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What to do if you’re sick as a freelancer

The main reason I’m writing this has a lot to do with the lack of content yesterday.

Sometimes we get ill, it is one of the plagues of being human. If you’re working a standard 9-5 job then – after a rant from your boss – you could cuddle up in bed, enjoy some tea, and relax until your ailment blew over. Though one of the possible difficulties which comes with working independently, is what to do on the rare day when you can’t work, due to: illness, some unexpected obligation, or just having one of those days were your feeling completely uninspired. At the end of the day, in order to keep the pennies rolling in, you have to keep your client happy.

Here are someone of KindredHQ’s tips for taking a few days off, without damaging credibility with a client, or affecting your payment.

I’m going to break down my tips into five sections…

1. How bad are you feeling today?
2. Preparation
3. First points of call
4. Deadlines!
5. Prevention

… don’t feel bad about only reading the sections that apply to you, that’s why we’ve given you links. 🙂


1. How bad are you feeling today?

If you’re a freelancer you can’t just ‘take a day off’, you’re the pilot of your own metaphorical ship, and we don’t want the HMS [insert your name here] going off course. As with everything in business, you need to take a second to sit down, assess the situation and ask yourself…

“…how bad am I feeling today?”

If you’re feeling anywhere near as bad as I was yesterday (trust me it wasn’t pretty), then stopping and resting may be the only option. If you can’t focus, or you happen to be in such a state where working would do more harm than good; then stop, sleep and recuperate. Hopefully you’ll feel better tomorrow, and then you can get back to work.

Alternatively, scale back. If you feel unable to tackle large tasks, then just dabble with the smaller ones. There’s no harm in having a day where you just reorder your files or send non-critical emails; no doubt they’re tasks which have to be done at some point in time anyway. Just sit somewhere comfortable (possibly even lay in bed), and instead of thinking about everything you haven’t done, congratulate yourself at the end of the day for everything you have done. At the end of the day: you are sick after all.

If you can work through your illness, then well done *pats on back*, though this may cause your illness to last longer. I would recommend that if you are able to work through, then you take precautions to prevent yourself from becoming even more ill. I personally always have an emergency supply of antibiotics, painkillers, vitamin tablets and general ‘cure-alls’ stashed away in case I want to/have to, work through a time when I’m feeling under the weather.


2. Preparation

Preparing may be too late if you’ve already fallen ill. There are a few steps that you can take pre-sickness; to make life run a lot smoother during hard days. In many cases these are things which you may already be doing, but haven’t thought about being useful if your ill.

Keeping a solid and friendly relationship with your client can be a life saver. It’s always easier to say, “sorry, I’m feeling ill, I might be a little bit behind”, than, “I sincerely apologise for the extension of this deadline, it is due to medical circumstances which are out of my personal control.” Having your client know that you’re dependable, friendly and skilled, in many cases will reduce the worry caused by a slightly missed deadline, and allow you to take a day or two off without incurring their wrath.

Another way in which you can weather the storm of illness, is by being clever with your work and documentation. In many projects there will be items which can be rolled out quickly, but aren’t completely necessary for this stage of the project. For example, if before yesterday – when I wasn’t ill – I had prepared a few short articles and segments which were not time dependent which could be published, when necessary then there wouldn’t have been a lack of content. This can be achieved by putting in 10 minutes ‘rainy day’ preparation a day into a project, so you have something to show the client on those days when you can’t work.

Avoiding illness may be easier said than done, but it is just as useful as planning to prevent interruptions to your workflow… check the prevention section for tips.


3. First points of call

So, you’re ill, and you really can’t work. What should you do? There are a few things which you can do from bed which will make your life so much easier, I call them the three Cs; contemplation, communication, and call-ins.

Firstly, contemplate your condition. If your body is saying “rest” then it might be wise to listen to it. I know that it might appear counter-productive to just shut down for the day, but it might be beneficial in the long run. One day of rest and relaxation, (possibly run a hot bath, and enjoy an easy book, or watch some trashy tv), might prevent you from having to fight off an infection for a couple of days… or longer. It might be also be worth knowing that cold symptoms can not be treated with antibotics, so your body will have to fight them off on its own — make sure you’re well fed, watered and rested.

Secondly, communication. Talking with your client can be the difference between confusion and anger, or understanding and acceptance. Telling your client that you’re taking a day off: in order to make sure you can work for the rest of the week, can be a quick way to negotiate a break, and chance to become medically sound again. Offering a solution to the issue of illness can be a good way to earn brownie points with your client (see call-ins). Having a good relationship with your client can make this step a lot easier, though it is never to late to start building this relationship. At the end of the day, regardless of your relationship, everyone you are working with is a human being, and can be reasoned with, even if they appear harsh on the outside.

Thirdly, having a list of people you can call in to help. This list is sometimes known as the back-scratch list, on mine is anyone who I’ve ever helped, or anyone who I’ve known well enough to say “please help!” Having a list of people that can help, just for one day, can be a brilliant way to remove stress from your life. Just knowing that you can always have your work covered if something bad happens, is a great stress relief. If you don’t have a list, then there’s no need to worry, twitter is a great way to buffer your work gap during illness. Offering a small payment to a younger person for a day or two can benefit both of you. By giving them experience, and a little bit of payment, and by giving you a break. Just remember to give them credit, so they can develop their portfolio.


4. Deadlines!

Ah, deadlines. Some deadlines can be shifted around, whilst others are more concrete, it’s important to understand which is which when you start a project. By getting your client to specify which deadlines must be hit (such as the final deadline), or which can be shifted slightly will not just allow you a little bit of wiggle room when you’re ill, but also allow you to say “I might not meet date X by a day because of illness, but there is no doubt that I will hit deadline Y”.

Concrete deadlines can be the greatest burden when your ill, but building in a bit of contingency time into a deadline can be a life saver, even if it’s only a small of percentage of the overall time. (Though this does require fore-thought). If deadlines are tight on a project, then there are almost always ways to bargain, even if this means: extra work, slightly less pay or getting additional people to work on the project.


5. Prevention

Prevention may already be too late if your feeling under the weather, but preventing illness is far better than having to deal with its effects. There are some simple tricks which can be used to keep your immune system strong and prevent illness.

Firstly, eat your vegetables. I know I sound like your father, but staying healthy is really important, for staying vertical. Even if it’s a case of replacing that bar of chocolate with some fruit, or taking the time to wonder around the house rather than sitting down for hours at a time. Also; keeping hydrated, maintaining a good posture and looking away from the screen, can be a great way to prevent headaches and general aches and pains.

Secondly, I don’t want to lecture (I’m aware it’s a contradiction of terms just by saying that), but excessive smoking and drinking makes you ill more often. I have no follow up statement with that, its just medical fact, but smoking and drinking are personal choices, and sometimes I need both at the end of a long day.

Thirdly, reduce stressors. Stressors are events or instances which cause stress. Stress, of course being one of the main causes of illness, due to reduced immune system functioning. I know it can be hard to neutralise stress when your a one man team, but there is a strong correlation between being ill and being stressed, meaning that you will likely achieve less if you are under constant stress.


So those are a few tips for making a sick-day manageable, I hope they help, they’ve made my work as a freelancer a lot more manageable in harder times.

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