Five Tips to Help You Protect Your Greatest Freelance Asset

What’s your greatest freelancing asset?

Many would argue that a freelancer’s biggest asset is their time, and to some extent I would agree. It’s very important for a freelancer to use their time wisely.

But, I would argue that an even more important freelancing asset is actually your health. The truth is, you can have a lot of time on your hands, but if you’re too sick to work then all of that free time is not going to help your freelance business.

Worst of all, freelancers don’t have paid sick days. So, for a freelancer being sick usually means a loss of income.

What can a freelancer do to safeguard his or her health? In this post, we’ll share a few tips that you can protect your health.


How to Help You Protect Your Health

Here are five steps that you can take to protect your greatest freelancing asset, your health:

  1. Try to find health insurance. I know that, depending on what country you live in, health insurance might be hard to find. Freelancers are notorious for not having health coverage. But, if you don’t have adequate coverage, you’re more likely to avoid getting the treatment that you really need when you’re sick.
  2. Get enough rest. It’s important to schedule regular breaks and time off. While working lots of hours may seem like a really good idea at first and may even lead to more income at first, no one can sustain a crazy pace forever. Eventually all of those extra hours will lead to stress, burnout, or illness.
  3. Eat properly. We freelancers often take trips to the local coffee shop to provide us with a change of pace. While getting out of the house from time to time is a good idea, unfortunately the fare found at your local coffee shop is not always the healthiest. If this is a problem for you, try to identify a few healthy food choices at your coffee shop and stick to those.
  4. Engage in exercise. Most freelancers work on the computer to provide some sort of service to our clients. This means that most of us are fairly sedentary. Unless we make a special effort, we won’t get any exercise. Unfortunately, studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle is not healthy, so make that effort to get enough exercise.
  5. Take steps to manage your stress. Freelancing can be stressful, and continued stress can leave you feeling run down and make you more susceptible to illnesses. Take the time to identify what causes stress for you. Find ways to reduce your stressors.

What Happens When You Ignore Your Health?

I used to drive myself a lot harder. In fact, I often describe myself to friends as a “recovering Type A personality.” That’s because, while I’m still motivated to achieve, I’ve learned to slow down.

In the early days, however, it was always “full steam ahead.” In fact, at one of my corporate jobs I worked so many weekend and evening hours that I became known by name to the night and weekend security guards. (Trust me, this is not a good thing…)

What happened?

You guessed it. I started to get sick a lot. Without fail, I would get bronchitis and/or some other respiratory illness whenever the seasons changed. I was also susceptible to the flu and other bugs that went around.

You see, when you don’t slow down your body often has a way of slowing you down…

What Do You Think?

Do you safeguard your health? What precautions do you take?

Share your tips in the comments.

Comments

  1. says

    I just wanted to say thank you for this article, you’re so right and it is hard. I am especially struck by its value as I sit here feeling tired, overweight, overworked and full of a cold! Note to self *must try harder* Thanks you I think this post may have given me the kick I need just now!

  2. says

    Yes, eating properly and exercising are key. And being in charge of our own schedules means we can easily exercise during the day (which helps with the stress issue). For instance, I went to a class at my gym this morning when everyone else was at work – I’ll make up the time by working a bit later this evening.

    It’s probably not a good idea to indulge in extreme sports if you’re freelance. But then accidents can happen when you’re doing something very mundane. For example, my sister fell over and landed on the carpet in her living room and shattered her wrist. She was out of action for six months. Luckily she isn’t freelance, so she got sickness pay.

  3. says

    These are great tips. I’m asthmatic so I have a great tendency to be sick all the time. I also have bad allergies and sinus issues so all this isn’t a great mix. I have to always be on top of my health or else it destroys me.

  4. says

    I freelance on a part time basis right now, and I work in an office filled with ladies who love to offer candy. I usually cannot resist. Out of work, I do write a lot at coffee shops. I try to bring healthy snack bars or fruit with me so I’m not tempted by the cookies and danishes. I feel like the biggest problem is being on an unusual schedule and not knowing exactly when I will have time to sit down for a meal. It makes it much easier to justify grabbing that quick, usually unhealthy snack.

  5. says

    So true Laura. I was a nurse at a hospital before I became a freelancer, which required me to work extra long hours, miss my meals, and heavy physical activities but I didn’t get sick much.

    Over a year later, here I am sitting in front of my computer, exerting less physical effort yet every season change I am down with a flu. I also realized that the amount I spend on medicines and trips to the doctor is way more than the amount I got paid for the hours I worked. And add the time spent in bed to recuperate!

    As freelancers, we need to take care of ourselves. Or it’s gonna cost us, BIG time.

    Another great post Laura, simple and straight to the point. Thanks!

