5 Ways to Prepare for Sickness

What I’m listening to: Thirteen by Big Star

This week, I’m the guest over on Jenn Mattern’s All Indie Writers podcast. This time around, we talk about media outlets not paying writers, among other things. Give it a listen!

dos-screen-virus-warning-1243783-1280x960I’ve spent the last few days recovering from some gawd-awful virus that hit — naturally — on Friday night. After a great week and a slower pace, I was “rewarded” with the flu.

Isn’t that always the way?

I could almost have predicted it. I mean, people who suffer from migraines often say they hit as the stress and pressure are subsiding (mine did). The same must apply to viruses and heavy work schedules, right? Well, it’s my working hypothesis anyway.

Fortunately, all the deadlines had been met. I was able to rest. Well, until I realized I still had a client blog post due. They want them by Wednesday, but I need to get them out on Mondays. It’s just my weird little thing. So besides dragging myself out of bed Monday afternoon to write one post, I rested.

I put up the “out sick” message on the email and went to bed.

But sometimes the illnesses hit smack in the middle of your busiest times. Yes, you could prop yourself up with Advil and caffeine, but why not take time to recover? Jenn Mattern covers this in her latest blog post must-read, which details how to handle long-term illness while running a business.

Clearly, we can’t prevent getting sick. But we can prevent the upheaval in our lives and in our clients’ projects with a little planning (and do read Jenn’s post for further tips on how to plan ahead):

Work ahead. I’ve never met a deadline I didn’t want to beat. The trouble is when you get those projects with deadlines that are in the distance. It’s too easy to say “I’ve got plenty of time!” You may, but why not get it completed sooner? This helps for any unplanned illness, but also for unscheduled projects coming in last minute.

Organize each work day. It’s easier to adjust your schedule for sickness if you know what that schedule is. At the end of the day (or the beginning if you’d rather), prioritize what’s left on your to-do list. If you wake up in the morning and you’re under the weather, you’ll know what has to be done and what can wait. I’ve gotten in the habit of asking clients if their projects are being timed for any event in particular. That way you know.

Build extra time into every deadline. Obviously, not every deadline is yours to control, but work a few extra days into those that are. In a recent project, I added three days to my project deadline projection. I needed every one of them too when the workload suddenly quadrupled.

Get help. I have a small band of freelance writers I can call on for help should I need to. Recently, I’ve decided to actively increase that network, and what better reason to have someone in the wings than an unexpected illness? Don’t be afraid to ask, and make sure you’ve vetted the freelancers you’re using. That way, you can recover stress-free knowing a pro is taking care of things.

Deploy your “stealth working” mode. Unless your client is waiting on a deadline, you don’t really need to sit at your computer. Take your phone or tablet to bed. Check messages when you feel up to talking. Don’t take on projects you know you’re not up for, but do respond and let each client know you’re not feeling well. I put up an email message, but I respond when they write if I can. Clients appreciate the connectivity, even if you’re out of commission. Even that small response is better than leaving them hanging without a word.

Writers, how do you handle sick days?
Have you ever had a client deadline occur right when you got sick? How did you handle it?
Any other ways you manage your sick time?

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  • John Soares April 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    I like all five of your points, Lori. The first is most important: finish projects well before the deadlines.

    I have a big project that's due in mid-June. It's easy to think "I have plenty of time. I'll start that in May." But no, I'm starting now.

  • Paula Hendrickson April 6, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    I've been really lucky – the few times I've been sick enough to take more than one day off have been few and far between. Even so, I try to get things done ahead of deadline whenever possible because you never know what might come up in the meantime. Could be illness, a family emergency, even a long-term power outage.

    Of course, my dad (a long-time freelance graphic artist & cartoonist) always said not to turn in the work tooooo soon or clients will give you shorter and shorter deadlines.

  • Lori Widmer April 6, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    John, it never hurts to start early, does it?

    Paula, getting it done early and handing it in are two separate things, right? With new clients, I tend to wait until a day before or the day of the deadline — I'd rather not set a precedent I can't keep to.

    With favorite magazine editors, no problem. They're good to me — I'll return that favor!

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