• 01.29.10

The Sickest Home Office or What Jack Bauer Taught Me About Freelance

The following takes place in the Home Office between Monday and Friday last week. Events don’t occur in real time.

The following takes place in the Home Office between Monday and Friday last week. Events don’t occur in real time.


Day One, as they used to say on 24, when Jack Bauer still had a wife and a bad relationship with mardy daughter Kim, found me sitting in front of my computer, the monitor swimming in front of my eyes. It took me 15 minutes to decide there was no point even attempting to write, let alone read, so I emailed my editors and shut up shop. Day Two, however, was marginally less dramatic. (Certainly there was no radiation poisoning that led to me crashing a plane into the Mojave Desert in order to save the American people from nuclear holocaust, although the continuing shivers and sneezes made me seriously consider it.) Days Three and Four were an improvement, and by Day Five I was on the road to recovery. No cargo ship with its all-inclusive torture deal to Asia, no third-world bird, no more flu. And instead of being able to watch trash TV (you may have gathered that I’m a fan) in splendid isolation in my bed-castell, I had shit to deal with. Mad? I was positively Tony Almeida.

If you work in an office, when you’re sick, you go home to get well–be it mainlining Jewish penicillin, sweating it out in solitary under the covers, or whichever remedy suits you best. Home workers don’t find this option so easy. For starters, you don’t work, you don’t get cheese, so as well as the temperature, suppurating buboes and feverish delusions, you’ve also got to deal with the stress that all of the above entails. Lengthier illnesses can be a real problem–although I’m going to tackle the thorny issue of health insurance for Homies next week. (Some insurers, however, will let self-employed people insure themselves against this, paying 75% of your salary should you be faced with an extended lay off. A long-term policy, it’s called permanent health insurance, and lasts up until retirement age.) What I’m talking about is those bugs that lay you off for anything up to a week. Too ill to write, but not so ill that you’re facing the last rites.

When you’re sick, you have to forget about the bottom line for a bit. There is no point being a martyr to the cause of a bulging bank account. It’ll just come back and bite you on the arse. Rather like going for a run when you’ve got a cold (it can lead to pneumonia), over-reaching yourself when you’re not well will just slow-mo your recovery. Take a day or two off and do nothing. Turn off your mobile. Set your emails to auto-response. “Addy Dugdale is off sick. Please be patient (and let her be one). Normal service will be resumed once her temperature has come down. She’d like you to know that she is thinking of you all at this difficult time but, most of all, she is thinking of herself. Thank you very much, and have a nice day.”

For me, what made last week more difficult, was not so much feeling rotten, but rather a trinity of distractions that drove me absolutely spare. When one is sick, the ideal cure is rest and recuperation. This may or may not include a little light reading, chicken soup, a comedy DVD or two, plenty of sleeps, and a hot bath in the evening. What I got was a rather tragicomic father-and-son electrician duo–one fat, the other so obese he had a sideline in floorboard-bending–attempting to sort out the lights in my sitting room/office. It took them two days to work it out, working me up into a not inconsiderable lather.

Then there was my mom who kept flitting in and out of the house, wanting me to do stuff for her, all the while exhorting me not to get too close to her. “I don’t want to get what you’ve got. Begone, leprous daughter.” “But Mom, *sniff*, it’s my house.” And finally, there was my boyfriend who was having serious problems at work. (His doctor took one look at him at the end of last week and signed him off sick with stress–so, compared to him, I was golden.) He came home on Day Two and was so aerated that he started taking it out on me. Put upon? Reader, I had to become positively drudge-like–and I hated every damn minute of it. I’m sick, I wanted to yell. Get. Out. Of. My. Home. Office. And. Home. Although, since he’s living with me at the moment, technically it’s his home, too.

But enough about me–let’s get back to this week’s topic of sickies. Once you’re feeling a bit better, then you can head back to your home office, but make sure you pace yourself. Don’t set the bar too high or you’ll just end up feeling exhausted. Those of you with young families know that when you’re ill, you just have to soldier on on the home front. For kids, ill is just a misspelt word with an apostrophe dropped somewhere along the way. Successful home workers get their work-life balance right, and for me, although I don’t have kids, I know what I’d save from a burning building if I did. (Here’s a clue: it wouldn’t be my computer.) Take a break between tasks – have a power kip, if you need one. And don’t spend the weekend playing frantic catch-up with what you lost. You can add an extra hour or so each day to your workload the following week–unless, of course, you really are Jack Bauer, in which case you’ve only got 20 hours to save the world. Bleep! Bleep? Bleep! Bleep?

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.