What to Do When You Can’t Write

Real life has a way of creeping up slowly and then leaping on you to eat you alive when you least expect it. It’s inevitable – someday, at some time, something will happen that absolutely, irrevocably removes any ability you have to get a damned thing done.

I’m talking about the common cold, people.

As I write this post, I have to pause every 30 seconds to blow my nose, an action that makes me want to scream with pain. My teeth hurt. I’m coughing up a lung. My voice sounds two tones lower (much to my neighbor’s delight because apparently it sounds sexy as hell) and conversation on the most banal subjects is a true test of brainpower.

Speaking of brains, mine is currently being pressure-squeezed. The powers of chemical warfare in the forms of Nyquil, Sudafed and lozenges aren’t delivering on their promises of instant relief. I’m not winning the battle, people.

I have work to do, clients waiting on my responses and deadlines approaching – and I can’t string a sentence together for the life of me (this blog post being the exception, it seems).

You know what I’m talking about. Everyone lives this moment at some point or another. It’s inevitable. Humans are frail creatures. We’re at the mercy of germs and their whims. I can hear them cackling now.

So what do you do when you can’t write or work? You cope. Here are the best techniques for dealing with real life when you just can’t prevent a cold from taking you down:

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Too many people are afraid to admit the truth. You might try to bang out the work while running a fever or sniffling away, hoping to meet that deadline and deliver on promises. You probably don’t advise clients out of fear, worrying that they’ll think you’re unreliable. You might even think that clients will never come back to work with you again.

Um, no. Clients have real-life eat them alive from time to time too. They understand not feeling well or being unable to deliver by the deadline. Letting them know that you may not be able to meet the deadline as soon as you start feeling unwell is polite, responsible and smart.

Don’t wait to the last minute, either. It’s a better idea to alert clients at the first signs of trouble, because that gives them the opportunity to deal with the situation and make choices. They really don’t want to scramble at the last minute.

And if you get better sooner than you expected? Great. Get back to work. That’s all. No one will think it silly that you sent out a warning of potential delay only to retract it. They’ll appreciate that you had the foresight to alert them of a possible setback in the first place.

Proactive When You Have No Action

Clients may be sympathetic that you feel like crap, but they may not be 100% thrilled that you won’t deliver the work on time. That’s okay; you don’t need to defend yourself. It’s no reflection on your capabilities, your integrity or your ethics. Clients who aren’t happy that real life bit you are just grumbling because they have deadlines to meet as well, and your situation means they need to find a solution.

So think ahead. Help them out. Make it easy. Propose some solutions so that clients don’t feel stuck. Think of alternatives and options that help circumvent delays.

Guesstimate when you could feasibly deliver and let clients know so they can choose whether to wait for your health to return or find someone else to step in. If you know of a reliable colleague who could help, tell clients immediately and offer to get in touch with the person to set it up.

I’ll say it again: Outsource. You have a responsibility to provide the best to clients, even if it’s not your best. Plugging away while you’re sick only cheats customers, because there is no way that you can do your best job when you just aren’t up to it.

You might also want to offer clients a partial or full reimbursement on deposits. This demonstrates your sincerity about making sure customers aren’t stuck by providing them with the available resources to find someone else to finish the job while you recover.

Know When to Pass the Buck

Somewhere along the way, people get pretty screwed up in their heads. We’re so battered into thinking we need to be self-sufficient and independent that we reach a point we can’t ask anyone for help at all. We think we have to do everything ourselves, come hell or high water.

Learn to recognize when you need a helping hand and get used to asking people for support. Delegate your work, have someone replace you and get someone to respond to your email for a while so you can get some rest.

You can practice asking for help before you really need it. Make a point of asking friends, family or colleagues to help you with a small task or job each day. The more you ask others for help, the easier the asking becomes when you really need the extra hands.

You’ll also be able to get support quickly without feeling awkward, and you can pay the favor back when that person needs your help, too.

It’s your turn. Can you think of other ways to deal with common colds (besides recommending Fisherman’s Friend or Buckley’s syrup) that keep you from working? What have you done when you couldn’t finish a job? What would you do next time?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.