Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Allow yourself a sick day

Posted on 24 March 2011 13 comments

Article illustration for Allow yourself a sick day

As independent creatives (i.e: freelancers or small business owners), we rarely give ourselves time off from work when we’re feeling under the weather. Whereas in full-time employment I might have called my boss and taken a sick day, I personally find — and I know I’m not alone — that I’ve been much more inclined to ‘soldier on’ since I’ve been working for myself. That’s not to say that I slacked off when I was an employee, of course; it’s just that there’s an increased motivation to push through the occasional sickness when you’re the one solely responsible for the work.

So I think that we should all take more time off, and when we’re feeling rough, we should accept that nothing good is going to come of it, and just let ourselves be sick; because being ill is inevitable. Although it can be alleviated by giving ourselves natural breaks — like not working at the weekend, booking in proper holiday time, and just ensuring that we give ourselves time to properly switch off — there will still be occasions where sickness comes calling, and that’s when we should just let it happen, and allow our bodies time to recover.

I’m writing this almost as a note to myself. In fact, I feel like I only came to this realisation in the last couple of days, when the pressures of current client work, 8 Faces and new pet projects — while all fun and exciting — simply got on top of me. I suffer from mouth ulcers when stressed (ulcers are commonly linked to a low immune system), and instead of reading the signs and giving myself some time to recuperate earlier this week, I soldiered on with work and now they’re significantly worse and talking bloody well hurts. Sure, mouth ulcers are not that bad in the grand scheme of things and I’m certainly not looking for sympathy, but coupled with general intellectual, creative, and emotional exhaustion, it appears that I’m a little burned out and I need some time off.

Okay, yes, so I’m posting this today and yet I’m proclaiming I’m ill. What a hypocrite. But right after hitting the ‘publish’ button on this post I’m going to go for a walk into the fields, sit down with a book, and chill the hell out.

Perhaps that’s something many of us should do more often.


[Photo courtesy of Shutterstock, inspired by my recent playing around with the wonderful Yoritsuki iPhone app. Give it a go if you’re in need of some portable relaxation!]


  1. Dan Howard

    Dan Howard

    24 March 2011 @ 11:30AM #

    I’m pretty sure that the majority of SME Owners would agree that they feel they are at work 24/7 – I know I do!

    Having a sick day is ‘quiet time’ that the business is out of your control, and I bet that’s not ideal for most people!



    24 March 2011 @ 11:31AM #

    Cool post, totally agree.
    Whe deserve some ‘me time’ every once and a while….

    Have a nice walk Elliot!

  3. Brad Koehler

    Brad Koehler

    24 March 2011 @ 11:34AM #

    I agree, the pressure to continue working when ill is immense for the freelance designer / developer.

    As a developer (I have no idea if designers suffer this same problem) I find that the work that I do when I am A) ill or B) really tired (late nights for example) is always substandard, so I end up having to revisit it anyway.

    Much better to have taken the time to rest, You get better quicker too!

  4. Sugarenia


    24 March 2011 @ 11:38AM #

    Funny you should say that – I got a lip cold sore last week exactly because of that.

    Even if I work mainly from my house, I noticed my immune system got particularly sensitive since I started freelancing, because of long hours and lack of everyday contact with other people.

    Vacation is indispensable.

  5. Steve Rydz

    Steve Rydz

    24 March 2011 @ 11:39AM #

    This actually happened to me last week as well. I got pretty sick with a cold and just couldn’t focus on anything. I tried to soldier on for a while but ultimately I realised that I needed to just stop and recover.

    It’s true that this sort of thing wouldn’t occur as often if we were a little more sensible about how many hours we’re putting in. Obviously we will still get ill from time to time but it can be kept to a minimum.

    Just to sit back and say that’s enough for today is actually quite a feat when you love what you do (like so many of us web types do). For me I find it’s not getting the work finished that keeps me going, it’s the fact that I love what I do and don’t really want to stop.

    The important thing to remember is that it is in fact more productive and beneficial to have some personal time regularly and it prevents the dreaded burn-out that is all too common in this industry.

  6. Sharat Buddhavarapu

    Sharat Buddhavarapu

    24 March 2011 @ 01:00PM #

    “…I’m going to go for a walk into the fields, sit down with a book, and chill the hell out.”

    It’s what I do all the time (and being a college student, it’s usually at the expense of some paper which I will frantically right the night before it is due.) :)

  7. Sarah Parmenter

    Sarah Parmenter

    24 March 2011 @ 01:22PM #

    Get well soon! I’ve been feeling similar the past few weeks, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this blog post.

  8. Matt Reed

    Matt Reed

    24 March 2011 @ 01:58PM #

    I’ve got a mouth ulcer right now! I hate them too. Nice post Elliot, the trick is now going to be implementing it. Get well soon!

  9. Kev Adamson

    Kev Adamson

    24 March 2011 @ 05:40PM #

    Yep. All too familiar. Think it took me 6 years of riding the freelance wave and getting seriously run-down before I got the balance right.

    What I find helpful is breaking the day up, and I’ve come across this routine by accident because of my sciatica (caused – btw – from too much sitting at my work-space).

    My doctor told me to go swimming at least 3 days a week, but finding an appropriate time in the evenings was a pain, as the pool is always full.

    So I was forced to go during the day, and this has been a blessing in disguise. It means I do four hours of work in the morning, then have a couple of hours for lunch and swimming, then back for another 4 hours. I finish a bit later on an average day, but:

    a) my productivity hasn’t suffered, b) I feel fresher and more comfortable, c) my sciatica is all but gone, d) I have a better overall sense of well-being, e) plus the exercise has improved my immune system.

  10. Ryan Munger

    Ryan Munger

    28 March 2011 @ 04:13AM #

    As a side note to this post, I’d also like to add how important it is to step away from your computer about every hour or so.

    It is so easy to get sucked into our work, but in the end I think we produce much better work by letting our minds rest for 5-10 minutes in between sessions.

    Personally, I like to use the 48/12 method:

    First, get rid of any and all distractions.

    Next, set an Egg Timer for 48 minutes (http://e.ggtimer.com/48minutes) and once it goes off take a break for 12 minutes.

    Rinse and repeat :).

    Anyhow, hope this helps some of you guys out there who get that “my mind is numb!” feeling after working too much!

  11. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    05 April 2011 @ 08:28AM #

    Thanks for the comments, well-wishes, and tips, everyone! I especially love the egg timer idea, Ryan. :)

  12. vihung


    18 April 2011 @ 05:37PM #

    I just came to your blog linked from Shawn Blanc’s.

    Funnily, I have just put together a calculation that says that as an independent creative worker, you should only factor for being billable 15 days a month.

    Detaiuls at http://vihung.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/how-many-days-a-month-do-you-work/

© 2005 – 2014 Elliot Jay Stocks. All rights reserved. Powered by Harmony and tracked by Gaug.es. To keep updated with new content, you might like to subscribe to my RSS feed.