What can you do when you’re under the weather but feel under the gun?

I know a lot of superhero self-employed folks. To paraphrase the US postal service motto, neither circumstance nor snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. They keep on chugging along, no matter what life throws at them. I imagine there are some in my community who think I fit that category.

If that’s you, I’m apologizing in advance. I hope you still love me.

I take pride in perseverance and in dedication to my work in the world. But on some days, like today, exhaustion and insomnia has rendered my brain a soft, spongy gray mass of tofu. No amount of caffeine has been able to coax even a tiny green tendril of creative thought from my head this morning—the morning that I have promised myself to publish a blog post.

Have you had days like that? I am guessing most of us do. We’ve made a promise—to ourselves or to others—to “show up,” but while the spirit is willing, the physiology is most assuredly not. So what do entrepreneurs, small business owners, and self-employed types do in these situations? That’s what I’m asking myself this morning.

Here’s what I’m doing to sort it out. First, a self-examination to assess what is and isn’t working for me today:

  • Physical body: Good. Tired, but perfectly capable of most motor functions. Can hold pen and hold coffee cup. And refill coffee cup. And refill again.
  • Level of safety. Good.
  • Overall mental acuity: Compromised. Have put full carton of milk into the cupboard with the glassware. Am wearing inside-out T-shirt.
  • Left brain (logical thought) is at about a 7 out of 10, but most days I’m required to operate at at least a 9 in order to do website-related work. I can re-read emails 2 to 3 times and get the gist. I can form simple sentences. I’m making judicious use of spell-check.
  • Right brain (creative/intuitive thought, which I most need today) sits at about a 3 out of 10. Not good for writing a book chapter, also on my agenda this morning and something I am very committed to.

What can you do with those tools?  I’ve found a yellow writing pad (took 7 minutes) and am scratching out a list of what I can accomplish today, where I am, with what I have:

  1. First, follow George Kao’s advice and take some creative rest. It’s the kind thing to do, and may help get a few more neurons to fire.
  2. Check in with my support network, my touchstone, to reassure myself that I’m still me and still in here, and to gain clarity: The world is not going to come crumbling down around me, and in fact will be fine without me until tomorrow.
  3. Shape my day slowly and carefully, doing what I can and must. I can cautiously respond to emails and calls, reschedule the tasks that can be shifted, and be measured and deliberate about all of the left-brain actions that can’t wait. I can also employ that brain hemisphere (the more ‘together’ of the two) in creating rational actions to help give a hand up to the other hemisphere.
  4. Be gentle with my right brain, which doesn’t respond to threats and whip-cracking. I can’t force it, but I can try to lure it from its slumber. For example, I found a series of talks early this morning on the website DO: The Encouragement Network, a space for makers, thinkers, and creators of all kinds. I can set their podcast on autoplay, and listen to enlightening, encouraging stories from people like us. I’ll have a notebook and pen at hand. Just in case. At some point, I’m hoping that part of my mind will start getting itchy to rejoin the world and start creating something juicy of its own.
  5. Properly feed and hydrate my body and brain, so tomorrow will be better. Simple, healthy food. Lots of pure water. Vitamins, sunshine, and gentle, frequent movement. My work is important, but not life-or-death. There is time to get back into the best possible mindset before undertaking new tasks.

Your tactics may look different when you find yourself under the weather, but the basic framework can be the same: Assess what your resources and abilities are. Trust that the world will be okay. Do what you can, using the tools that still work. And know that, as my friend and coach Judith Morgan reminds her self-employed flock, sometimes when we allow a little space for healing, we can come back with new realizations and perhaps even genius ideas that we couldn’t have accessed the day before.

So, now that I’ve rambled, consumed 1.5 cups of coffee, and bent your ear for a few minutes, I’m going to put in my earbuds and make some progress on my day. Even if it’s not the day I thought I’d be having, it’s still going to be a good day. I hope yours is too.

Love to everybody. Take care of yourselves, and to my friends in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.


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