Top tips for handling sick days as a self-employed professional and creative entrepreneur.
Last year, I lost my voice almost overnight. Then, the doctors found a massive cyst on my vocal chords. It was all quite dramatic, really.
They told me that if the steroids didn’t work, I’d need surgery, and that this surgery was tricky. If I didn’t lose my voice completely, it’s likely there would be months of voice therapy. The steroids thankfully did work and the cyst was toast and I got back to croaking again. I was able to eat, too, which was pretty special.
I spent the week curled up in bed—working intermittently.
Between whimpering like a baby (pain) and dragging myself between the bedroom to my son’s cot to the office to hospital, it wasn’t lost on me that I’d be much less stressed and find it much quicker to recover if I wasn’t obsessing about how much time (and therefore money) I was losing by missing work. If I had a full-time job, my sick days would be paid for. But because I’m self-employed, I get to foot the sickness bill.
As self-employed professionals, it’s vital that we prepare for these emergencies, these sick days, and these periods when we simply can’t keep the money coming in. Here are my ways of handling sick days and how I try to make them less stressful.
1. Plan for lost days
When you’re making an estimate of how many days you can work in a month, plan for the days when you have family emergencies, sick kids, or unavoidable parent-teacher meetings. This is in addition to weekends and other planned holidays.
2. Take time to recover
I have this extremely unproductive habit of sitting in front of my computer with my head in my hands trying to work, but of course, not really getting anything done. Wouldn’t it just be better to go to bed, get up, and then try to tackle everything? It’s not productive or smart for you to act like a hero or get stressed over things you can’t control, so stop trying to control them.
3. Ask for help
This is hard. I know, because as self-employed professionals, as writers, we’re perfectionists. We don’t like handing over control, especially when our names and our reputations are on the line. We’d rather do everything ourselves perfectly than relinquish control and risk someone else doing an “okay” job.
This is a mindset that will keep you on struggle and stress for your entire career. At some point—perhaps when you’re lying in bed unable to move—you realize you can’t do everything yourself, especially when you have responsibilities outside of work.
That’s when you need to feel confident asking an editor friend to proofread something, or a journalist you’ve helped in the past to help you now.
4. Have backup options for sick days
Speaking of which, you do have people you can call on, do you not? Even if you don’t end up using their services, it’s a good idea to have names and numbers of people who can help you with reporting, photography, writing, and hey, even babysitting, for an affordable fee.
5. Don’t leave things to the last minute
I’m immensely grateful that I didn’t get sick in the week that I had three deadlines, all of which I’d left until the last minute. I finished them, no problem, but had I gotten sick then or had any other emergency to tend to, I’d have been in trouble. The only way around this is to factor these emergency periods into your deadlines. You may never end up needing them, but if you do, you won’t have risked relationships and further work by going missing one day before the deadline (or sitting zombie-like in front of your computer at 2am).
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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