpm (which is still understandable once you get used to it) and get through lots of material quickly. I used that to listen to tech manuals while walking around or taking the train during my internship in Japan. =)

      I think I’m on the road to recovery. My nose is decidedly less stuffy and the yummy dinners that W- has been making have gone a long way to encouraging the return of my appetite.

      I keep a list of gray-day tasks: balancing my books, answering my e-mail, organizing my files, and so on. That way, I don’t have to let them interrupt my prime creativity time. =) I’m curious about whether the things I like doing during my “creative time” can be broken down further into things that I can do during gray days, and it looks like outlining and sketching might be amenable.

      Review is good too – thanks for pointing that out! I also like reading lots of blog posts and flagging some of them for follow-up writing. Great way to learn things and reach out to other people.

      • greg nwosu

        Hi Sacha really interested to know what you decided was the best speech synthesis tool, i spent ages trying to configure festival for Unix with new voices but ultimately failed. what were your discoveries?

        • I ended up using Festival Lite (flite), which met all my (limited) needs. =)

      • Raymond Zeitler

        Chuckling at 300wpm speech synthesis. I might be able to keep up with your blog with that. :)

  • Patricia

    Sacha, when I’m sick, rest sleep, I look at the garden, and do nothing forced. I only listen to my body and soul. No fault! hugs for you.

    • Yes, watering the garden is really restful! We’ve been harvesting lots of herbs from it – basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary – for various dinners. =)