Dawn Weinberger, Freelance Writer

Coping with sick days as a
home-based business owner

How to deal with missed deadlines, your need for rest, and even cabin fever

By Dawn Weinberger

Waking up with a headache, sore throat, and fever is a miserable feeling for self-employed professionals — especially when looming deadlines leave little time for that much-needed rest.

As a home-based business owner, there are no “sick days” to take, no colleagues to pick up the slack, and, above all, no escaping the home office. This makes setting aside work and letting your body heal seem impossible.

“If you are not working, you are not generating revenue. But the bills continue,” says Terry Lonier, founder of workingsolo.com, a web site for the self-employed. “This is one of the biggest drawbacks of being self-employed.”

Susanna Donato, owner of Currant Communications, a home-based public relations firm in Denver, Colo., has been there. She recalls coming down with a terrible case of the flu the same week of some important deadlines, and making the decision to make her health top priority.

“I had a couple of projects that I just couldn’t do,” she says. “I had to tell (my clients) that it was not going to happen. If you are dedicated and responsible, they’ll be understanding.”

Symptom Severity
Because she had the flu, Donato was wise to allow herself some downtime. The key, according to Laura Hanks, a certified physician’s assistant at Oregon Health and Science University Health Center in Portland, Ore., is to gauge your symptoms and learn to differentiate between minor and serious issues.

She advises closing up shop when the illness involves a fever or the inability to concentrate. Otherwise, over-the-counter medications, such as Acetaminophen and decongestants, will probably offer enough relief to get at least a few hours of work in. Furthermore, some studies have shown that while it does nothing for prevention, taking Vitamin C after the onset of a cold may reduce its duration and severity, she says.

Still, some home-based business owners might be reluctant to take a day off, fearing they might lose clients or earn a reputation as a slacker, Lonier says, adding that many self-employed individuals have difficulty finding balance between work and play.

“I think you have to take the long-term perspective and realize that if you are working and feeling miserable, the quality of your work will not be as good as if you just rested,” Lonier says. “As a self-employed entrepreneur, your health is one of your greatest assets.”

Taking Time to Rest
Lonier suggests considering how a boss would react to illness in an office setting and follow suit. Chances are, the ailing employee would be sent home. But even when a home-based business owner decides to “go home,” the computer and phone are still within reach, making it even more difficult to curl up with a blanket and sleep. For those who can’t fathom the idea of taking a sick day, Lonier suggests a to-do list triage. Instead of trying to muddle through everything at 50 percent, decide which tasks are absolutely critical, vow to work only a few hours, and schedule the day accordingly.

Additionally, Lonier suggests, don’t get sidetracked by non-essential e-mail, which can easily eat up hours of time. She also recommends establishing a “sick day” appointment, writing it on the calendar, and considering it as important as a client meeting. Finally, don’t divulge the details of your time away unless absolutely necessary. Simply leave out-of-office voice- and e-mails with the assurance that all messages will be returned in a timely manner.

“That way, they don’t know if you are out at a meeting or in bed with chicken soup,” Lonier says.

Cabin Fever
Despite the unpleasant nature of cold and flu symptoms, eventually they go away. By this time, however, a home-based business owner is likely sick with another ailment — cabin fever. Unfortunately, work beacons. After a few days out of the office, a play day isn’t feasible. Professional networking, Lonier says, can significantly reduce the symptoms of cabin fever. Call a peer and chat for 10 minutes, meet someone for coffee, or meet with a client in person. “Whether you are sick or not … have good colleagues to cheer you on,” she says.

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