9 Freelancing Tips for Handling Illness

How are you feeling today?

I hope you’re feeling well, but the sad truth is that freelancers are just like everyone else. We get sick sometimes.

Unlike other workers, however, freelancers don’t have paid sick time. There are a lot of perks that go along with freelancing, but taking a paid day off when we’re not feeling well is not one of them.

An illness doesn’t have to derail you as a freelancer. There are some steps that you can take to help yourself out when you’re sick.

In this post, I share nine tips that freelancers can use when they’re sick. Each tip can be used by itself, or you may be able to make use of several tips.

What to Do When You’re Sick

Finally, you’re freelancing. Being your own boss is like a dream come true–except for today. Today, you’re just not feeling well. You wish you could call in sick, but of course, as a freelancer you can’t. There’s no one to call.

Like everything else that could go wrong, getting sick tends to happen at the worst possible time–like right before a huge deadline. But, don’t despair. There are some steps you can take to manage the situation.

Here are nine tips to help you cope with illness:

  1. Stay Calm. Stress makes everything worse. Stress also contributes to many illnesses and can make symptoms worse, so keep calm even though you might feel lousy. Even though things might seem bad now, you (and your freelancing business) will probably come through this situation just fine.
  2. Assess the Situation. Things may not be as bad as they seem. By its very nature, freelance work allows for some flexibility of schedule. Determine what work is really pressing and what work can realistically be put off until your feel better. Keep in mind client temperaments.
  3. Cut out the Nonessential Tasks. We freelancers do many necessary nonbillable tasks (such as marketing, answering emails, and so on), but not all of these tasks are time critical. While you’re sick, put off doing all but your most pressing freelancing tasks.
  4. Contact a Buddy to Back You Up. This is one time when networking with other freelancers can help. You may be able to outsource all, or part, of your time-sensitive tasks to another trusted freelancer until you feel better. Some freelancers even make arrangements to back each other up during emergencies well in advance of an actual problem.
  5. Tap Into the Strength of Your Support Network. Get help with your non-freelance related tasks too. Let your friends and family help out. Maybe your partner can cut the lawn or go shopping. Maybe a friend is willing to water your plants for you. If worst comes to worst, most household tasks can wait until you feel better.
  6. Take a Nap, or Two. Sleep is one of the important means that our body uses to repair itself. Yet freelancers are notorious for not getting enough sleep. Don’t be one of them. If you’re sick, allow yourself to get some extra rest so that you can heal. It’s okay to take a nap during the day if you need it.
  7. See the Doctor. Many freelancers hesitate to see the doctor, but often the doctor can recommend or prescribe something to alleviate many of your symptoms. Don’t suffer needlessly. Don’t wait until your illness is at its very worst before seeking professional care.
  8. Work Sick. This is probably the last thing you feel like doing, but sometimes it’s the only way. This is especially true if you are close to finishing a project and can’t bring someone else up to speed. Just be careful and don’t rush through the job. You’re more likely to make a mistake if you’re sick.
  9. Ask for a Project Extension. Your clients are human too. They’ve gotten sick before and they also know that freelancers get sick from time to time. Level with them and let them know you need some extra time on this project. They may just say “yes.” (Especially if you have been reliable in the past.)

Your Turn

How do you deal with illness as a freelancer?

Share your best tips in the comments below.

Image by mcfarlandmo


  1. says

    Good advice Laura.

    I’m very proactive about not getting sick in the first place. I wash my hands frequently when out in public, and I don’t touch my face, especially my nose, mouth, and eyes, with my hands.

    I also try to stay ahead on projects. That way I can still meet deadlines even if I lose a couple of days to sickness.

  2. says

    I’m with John on this, “Prevention Is Better Than Cure”. Prevention includes vaccinations, check-ups, eating properly and rest. Freelancers, especially those just starting out tend not to schedule-in the three ‘R’s. Rest, Relaxation and Rejuvenation.
    Carol TIce, did a post several weeks ago on how her vacation made her more productive.
    Something we all need to keep in mind.

    The Best of Health.

  3. says

    John Soares and J. Delancy–Great tips! Thanks for sharing how you handle illness/wellness. It sounds like you are both very careful. :)

    I’m also for prevention whenever possible, but once in a while there are circumstances beyond your control.

  4. says

    Being the “allergy queen” who gets 2-3 sinus infections a year, I take advantage of the flexibility my schedule offers. When needed, I’ll try to work in the morning, nap in the afternoon, and make up for lost time in the evening when I have to.

    With this schedule and freedom, I’ve found it much easier to “work sick.” I don’t have to get dressed up and sit in an office and put on a professional face. I just have to have some clothes on, sit with my laptop, and get enough done to meet my deadlines and keep my promises. My clients don’t care if I’m coughing and sniffling while I’m getting their work done!

  5. says

    Catena Creations–Great tip! As freelancers, we do have the freedom to take a nap in the middle of the day and then get up and work some more. (Something that never would have worked in a corporate environment…)

    career management, I’m sorry you’re having a rough time. Stress can lead to health problems.

  6. says

    These are good tips. I’m very careful about not getting sick – I’m no germophobe, but I do take steps like not scrimping on the heating if it’s cold, and trying to go to bed when I’m tired (no matter if it’s early or if there’s something good on TV!). This winter, now happily over, I am pleased to report that I did not get a single cold.

    I think being outside the corporate environment makes it so much easier to maintain your health – you don’t have extremes of temperature to deal with (that workmate who HAS to have the office either freezing or cooking) and you don’t have people coming into work when they really shouldn’t because they’ve run out of sick leave.

    And like Catena Creations said, working sick can be useful. You can just do the bare minimum and go off for a nap. Sometimes you perk up later in the day anyway – not like at a job where you call in sick, but by lunchtime you feel fine and you waste the rest of the day because you can’t go anywhere for fear of running into the boss or a workmate!

  7. says

    Lucy Smith–Also, you’re not exposed to illness from coworkers who came in to work sick because they’re out of sick days. :) Still, if you’re too sick to work, I think it’s important to get the rest you need.

  8. says

    Yes indeed, not working in a corporate environment has meant far fewer illnesses for me this year of working full-time as a freelancer – I also get more time to maintain my fitness at the gym with my more flexible schedule.

    My main one is number 4 – having a buddy to cover me. I have a few proofreader / editor friends who will help out – one in particular is set up to be an emergency back-up for some of my main and very time-dependent clients, so when I was suddenly taken ill a while back with a reaction to an immunisation, she could step in and cover me.

    I echo what others say, too: working sick is a lot easier when you can do it clutching a hot water bottle and/or in your pyjamas or tracksuit and/or at odd times of the day. But I’ll never forget the thesis I proofread while in the grip of a stomach bug!


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