I decided to write about this topic on this particular week, because I’ve been sick the last couple of weeks, which has meant rearranging some of my workload. I talk about the guilt involved whenever I get sick on the January 21st Ink in My Coffee post, and how that doesn’t do anyone any good.
But here, today, I’m talking about steps to handle the workload during an illness. Please feel free to leave your suggestions and techniques in the comments.
For me, that is the most important tool in handling work at any point. But, when I know I’m getting sick, or am sick, clear communication is the key. If I’m expected on site for something and I’m sick, I let them know as far ahead as possible to reschedule it, or change it to be remote work.
There are times when you get hit with something overnight and can’t let the client know until the last minute, but, for instance, if I have a bad cold with a hacking cough and can’t talk, I let them know that I’m not coming in to spread germs and cause tension in the workplace a day or so ahead.
I give myself a realistic time to get well and reschedule beyond that. Whatever can be done remotely before that time, I will do, but I try not to book remote work to do while I’m still sick. I won’t get better if I spend “sick time” sitting up at the computer frantically trying to get things done.
Build Breathing Room into the Original Schedule
Procrastination is something many writers contend with. For some writers, the tighter the deadline, the higher the adrenaline, and that’s how they prefer to work.
But if you get sick right before a deadline, it can come back and bite you in the butt.
I try to plan out my workload so that nothing is loaded too close to a deadline. There are plenty of times when I don’t send it until the deadline or a day or two before, but I often have it finished ahead of time, and do a final once-over before the send.
This way, I’m not scrambling right before a deadline. AND, if I get sick, it’s already ready to go when it needs to be out.
Building in breathing room. It always keeps the pressure off, and you’ll especially find it useful when you get sick.
Know When to Ask for Help
If you’re down for a long time, and you’re worried about losing the gig, talk to your client and ask if you can bring on someone else of your choosing to help with the project. Hopefully, we’ve built a network of fellow freelancers we trust. We can either work together, or hand off the project, depending on the needs of both client and writers.
Tell the Client About Scheduled Procedures
If you’ve got a surgery and recovery time scheduled during a project, be upfront about it. Let the client know how much you can realistically work ahead on the project — provided they deliver what they need to on their end on time. Let them know what you believe is a reasonable schedule to resume after your recovery time. If possible, build it into the contract.
If you have an accident or something unexpected that requires surgery/recovery time, etc., let the client know as soon as possible and work out a new schedule.
In some cases, you might lose a gig. But being upfront shows you have integrity. If you know you’re having surgery and need recovery time, but don’t mention it in early discussions, and then run into a problem during that time, you’re breaking the client’s trust.
I am not someone who believes it is easier to beg forgiveness after the fact than ask permission. If I find out someone didn’t ask permission/communicate when they knew something important ahead of time, I know that THEY knew I would refuse. It shows a lack of respect. I don’t forgive. I’m done.
Retain a Professional Look If You Skype
While you’re sick, you might be talked into participating in a virtual meeting on a project via Skype. While sitting there in your pajamas with your hair a mess and wadded up tissues next to your half-empty bowl of soup “proves” you’re too sick to come in, it’s not going to help with the meeting.
Remember you can say no to the meeting, that you’re not feeling up to it.
If you say you’ll do it, shower, brush your hair. Even if you wear more casual clothes than you would in person, make the effort to look professional.
Yeah, when we feel sick, the thought of taking a shower is often overwhelming. But I always make myself do it, adding eucalyptus and other scented tablets to the shower to feel better. It makes a huge difference to climb back into bed clean.
I also have “day pajamas” and “night pajamas” when I’m sick. Especially when I’m absolutely miserable, I haul myself into the shower and then put on clean “day pajamas.”
I am, however, someone who does not work in pajamas. Even when I work remotely, without Skype, working in pajamas does not work for me. I don’t dress up, but I do get dressed in what I call my “writing clothes” which are casual, but lets my subconscious know I’m ready to work.
Yes, there are writers who love working in their pajamas. Good for them. It doesn’t work for me. Pajamas tell my subconscious to go to sleep, not be creative.
If You Work, Be Quiet About It
You may feel well enough for an hour or two to do some work on something. Do it and save it and look at it again when you’re better. Don’t send it off to prove you’re really “not that sick” or that you’re staying on top of things. I make more mistakes when I’m not feeling well. That extra proofread when I’m healthier makes a big difference.
I find that I can often create when I’m lying in bed, half-dozing. I keep a pad of paper or notebook by the bed and take notes.
But I don’t do much with them until I’m coherent again.
Also, if you get into the habit of delivering work from your sickbed, it will become the expectation. Do everyone a favor and hold onto it.
Take the Time to Get Well
That’s one of the most important parts of it. If you push too hard too soon, you’ll get sick again and be out longer. If you can take time early in the cycle and get well, do so.
If you need to tell the client, “I’m sick, I’ll be out of touch for three days,” do it. Turn off your phone. Don’t return calls. Check your emails once a day if you feel you have to, but you don’t have to respond.
How many clients have you had where they drag their feet on what they’re set to deliver, but the minute you’re out of touch, they need an instant response? There’s very little that’s so important.
Remember the old adage “Your disorganization does not constitute my emergency.”
Hopefully, you’ve built some safety valves into your contract for the above.
But when you’re sick, take time. Sleep. Eat properly. Watch and read whatever you want. Rest. Get well.
Because once you’re well, you’ll be more productive, and that serves everyone better.