As fresh entrepreneurs and freelancers we are often blessed with the consistent inconsistency of work flow from day to day. There are times when it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in a day to meet all the deadlines we’ve committed to. Yet still, amidst all of that work, we can sometimes get uneasy about the following week knowing very well that the work scale might just end up tipping the other direction.
This organic (for lack of a better term) lifestyle is what drives many down this path. And for the most part it’s fantastic; work hard when you need it, relax when you don’t. It’s the flexibility that a desk job, suit and tie, and a 9-to-5 schedule just doesn’t grant you the privilege of having.
On the other hand, it can catch many unsuspectingly, hitting the hardest with those who haven’t yet internalized the fundamental nature of the career they’ve chosen. There are bills to pay. Mouths to feed. Girlfriends to pamper. Friends to entertain. Parents to prove wrong.
Firstly – take a breather. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. (Say it a couple more times if you need to) Good? Good.
It’s time to see your downtime for what it really is – a blessing. When work dies, the world doesn’t stop turning. On the contrary, there are plenty of other useful things you can do to take advantage of these moments, some of which will also ensure you have less of these downtimes going forward (for those who are still uneasy). Here’s a small list of suggestions of things to do the next time clients give you a moment of rest.
Clear out your feed reader
If you’re like me, while you’re in your busy mode, you’ll fall behind in your RSS feed reading. And when your Google Reader (or whichever reader you use) looks worse than your inbox, it’s time to do some clearing out. Catch up on all the good reads you’ve missed and try to go Feed Reader Zero (the feed reader equivalent of the Inbox Zero strategy) on the RSS world.
Tip: If you’re a chronic RSS subscriber and have trouble keeping up with new reads, use categories to help you prioritize. Google Reader gives me the ability to tag/categorize my feeds so that I can tell which are design or entrepreneur-related (which I read the most), and which are aggregated feeds from sites like Digg, CSS Globe, and Design Float (which I like to read when I have time, but otherwise ignore by hitting ‘mark all as read’ when I only want the best of the best). I even have a tag for Favorites which I always read first – it’s essentially my daily must-reads.
Clean your office
After the storm has cleared, it could be time to do a bit of office cleaning. Trash the hundreds of sticky notes that line the side of your monitor and the dozen Tim Horton’s cups whose rims are just rolled enough to disappointingly read “AY AGAIN” (I’m 1/14 by the way). When you’ve got a few minutes it’s always a good idea to get organized again and reset yourself for the next load of work coming in.
Update your blog
Unfortunately, this blog sometimes takes a hit when things get hectic in my life. But the moment I get some downtime I always check in to see how things are going and to perform some of my regular maintenance tasks. I’ll read all the new comments and do my best to respond to everyone or I’ll get cracking on writing a new post. Most recently I made the upgrade from WordPress 2.3.3 to the wonderful and much talked-about 2.5. If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to update your own site (download here, release notes here).
Do your taxes
It’s that time of the year again! As much as we all hate to do them, it’s a good idea to get your taxes out of the way while you still have time to. This year will be my first year not only doing it myself but also incorporating a significant amount of new factors from my business into the tax process. I’m doing my best to get going early, and so should you. If you’re in Canada, your return must be filed on or before April 30, 2008 (I’m not sure how it differs elsewhere).
Side note: Can anybody recommend a private accounting/tax firm in Toronto that has experience dealing with small business owners?
Working hard over a long period of time can sometimes wear you and your creativity down. So when you get a chance, head out to your local museum or art gallery to take in a fresh perspective. Looking for something more contemporary? Inspire yourself by taking a stroll through the beautiful landscape of a park or the glorious skyscrapers of the downtown core. Often times, just breaking out of your regular environment and surrounding yourself with new faces and objects will freshen you up and breathe new life into you and your over-worked mind.
Read a book
This one remains on my to-do list but I know a lot of people who like to unwind by reading a new book in their downtime. Reading a book helps to keep your literary skills sharp and also fits equally well in the small pockets of free time you get at the end of each day or in the longer periods of downtime. So pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read (for me it’s Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek… ironic, I know) and finally find your way past that first page!
Work on personal projects
This is by far my favorite way to spend my downtime. With so much brain crack running through my veins, it’s truly a blessing when I have the opportunity to work on personal projects. In your case, think about some of the projects that you’ve always wanted to do – if your clients have momentarily stopped knocking at your door, now’s the time to do them! If you don’t have any projects in mind already, come up with one that will push you to learn new skills or test the limits of your current ones.
Build supplementary channels of revenue
Similar to the last suggestion, a great way to ensure your downtime doesn’t go completely wasted (financially speaking), you can spend some time developing projects or strategies that will help you rake in some recurring supplementary revenue. Whether it’s through selling ad space or free WordPress themes, setting up a low-maintenance side gig can help ease the tension in time’s when client work isn’t filling your schedule.
Do some business planning
What better way to combat your business’ downtime than to plan for how to avoid it in the future? Downtime is great for helping you finally sit down and plan out the next move in your business’ growth strategy. Or it’s a good time to work on the next marketing campaign. Or it’s even a good time to just update the website with the new work you’ve been doing. Take the time and work on building the business while you’re not so busy running it.
Get a head start on the sales cycle
Again related to the above point, it’s a good idea to make use of the downtime and start building new leads. Check the job boards for new postings or follow-up with some of the clients you had to turn away while you were busy. This point is more of an essential thing to do rather than just a suggestion – it’s key to ensuring that your downtime is really just a temporary period that occurs once and a while (only when it happens frequently do you need to start worrying).
For all those times you wish you could get out and interact with people the old fashioned way (that is, with the other person physically standing in front of you), you should use your downtime to get out to local events and network. Events like Case Camp (or any of its sister events that follow the X Camp naming convention) happen frequently and are a great place to meet and talk with like-minded individuals. It’s also a good place to find new leads, which adds to the above point.
And when you just feel like taking a day off and kicking your feet up (at some place other than your desk hopefully), relaxing is another valued option to consider when you have downtime. You’ve been working so hard lately that you’ve missed meals, neglected friends, and have totally steered off from your commitment to the gym, so why not catch up on some of those things and taking a momentary leave from work? You’re guaranteed to return fresher and more energized to tackle the next storm.
I hope this article has helped you see your downtime in a new light! If there are other things you like to do to make the most of your downtime, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!