I write this post, in part, for myself as well since I am very guilty of the scenario I am about to share:
A creative gets the flu. All right. This happens. We're human too, or so they tell us. So the creative calls her day-job boss and lets him know she won't be into work that day. Creative can barely get out of bed she is so sick, she explains. Creative hangs up the phone, pulls the laptop from the bedside table where it has been sitting, opens it up, and starts working on her novel, blog, course, or *insert creative work here.*
Stop right there. This creative is too sick to get out of bed and go to work, so instead she is going to work?
Reality check: Are you taking care of yourself just as much as you care for your business? (<<< tweet that!)
Why do so many creatives, myself included, feel like they can never take a day off writing/editing/social media/marketing/blogging/etc.? And why, when we are so sick we can't work on our creative tasks, do we feel guilty? When I was a teacher, I didn't feel guilty if I couldn’t teach because I was sick (although I wasn't a fan of the whole not-getting-paid-thing). I never felt guilty when I worked at Macy's and had to call off sick. It didn't eat at me that all those clothes that needed to be cleaned out of the dressing rooms might have to wait until the next day. So why does it eat at me, and I suspect other creatives as well, when we don't create for a day or (gasp) two?
THE GUILT TRAP
For those of us who consider ourselves creative entrepreneurs, there's probably two reasons why we're willing to call in sick to the 9 to 5 but not to our creative businesses.
1. We work from home
2. We're the only employee
It's one thing to recognize I can't get out of bed and stay alert enough to drive to work and teach my classes, but I can write while lying in bed with my eyes half closed, so I should, right? It's possible to engage on social media and work on design projects from home. We're not required to shower and dress to do this. It might take us more time than usual, but we can muddle our way through our creative work because it's happening in our home, and we're home anyway, so why not? Aren't we responsible for our creative businesses? Don't we love our creative businesses? We probably feel like we should work, and many of us probably want to work.
For most of us creative entrepreneurs, we're also the only employee, and you know what that means: If I don't do it, it doesn't get done. If I don't write, then there aren't any blog posts. There aren't any new novels. If I don't create my designs, no one else is going to come into the "office" and take care of them for me. If I'm not active on social media, my accounts will remain sad and empty until I finally do get back into the social media game. When we're the only employee, there isn't anyone else to do the work when we're sick, and for many creatives, even those who still need that day job to pays bills, if we don't create, our businesses don't grow.
Due to sickness, I was out for two weeks in April, and I have to admit, I was angry. I was angry because work needed to be done. I felt lazy. I was spending hours in bed each day doing nothing. And when I did work, some of the simplest tasks took for-EVER. The first week, I was in the middle of a launch and had to cancel some activities I had planned for that week. I simply couldn't do it. And yes, I did the exact opposite of what I believe we should do when we're sick: I beat myself up over it. Plus, I pushed myself to work regardless of how I felt, which only resulted in me being sick longer since I wasn't taking care of myself.
I'll say it: This was stupid. This was really, really stupid.
By the end of week one (after crawling around my apartment, attempting to get work done), I wised up. I cleaned up my attitude, and I reevaluated my goals. I didn't decide to become an entrepreneur so I could punish myself. I want to work for myself so I can have freedoms like the ability to take time off to heal. When I was a teacher, I wasn't full-time, so when I couldn't go to work, I didn't get paid. Yeah, there were days when I was so sick, I couldn't speak, yet I would go to work anyway and attempt to teach. Not the life I wanted for myself, yet here I was, treating myself like that again—Insisting I work regardless of how sick I was.
To say the least, I needed a reality check. I trimmed down my to-do list and focused only on the tasks that were the most important. Did this mean tasks that both needed to and I wanted to get done fell by the wayside? Yes, it did. Did it mean I had to pick up the pace once I was feeling better? Oh, yeah. Definitely.
But during week two, I felt loads better because I was treating myself like a human being again, and I didn't feel guilty about the work I wasn't accomplishing.
Guilt isn't a creative block we can easily push aside, but it's worth facing because we SHOULD NOT make decisions based on guilt. The issue I felt with guilt during the first week I was sick brought me back to my mindfulness practice, and what I learned is this: guilt has no purpose. I am making conscious, purposeful decisions about my creative life, so there's no room for guilt. Or I should say there is not room for guilt to step in and make my decisions for me.
And I don't think guilt should make your decisions for you either.
PLANNING AHEAD OF TIME (3 WAYS TO PREPARE FOR SICK DAYS)
I hope my voice isn't coming across too intensely in this post, but I'm passionate about creatives giving themselves a break. There are so many other things and people in the world who try to bend us with guilt—we shouldn't be doing it to ourselves. But I admit, even when we get sick, yes, the creative biz still has to run. So here's what you can do to prepare for those sick days/weeks (because chances are, we're all going to face them):
1. Stay ahead of the game. One thing that saved my butt was that I had my blog posts already written and scheduled for the two weeks I was sick, so I didn't have to worry about creating new posts. I prefer to stay a month ahead of my blog schedule and it's a productivity tip I suggest to anyone who feels overwhelmed with their editorial calendar. I also always schedule some social media ahead of time, so I had enough planned out that my social media accounts didn't look empty for two weeks.
Do this: Keep your content calendar planned out at least a month in advance + make time to work on posts, projects, and tasks ahead of schedule.
2. Have a "Slow Day" list. I got this idea from Kara of bohoberry.com. She created a list of tasks she will do when she's having an off day. Whether she's tired, overwhelmed, or sick, she still has a plan in place of what she can accomplish. Remember to keep this list full of tasks that don't require too much mental or physical energy (you're trying to heal, remember!) such as: clean out email, ask questions in Facebook groups, journal about goals and biz plans, etc.
Do this: Create a list of tasks you can still accomplish on slow/sick days. AND create a master list of things you'd love to get done at some point. THEN, when you're having an off day or week, you can pull tasks from these lists and work on them.
3. Focus on your mission. What's the purpose of your business? What do you want out of it? And what tasks are going to get you there? When you're sick, you can't do everything, so prioritizing your to-do list to include the tasks that are most important—aka the tasks that will keep you on the path towards your mission—will help you avoid overwhelm.
Do this: Journal about your business WHY. Once you have a clear picture in your head about what exactly you want, write this down someplace you'll see it every day. On sick days, reread that statement and remind yourself that if you could only do two things today, what two things would take you in the direction of your goal? And the other tasks? Put them to the side until you're feeling better.
I propose that as creatives we stand up for our employees (us) and let them have sick days. Let their minds and bodies rest so they can heal. If we aren't kind to our employees, they are going to get burned out and then we'll really be in trouble.
What do you do on your sick days?