I spent the last week sick as a dog. It was just a run-of-the-mill chest cold (I know, because I hauled my cookies down the urgent care to make sure I wasn’t actually dying) but man, it knocked me on my butt.
I had to cancel calls, because for three days I literally couldn’t speak at all.
And I flat out forgot about a class I was scheduled to teach. Just didn’t show up and completely left my students hanging, because in my fog I forgot to cancel it.
I missed a deadline for a freelance article and got a semi-annoyed email from the editor about how they’re just going to assume I’m not interested in writing it anymore.
When you run the whole show, five sick days is a disaster.
Getting back to normal after a vacation or planned break is hard enough. At least there’s time to plan for that. You see it coming, so you can prepare. Reschedule appointments, cancel classes, prepare work ahead of time. And know exactly what you need to do when you get home.
But an unexpected event that throws a monkey wrench into your gears — an illness, some kind of tragedy that pulls you away from your work, or even something positive like an opportunity that you just can’t pass up — that’s something else.
At some point you have to face the chaos and get things back on track. Here’s my plan for that.
Make a List
I feel like about ninety percent of all of the systems I use to keep my right-brained self on track start this way. I always feel better when I can see everything I’m facing all in one place.
I don’t know about you, but when things feel out of control, my brain has a habit of turning it all into a catastrophe. The mountain things I need to do seems so massive, it’s insurmountable.
If I get out a paper and pen and just start writing it down, I almost alway find there’s way less there than I thought and it all becomes more manageable. At least, I can wrap my head around it.
So I just list the calls I need to make, the deadlines I missed, the due dates that are coming up, the projects I’m working on and the next steps for them, emails I need to send. Whatever I can think of. One big master to do list.
Once I know what I need to do, I organize it.
What do I need to do now. Is there someone I need to email, because I blew them off while I was out? Is there a deadline I’m about to miss, but haven’t yet? Do I need to prepare for something that’s sneaking up on me quickly?
Also: is there anything I can push way down on the list? Maybe something that seemed important last week, but can wait another week or two now, while I get back on top of things?
Apologize if You Need to
People matter the most. Period.
If I’ve left anyone hanging or blown anyone off in the midst of my unexpected down time, it’s top of my list when I’m back to apologize.
The best apologies are sincere and lack excuses. Just let the person know that you’re aware that you let them down. Tell them how sorry you are for that. Tell them the reason why, to the extent that you’re comfortable. Then (this is important) let them know how you’re going to make it right.
Alternatively, you may need to ask how you can make it right, if there’s no obvious way for you to do it now that a deadline has passed.
And this is actually the most important. If you make a promise with your apology, be sure you follow through.
Be Kind to Yourself
People get sick. Tragedies happen. Even good opportunities that you can’t really let pass and don’t have time to plan for happen sometimes.
Since those things happen to everyone, sometimes, most everyone that you deal with will be forgiving. Especially if you have a history of providing them with good work.
Give yourself a break.
When one of my kids misses school, they’re given an extra day for every day they’re out to make up missed work. I think that’s a good rule of thumb.
If you’re out sick for a week, it might take another week to get back into the full swing of things while you make up what you missed.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.