  6. says

    SallyF–Wow! I’m really sorry you’re feeling bad. I know how hard it is to be productive when you feel yucky. Hopefully, you’ll get some rest this weekend.

    Freelance FactFile–A shattered wrist, yikes. I feel your sister’s pain. I’m really glad that she has sickness pay. If that happened to me I wouldn’t be able to write for weeks. Scary thought…

    Clervius–We have asthma in our family too. An underlying condition like that can make you that much more vulnerable to everything else. I’m glad you’re watching your health.

    Thomas Wendt–It’s really hard to watch what you’re eating. Maybe you can pack some healthy and tasty snacks as an alternative to the junk around you?

    Kei San Pablo–I’m sorry you’re feeling sick. Hopefully you’ll be back to your usual productive self very soon.

  7. Mary says

    My suggestions, mainly relating to computer use:

    Take proper breaks – at least 10 mins every 2 hours.
    Make sure your workstation is ergonomically set up.
    Reduce your reliance on the mouse – use keyboard shortcuts.
    Get your eyes checked regularly (in the UK, eye tests may be free if you need glasses for VDU use only, and opticians often have vouchers for cheap/free tests).
    Have plants and fresh air in your office.
    Don’t overheat your house/office.

    Fortunately, in the UK, we have the wonderful NHS, which, with all its faults, means we don’t have to pay for most medical treatment. Nevertheless, it can be worth having income protection insurance that covers you for loss of work due to health problems – you do need to read the small print and double-check every answer you give, as they generally try to use any excuse not to pay out.

  8. says

    Getting health insurance tends to work double duty towards your health. First is obviously the coverage and second are ulcers, due to worrying about not having it, and Murphy’s Law-type accidents that won’t occur by having it.

  9. says

    One reason that freelancers (and others) don’t carry health insurance is that rather than shopping they subscribe to the idea that it is super-expensive on your own. That not true at all. I’m actually paying less on my own than my previous employer was paying on their group plan. Some people look at what their employer is getting charged as a premium for insurance under the group plan and believe that it directly applies to them. At my previous employer, they were shelling out nearly $500/month for me, but their employee profile is heavily skewed towards the 50+ age group (many of whom have had heart or diabetic problems).

    When I shopped for myself, I found a plan with better terms and a $1K deductible for $119 per month including dental coverage, and I’ve had moderate asthma my entire life. Yes, I looked at a $500 deductible, but it meant that I paid $550 more per year in premiums, which means that I come out ahead with a $1K (and with a small emergency savings account, it’s gone from being a panic-attack to a minor inconvenience if I do actually have to meet that deductible).

    By the way, I’ve also found that the more that I work out, the better I feel, and more importantly, the more it takes to actually trigger an asthma attack.

  10. says

    Mary–Good tips. Sitting motionless as the computer screen for long hours tends to be unhealthy. I’ve also found that I’m more productive if I take breaks.

    Jordan Walker & Brian Altenhofel–Exercise is so important, but it won’t happen unless you make it happen.

    Johnny–I’m big believer in health insurance. I thank every freelancer should at least have catastrophic coverage so if something serious happens to them they will be taken care of. Nasty things, ulcers…

  11. says

    Laura,

    Great suggestions. I think anyone looking for health insurance today is going to have to go with a high deductible plan with an HSA. It’s about the only way to get affordable insurance these days, and works quite well if you’re relatively healthy. Even if you’re not, it still is there to handle catastrophic illness.

    As for the other four points, I agree with you they are very important. I’ve become a big proponent of The Primal Blueprint (book), a paleo lifestyle promoted by Mark Sisson over at MarksDailyApple.com. He covers the points you mentioned: eating right, exercise, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. His blog is fantastic and his book is definitely worth a read.

  12. says

    I was able to find health insurance for myself and my son when I started my business. Being a lifetime member of Weight Watchers keeps me exercising and eating right, and keeps me from straying at coffee shop meetings.

    @Clervius, I used to have asthma and am there with you. I still struggle with allergies. In fact, went to the doctor today for a sinus infection. I actually took an official “sick day” and hardly did anything. Will make up for it Sunday when I prepare for a proposal meeting for 9 a.m. Monday.

    As freelancers, we have so many opportunities to do what Freelance FactFile has done: trade work time for self-care time during the day. Take advantage of your flexible schedule to take care of yourself and your family.

  13. says

    Laura,

    I think about the only way to get affordable insurance these days for a self-employed person is a high deductible plan with an HSA. Premiums still aren’t cheap but they’ll be much more affordable than a PPO plan. Plus, if your relatively healthy, you can allow your HSA to grow tax free.

