Summary:

Undergoing continued health treatment while you’re working full-time remains a challenge — especially for the freelancer or contractor. The good news is that balancing work and ongoing health treatment isn’t impossible. These are a few of the techniques I’ve used to make it easier.

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In many ways, technology has made it easier for those of us with health issues that require ongoing treatment to work. Employer understanding and more flexible employment conditions have also helped.

But the fact is that undergoing continued health treatment while you’re working full-time remains a challenge — especially for the freelancer or contractor. You have fewer hours available to work, but enough tasks to fill a full day; you’re not functioning at full-throttle, but your clients expect you to be; you’re worried about your health, and juggling the stresses that creates in your personal life as well as in the professional world.

The good news is that balancing work and ongoing health treatment isn’t impossible. These are a few of the techniques I’ve used to make it easier.

1. Prioritize your health.

If you require ongoing health treatment, it’s important to prioritize that over your work. While for most of us, work contributes to overall well-being, we need to be healthy if we’re to get the most out of it. Your health is a prerequisite to satisfying work.

Accepting that your health comes first will make it easier to prioritize your work, as well as family and other commitments. It will help you make work-or rest decisions on a daily basis, and help you manage the tasks you have to suit your energy levels as well as your schedule.

2. Schedule treatment and recovery.

If your treatment takes up a certain amount of time each week, block out that time in your calendar — as well as the time you’ll need to recover from the treatment, if that’s an issue. A common beginners’ trap is to block out the appointment time to the minute. Instead, allow yourself a little fat here and there to allow for traveling to and from treatment, any recovery you may need to do, and settling back to work afterward. Also factor in the possibility that you may feel less than fabulous — physically or psychologically — for some time after the treatment.

If your treatment times or intensity change from week to week, block out the time you’ll need as soon as you know what’s going on. Overestimate that time, rather than underestimating it. If you feel good, you’ll be able to get ahead of the game — and that’s great. But if you don’t, you’ll have built in enough downtime to cope with the aftermath of treatment. Better to find you have a clear half-hour of focused work time that you weren’t expecting than to have to attend a meeting or client call when you’re not at your professional best.

3. Speak to clients.

Discussing your personal health problems with clients may seem like a no-no, and there will undoubtedly be times when you’ll cite “other client work” rather than ill health as the reason why you need to set a deadline so far in advance, for example.

But in the case of ongoing clients or intense contracts, it may be best to talk about your health-related commitments up front. Don’t be shy or feel bad about doing this: even us hired human resources are real people, and as we’ve already established, your health is your top priority. A caring client with sensible expectations will be more than willing to accommodate your time requirements, so long as you explain them up-front and ensure that they’re on the same page as you are.

Most clients don’t want you to be available 24/7: they just want to know that you care about the work, are responsive within reasonable time frames, and will maintain open communications with them. Again, the first step in doing that is to explain your needs to them up front. Don’t lie, avoid telling the truth, or try to participate in Skype meetings from the doctor’s waiting room. Be honest, and your working life will be far less stressful.

4. Use technology to your advantage.

OK, so you may not be participating in meetings from the doctor’s waiting room, but you may find that, if you need to travel for treatment, or your appointments leave you less time to deal with contacts in person, technology can be a big help.

Document sharing, wireless connectivity and a smartphone, shared task lists, automatic reminders, and other time- and task-management tools can really help you stay organized and on top of both work and the rest of your life. Providing colleagues with access to your working files can help you avoid client panic — and the associated guilt — and ensures projects keep moving even if you’re out of action for a day or two.

That said, take care that technology doesn’t simply see you working more hours, or working when what you actually need is space to attend to your health. Yes, you may be able to respond to email on your phone while you’re in the doctor’s waiting room — but don’t take the fact that you’re connected to mean that you must attend to work in every spare moment you can get.

5. Be flexible with yourself and your clients

We all have good days and bad days, but when you’re not in peak form, the bad days can be more frequent, or more difficult to work through. After a period of ongoing treatment, you may be more easily able to anticipate its after-effects and allow yourself meeting- or deadline-free days as appropriate. But you may also have bad days that you don’t anticipate.

That’s fine — everyone has sick days, right? Don’t panic: just do what you can, and talk to clients if you need to push out deadlines or deliverables by an extra day or two. Perhaps you’ll be a bit flexible the next time the client wants a deliverable turned around quickly, or you find that meeting a deadline means working a few hours on Saturday. Flexibility is the way to juggle the ups and downs of ill health, and the passion you have for your work, without guilt or pressure.

6. Make the most of the good days

Depending on your condition, you might find yourself motivated to work at odd times, or keen to catch up on client work over the weekend. I usually take advantage of these times as opportunities to make hay while the sun shines. Ongoing health treatment can really eat into your time and work rhythms, so you may simply find yourself reveling in having a whole day clear of appointments — finally you can sink your teeth into a job and really make some progress!

On those days I try to pay attention to the aspects of my work that I really enjoy, and to acknowledge the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing good work. Since work contributes to my sense of well being, contribution and capability, I try to pay attention to those times as much as possible.

Ongoing health treatment is a burden at the best of times, but this approach has helped me to ensure that it has a minimal impact on my working life. Have you had to work through periods in which you’ve had to take time out regularly for health reasons? What advice can you add?

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