How To Manage Work When The Unexpected Happens

By Alyssa Gregory
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crisisWhen you work for yourself, you may not have someone to cover for you when something happens in life that prevents you from meeting your commitments. And it’s inevitable that at some point, you will have to drop everything and deal with an unexpected situation. This happened to me this week, and it really made clear how important it is to have a plan in place for dealing with these unexpected happenings.

How you handle the challenge, pick up and move on is a very personal and individual process, but there are some things you can do to make it a little less stressful and more manageable.

Get Support

This is two-fold. First, you want to make sure you have someone – a subcontractor or a colleague – who can jump in and cover for you in times of emergency. Unfortunately, when crisis occurs in your life, the rest of the world keeps on moving. You will be so thankful to have someone who can pick up the slack on high-priority work items when things get difficult. Even if it’s just to monitor your voicemail and check e-mail periodically.

Second, don’t underestimate the power of family and friends. Having a personal support network can really alleviate some of the pressure. It can be invaluable to have a family member take over some personal duties so you have time to wrap up work, or just there to help you manage the crisis.

Create a Communication Process

Although work may be the last thing on your mind, your clients should be kept in the loop. Having one central process for communicating to your clients can make updating them quick and easy. It can be as simple as creating a list of addresses you can copy and paste into an e-mail message to let everyone know at one time what’s going on.

Most people will be thankful for the information, understanding of the situation and willing to give you a little extra slack to get work done due to the circumstances. But the most important thing is to make sure they are kept informed, especially if you will be taking time off from work.

Make Priorities

In the case of an unexpected circumstance, you will have less time to get more accomplished. Now, you have all of your regular commitments, plus all of the new responsibilities that come with managing the situation. You will need to take a look at the priorities and focus on the most important things first, whether work related or not.

Know Your Limits

As much as you may like to continue on as if nothing has changed, you may not be able to. You may be out of the office for a prolonged period of time, unable to work, or inaccessible by e-mail or phone. While you should certainly try to do as much as you can, recognize that you may have to say no to something in order to fulfill other needs. Your health and well being, and being available for family is just as important as your work commitments. Take the time you need.

How do you manage it when unexpected things happen in your personal life and impact your ability to meet work commitments?

Image credit: Luca Cinacchio

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  • agentolivia

    That’s a great idea about having a subcontractor take over your work. I wish I had such a person in place during a recent unexpected crisis. On the other hand, I’m not sure how I could actually implement it in the real world. In a co-working situation, it’s easier to keep each other in the loop on projects. Being self-employed, that is not the case (in my experience anyway) unless you already have a sub that you give work to on a regular basis and who knows how to navigate your code or whatever framework you’re using (or both) and can be trusted to take things over merely on a temporary basis. Just my 2 cents.

    Thanks for the article. Good food for thought.

  • cahura

    I have to agree with agentolivia. I still find it a dilemma.

  • loganathan

    Nice suggestion … Thanks for posting the article!!!

  • This is a great list of suggestions. I’ll chime in and add one more, which is probably more appropriate if you’re in a salaried or contractor position than a freelancer. Document How You Do What You Do. If you need to be away from work for a week or two, what processes have you captured (either in a wiki, or on paper) so that others can step up and work it out without any training?

  • Raj

    Thats why, you need to rush to hire people and become a business. It scares me to imagine doing this on my own.

  • On a more personal note:
    Keep up Alyssa with your good work.
    Each time I see your name, I click on the articles you wrote because you tend to pick topics that interest me most.

  • This is a big issue.

    A crisis comes to all of us at one time or another.

    I’ve only recently jumped into Freelancing and spent last week in bed with the Flu (not a crisis I know, but a bit of a worry) for the first time. Luckily I only had to cancel one meeting and the client was very understanding.

    I managed to work from bed with my laptop, but it did bring home how fragile things are when working for yourself.