Coping with illness when you’re a one-man company

I’m one of those people that gets sick. Often. I eat pretty well, drink plenty of water, and I get at least 7 hours of sleep most nights. I wash my hands and I dress warmly during these winter months. I still get sick the most out of anyone in my family.

I made it through the first few months of flu season with zero problems — I attributed it to my recent change of scenery. I used to be on-site in a corporate office 4 days a week, where someone was always coughing and sneezing. Now, I’m by myself, and I make sure to keep my desk clean. However, yesterday I got smacked with a pretty nasty case of the stomach flu. (I blame it on the 30 people we had over for Christmas…all those germs!)

Thankfully, it only lasted about 12-15 hours, and it didn’t really start until after work. I was back in the office today by noon. But, as I was lying in my bed in utter agony, I couldn’t help but wonder … what would happen if this lasted a week? or if I was on a huge deadline?

In an office, a co-worker can always pick up your slack, but what happens when you’re a one-man show?

Freelance Folder recommends finding someone that could fill in checking email and answering phone calls while you’re out. Or someone that could pick up your work  for a few days. This all sounds well and good, but if you’re really so down and out that you can’t work … will you be able to bring someone totally out of the loop up to speed? This seems like it would be just as hard as doing the work yourself.

It seems like my laptop was the best business investment I’ve made thus far, because I could still check and respond to email and read some blog posts while I was curled up in the fetal position. I’m not sure I could do any hard-core design work, but it was way better than having to sit at a desk.

Colleen Wainwright, aka the Communicatrix, wrote a post in May about what happened when her chronic illness flared up. She writes 6 blog posts a week, and realized (only when she was too ill to do anything about it) that she didn’t have any extra “evergreen” material hanging around for just such emergencies. She also advises finding a buddy that can help cover for you in a time of need, and being sure to take care of yourself — aka not working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes about the other side of illness — what about when you’re not on your deathbed with the flu, but you just don’t feel “good” ? When you’re your own boss, it can be too easy to take a day off. She writes about how a quick fictitious conversation with an imaginary boss can be a good barometer about whether or not you really need to take some time off.

Honestly, I didn’t get much of anything accomplished yesterday. I sat and stared at my computer screen all day, trying to remember what the hell I was supposed to be working on. I should have taken that time to do some mindless (but necessary) work — sorting tax receipts, filing, clearing off my desk, cleaning out my inbox(es), etc. I could have been productive, even though I wasn’t feeling my best.

What do you do when illness (serious or otherwise) strikes?


  1. Colleen Wainwright on January 10, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I think we all feel our way through it. Sometimes we push through, sometimes we defer, sometimes–when it’s really bad–we call clients, explain what’s happening, and how soon we suspect we’ll be back in action.

    This is one reason why it’s really good to build in a buffer. Just because you *can* deliver in a week doesn’t mean you should.

Leave a Comment