IF YOU ARE anything like me, every time you have a lull, as soon as you get booked up with work again, you have instant 20/20 clarity about how you should have spent your free time!

Learning to make the most of periods of down time is an important freelance life skill. Some people are proactive and organised, and utilise down time well. Others have some nifty strategies for making sure they don’t enjoy, or use wisely the breaks in their schedule.

Here are some common displacement activities that we may have noticed other people indulging in:

  1. Becoming nocturnal, spending days in bed, and nights watching rubbish television or YouTube videos.
  2. Playing the pseudo busy game, where you get up as normal, switch your computer on, tell everyone you are looking for work, or are working on your book, then spend the day on Facebook.
  3. Running around like a headless chicken panicking loudly about the situation while doing absolutely nothing constructive about it.

So what’s the alternative?

First of all, recognise that you are entitled to a break, so when you have free time, make sure you use it to help relax and re-energise for the next piece of work.

Plan in support work

When there is an unwanted gap in your creative work, use this to catch up on the support work you need to do to create more work opportunities in the future, e.g., telephone people you haven’t been in touch with for ages, pitch some ideas to potential clients, update your website, learn a new skill. The more efficient you are at this sort of work, the less likely you will be to have unwanted gaps in your schedule in the first place. Also, try to do this work little and often so you achieve work continuity rather than leave it until you are desperate.

Take time to reflect

Did you know that people often make the big life changing decisions when they are on holiday? A different environment, no deadlines with no expectations from anyone else for a day or two can help to create ‘thinking space’ that both allows you to reflect on your life and inspire new ideas. So, rather than spoil your free time by allowing a dozen unhelpful worries cloud your mind, use the time constructively to clearly assess what you need and want to do next. If you’re in a period of downtime because you can’t get work, it’s really important to honestly analyse why you’re in this position and what you can do to stop it happening in the future. Just grab a notepad to jot down any significant realisations or options, and go think.

If you’re not sure where to focus, start with your goals:

  • Are you still on the path you want to be?
  • Do you still love it?
  • Are you making progress?
  • What is not happening that you thought would?
  • What do you want instead? And so on.

Sometimes this process will give you a gentle nudge to make changes while occasionally there will be an epiphany! Whatever happens, you will be clearer about what it is you are working towards.

Start new projects

After reflecting on your current situation, you may have come to the conclusion that you need to create some new options for yourself. You could be considering a new venture with other like-minded professionals, or have identified new potential sources of work, or even new types of work.

Perhaps your contemplations have led you to recognise that you need to acquire or brush up a skill. You may even find you have been working too hard, and need to spend time on a hobby or with friends and family.

Whatever it is, getting involved in something new will get your creative juices pumping again, and even if what you are doing is not strictly related to what you consider to be your core business, you will be amazed how often it subsequently feeds into, or leads to something much more relevant.

Do stuff

It’s a good idea to have a list of things you want to do, so when there is an opportunity you can just start working through it. The funny thing is that when we are actually in that situation, we often tell ourselves, that we can only do those things when we know what’s happening about work. Then when we sort the work out, we no longer have the free time!

We need to re-categorise the activities on this list from ‘nice to do,’ to ‘essential maintenance’. Just as you would wait for a quiet spell to have your car serviced, this doesn’t make it an unnecessary task.

Your necessary maintenance could include time in the gym, catching up with friends and colleagues, reading books, going to the cinema or theatre, visiting museums and art galleries, and filing.

Create gaps

If you are lucky enough to have a steady stream of work with no unwanted gaps, it’s important to plan some in. Let everyone know in good time, and schedule in holiday breaks. It won’t necessarily occur to anyone else to remind you to do this, so it’s important that you take responsibility for this yourself.

No breaks can all too often result in becoming stale or running out of steam. No-one would expect to employ someone to work all year round, with no breaks, no holidays and no time off for good behaviour. So don’t assume you have to because you are freelance.

Managing your client’s expectations, or being prepared to plan ahead to accommodate your client’s key dates, should allow you to organise this time off for yourself.


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