    On your other points, I’d refer people to Mark Sisson’s site, MarksDailyApple.com. I’ve become a fan of Mark’s site this year and have been following his Primal Blueprint lifestyle which emphasizes the points you mentioned: eating right, exercising, sleep, and managing stress. He also put out a great book called The Primal Blueprint. Definitely worth a read.

  14. says

    I myself have so little problems with health (I have flu twice a year for about a week-10 days and that’s all) and this was too one of the things I was analyzing while switching into freelancing. But I agree it’s important.

  15. says

    I got gastric when I was workng in the corporate job and it got worst when I’m freelancing now.

    I guess it’s a sign that show I’m under stress and over work. Like Laura said, my body is asking me to slow down. I’ve to obey because it refuses to work for the past few months. I was continuing seeing doctor as I was really in bad shape – I felt tired easily, mind was not clear, vision were bad and no appetitie. As a result, I lost 5 kg!

    After few months of slowing down and plenty of rest, things are getting better. I’ve learned my lesson, it is indeed my greatest asset. I need to safeguard it well otherwise it is affecting my another greatest asset – $$$!

  16. says

    Wow! I cannot believe this article. This is exactly what has happened to me. I have worked myself into a tizzy. Two big clients, taking a class, and working on my new marketing plan. Wow! I am exhausted, and I have a cold.

    I took yesterday off to collapse. Tried to work today, but found myself playing. So I am taking tomorrow off as well. I cannot remember the last full weekend I took off. I know it’s been over a year.

    I really am going to try to take better care of myself. I am thin, but still need to exercise to keep from getting stiff and prevent stress. I also need my quiet time and meditation.

    I did call several friends today that have been wanting to connect with me. That felt good too.

    I am also really struggling with this whole work/life balance just as much as a freelancer as when I was a 9 to 5 employee. Do any of you still struggle with that?

  17. says

    Nice read!

    Getting enough rest for me is imperative. To the point where I would say it determines many of the other factors mentioned in this post. For example I was very overtired (and optimistic) while doing a photoshoot last year, and while climbing up to a high vantage point at the end of the day, lapsed concentration and dislocated my knee. That put me out of mobile action for months, and even still now gives me minor issues.

    As Freelance factfile mentioned it doesn’t even have to be an extreme situation, I’d say it’s more taking care and knowing your limits.

  18. says

    Andy,

    I think you nailed it when you said, “taking care and knowing your limits.” Too many times when I push those known limits is things don’t go well.

    Leisa

  19. says

    Since I started working for myself, I’ve become a lot more in tune with my body, and much better at listening when it tells me something’s not right. I know when I need to take some time out for light exercise or need some extra sleep. I just managed to kick a cold’s butt before it started by eating raw garlic – something I could never have done in an office situation! (I hate taking meds if I can avoid it.)

    I don’t have health insurance because NZ has a pretty all right public health system, but I figure if I look after myself I should stay pretty healthy anyway. I’m much better healthwise now that I’m not always going to Friday night drinks and work functions, buying lunches and don’t have a vending machine down the corridor!

  20. says

    I got sick with the cold once and because I had rhinitis and sinusitis, it was really hellish for me. Sneezing endlessly, nose dripping like a broken faucet. Sadly I couldn’t stop working because there was a lot to do and I kept telling myself to just get through the week and have a lot of tissue beside me. It was absolutely a disaster and I’m so glad I recovered from it.

    Thanks Laura for the reminder! We freelancers should always take care of our health. Income is not everything.

  21. says

    Oh man, this is SO true. I do this to myself all the time – I push myself too hard and the next thing I know I’m down for a week with a filler cold or flu and unable to do anything. It happened to me just last week! Great tips all around.

  22. says

    Hey Folks.

    I need to point out a sixth suggestion, or perhaps a footnote to #1.

    Most insurance we get as independents is of the High Deductible sort, even better if you went with an HSA which allows you to pay with pre-tax dollars and eventually will free you from insurance.

    The problem is that if you are paying through that deductible yourself you get charged high fees from many doctors and finding ones that charge a fair price is more difficult than it should be.

    So a couple freelancers and I got together this summer and created a comparison shopping site for healthcare. Go see if we have a doc for you or tell us what you need and a fair price you are willing to pay and we will get some great options for you. It is good for us too since it helps us spread the word. We also have an affiliate marketing program if you want to sign up docs too.

    Finally, we are freelancer owned and operated – no big corp here. Using lots of open source and highly collaborative, sweat equity… if you want to contribute, we are open to suggestions. Lot’s to do! This is DIY Healthcare Reform and you are all officially invited to the party!

  23. says

    Excellent post Laura. Way to not only single out correctable habits, but propose manageable solutions as well. Much appreciated and right on point. Just like Grandma always said, “Without your health, you have nothing.” She’d also say, “Wear it in good health” but that one doesn’t really apply here.

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