Staying motivated when the work dries up

By tutor and life coach Muriel McClymont

As a freelance, I have on occasions plotted out my workload for the next six months and realised I have more quality ‘me’ time available than is healthy for my bank balance.

In the past, this is where I would take myself into a corner and mentally thrash myself within an inch of my own productive work life: why didn’t I follow this lead? Why didn’t I attend that networking event? Why, why, why….?

Experience has taught me that this does no good whatsoever, and only delays what I have to do anyway. So now, I forgo the internal bullying session and go straight to dusting off my emergency plan and start working through it.

Here are five steps on my plan I’d like to share with you:

1. Speak to people

Never underestimate the power of human communication. Look out for networking opportunities. Mixing with like-minded people can remind you of what it is you really want to do and help you focus your efforts.

Chat to friends in the same line of business over a coffee. Maybe they will have a useful insight or suggestion for you. No guarantees, but worth a shot. They may even know of available work that would suit you right down to the ground.

2. Stay positive

When we’re struggling to get work, it’s easy to start doubting our abilities. So keep your MOJO up by:

  • Reminding yourself of all the successful work you’ve done in the past and what you’re really proud of. Dig out all your great reviews, acknowledgements or letters of thanks. Find every scrap of evidence that reinforces that you are good at what you do, and spend time going through it all. Create a special file, so you know where it is if you need it again. I have a collection of e-mails from grateful clients that never fail to perk me up.
  • Thinking back to what got you into this line of work in the first place: browse through material that inspired and still inspires you; look up your heroes and role models and recapture your passion
  • Imagining how good you’ll feel when you clinch the next commission. Remember, this is just a blip and you’ll soon turn a corner.
  • Talking to people who you know will cheer you up and remind you of how valuable and bright you are.

3. Maintain a balance

I know it can be extremely stressful when the bills are coming in faster than the work to pay for them. However, worrying yourself silly won’t help.

While you may need to work hard to create new opportunities, try to maintain a balance in your life and give yourself time off for good behaviour. Plan rewards (they don’t have to be expensive or elaborate) for when you have finished certain tasks such as calls made, appointments booked, e-mails sent, or details registered on relevant websites.

Catch up on a hobby you may have neglected. See it with new eyes, and you might see some opportunities to combine what you love to do in your spare time, with making some money.

Looking after yourself, giving yourself a well-deserved break and having fun whenever possible will help you return to tasks refreshed and more positive.

4. Exercise

In my world this means brisk walking, for you it could be jogging, swimming or sumo wrestling! Whatever your sport, exercise is now increasingly prescribed instead of drugs for depression. The serotonin the body produces when we exercise creates the same chemical changes in the brain as anti-depressants, without the side effects. So get moving.

Also, when you move your body, your thinking can shift into a different gear, sparking off new ideas and getting your creative juices flowing again. Getting out may also increase the chances of bumping into people who can help you.

Remember to jot down any great ideas you have, text yourself, leave yourself a message on your answer phone. It’s no good having creative inspiration, if you immediately forget about it!

5. Do something different

If what you have been doing is not working…  do something else. If that doesn’t work, find something else to try, and keep going. As physicist Albert Einstein said: “The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.” So shake things up a bit – surprise yourself! You may want to:

  • Look out old abandoned projects to see if the time is right now.
  • Be creative with where you look for work. Perhaps work you wouldn’t normally consider, in an area you are interested in, will lead to other more relevant opportunities.
  • Volunteer for appropriate organisations, if you can afford to.

I have done some weird and wonderful things in my time following this step. One temp job led to a great role that had me networking with all my heroes.

Several have been dead ends but still introduced me to great people who are now friends. Many I have to admit were unsuccessful, but I see those experiences as good material for amusing anecdotes in my memoirs.

So when the work dries up, while it may be tempting to catch up on the last series of 24, unless you are researching a part of course, this is avoidance, and should be, well, avoided. Instead try the steps above and see what happens.

For great networking opportunities see the range of free courses run by FEU Training.

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