As a health writer, I always feel a little guilty when I get sick. I somehow think I should know better.
Health and medical writers should know how to avoid colds and flu, I say to myself. We write about it all the time: a good diet, plenty of rest, hydration, hand washing, sleep.
But even when you know all the right things to do to prevent their onset, colds can still be unavoidable.
Particularly if you’re in my current situation – that is, growing a teeny person inside of you who hogs all your immunity.
When you’re an employee, it’s easy peasy to call in sick.
In fact, you don’t even have to call – you just send an SMS and dive back underneath your doonah.
On the other hand, when you have clients who are depending on your work, the “I’m sick” excuse doesn’t seem as forthcoming.
Maybe because, for many of us, that’s exactly what it feels like: an excuse.
There’s always less visibility when you work for yourself. Most importantly, you don’t want your client to think you’re faking it to get an extended deadline because you’ve been procrastinating.
Best-practice sick tips for writers
I asked some writer colleagues of mine who run their own businesses how they manage being sick with the demands of freelance work. Some press on if it’s only a minor illness they’re battling, while others reckon soldiering on just produces bad results, particularly if they’re not thinking straight.
The key is letting the client know as soon as you feel like you can’t meet their deadline. And you know what?
Clients understand! As one colleague so rightly put it, you recover much faster when you give yourself time to recover.
A freelance writer’s ‘calling in sick’ checklist
Here’s what I’ve learned from spending the past couple of weeks deep in the trenches of lurgy:
Look at your calendar, work out if there are any jobs you think you can do in between resting, and reschedule all other work.
That might have a knock-on effect for work you have booked in the coming weeks, so be sure to plan far enough into the future.
Reprioritising also includes work you might do for yourself, like blogging and social media – often, these are the first things to go when you get sick because they’re the easiest to sweep under the rug.
Don’t feel guilty about putting them off for a few days or even a week. If you have scheduled time to do them, they’ll get done eventually. The world won’t end because you missed writing last week’s blog post. Right?!
Once you have your schedule sorted, contact all of your clients.
Let them know you’re sick, and don’t feel bad about doing so.
Phoning can be a nicer, more personal way to approach them than emailing if you’re worried about possible negative reactions.
But, remember – as a self-employed business owner, you don’t need anyone’s permission to take your own “sick leave”. If you client isn’t willing to extend their deadline perhaps they’re being a little too unreasonable.
You might need to go back to your calendar and re-prioritise again, based on new deadlines.
Reforecast your budget
Taking a few sick days might wreak havoc with your earnings if you haven’t allowed for enough money to cover unplanned sick days. You can avoid this by planning carefully in the future – use it as a learning experience.
Other things to remember
- If you aren’t up to checking emails, set your out of office so any prospective clients know there might be a delay in you coming back to them
- Try and switch off from work until you feel like you’ve recovered enough that you can mentally handle being “back at work”
- When you’re back on your feet again, think about ways you could plan for your next sick day (creating checklists, putting money aside etc) to ensure a stress-free recovery