The peaks and valleys of freelancing are no joke. There are days when the work piles up so high it seems impossible you’ll get through it all. Other days, you look at your to-do list, see hardly anything on it, and question your choice to leave corporate life behind.
It’s part of the job to have down time when you’re a freelancer, and if you can weather the storm until work pick backs up, you’ll need ways to keep yourself busy.
I struggle when things get too slow. Even if I know more work is on the horizon, or I have clients who I know I can depend on, quiet time means less income, and it’s not long before I begin to question whether going back to work full time isn’t the right thing to do. However, the quiet moments never last and then I regret not enjoying them when I’m up working past midnight because a deadline came up way too fast.
So, to center myself to enjoy the lag time before the crazy inevitably returns, I’ve come up with a list of ways to spend my time so I truly feel like I’m taking advantage of it. Even as I continue to network and search for more work, these are the things that make me happy when I have moments to myself.
Even when I’m busy, volunteering is a huge component of my regular schedule. Being a freelancer means I can set my own hours, and I do in a way that leaves me open to giving time elsewhere. Even as I write this, I’m sitting in my daughter’s middle school, manning the circulation desk in the library. I just finished shelving books and checking students out.
Libraries are my favorite place to be so I commit time once a month to help out at my oldest’s middle school, and my youngest’s elementary school. The commitment is minimal, and I get to be surrounded by books.
I also volunteer my time and sit on boards both in the elementary school and at my temple. This commitment is mostly consistent, with pre-scheduled, monthly meetings, and extra opportunities to help are always offered only to those who have the time.
The consistency of my volunteering means I can schedule it far in advance, work around it, and never feel overwhelmed by keeping it as part of my schedule. I get to give back, get involved and do work that I like between the work that pays the bills.
This is the list that never gets completed. There’s always something to do, but the trick is using these tasks to your advantage when work is slow. My strategy is to take an entire week’s worth of errands and spread them out throughout the week. That way I’m leaving the house and doing something every day, making sure I’m not feeling stuck at home.
This isn’t the most efficient way to get your errands done, but I’ve found it the best for my mental health when I’m not feeling busy.
So, in a typical slow week, with my standard amount of errands to do, I usually go grocery shopping on Monday, get gas and maybe a car wash on Tuesday, complete a Target run on Wednesday, treat myself to a coffee out on Thursday and run the miscellaneous errands that came up later in the week on Friday. These can include everything from grabbing supplies a kid needs that they forgot to tell me about or a filler run on groceries at the store.
When doing these errands, my other trick is to park far away from the entrance to the store. The extra steps are always good if I’ve been sitting at home more than usual, feeling idle.
This is nobody’s favorite thing to do, but it’s also what always gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list when things get busy. Extra downtime means motivating myself to tackle the cleaning projects that I never have time do, like cleaning out closets, the fridge and the pantry. I can finally get ahead when it comes to laundry and really do a deep clean with the vacuum.
Putting one cleaning task per day onto my calendar when it’s slow allows me to vary my activity and get things done around the house that usually have been sitting for way too long. The sense of accomplishment when I cross these to-do’s off my list is always very high.
SPEND TIME WITH FRIENDS
Tapping the friends you have with open schedules when you’re slow is never a bad thing. Being with other people, when you may feel isolated because of a lack of work can help keep you sane. Human connection is really important, and using some of that extra time to do things that are just for your well being is good too.
I have a small group of friends who either are stay-at-home moms or have a flexible work schedule. Meeting them for lunch, getting our nails done or even going for a long walk are all activities that satisfy that need for a human connection. These situations allow me to have conversations and feel like I’m still in the world even though I don’t feel particularly busy. They’re a lifeline for sure.
This option for filling idle time is totally personal and may not be for everyone. I love to read, and have way too many books on my to-read list. I will never get through them all, and that’s okay, but when I have the ability to sit for an hour, in the middle of the day, and get lost in a book, I’m happier and more positive.
Normally, I have maybe 20 minutes at the end of the night to read before I fall asleep with the book open in front of me. That’s okay, but it’s not enough, and I hate that I end up sacrificing reading time when work gets so busy and I’m too tired by the end of the day to open a book.
We all have a passion like this, a little thing we like to do for ourselves everyday. Sadly, it’s often sacrificed for more demanding requests, so using your idle time to give yourself a double dose feels really good.
Giving in to your passion when your work dips is a great way to spend your time because of how it will impact your mood, motivating you to make it through the slow patch.
HONE A SKILL
Professional development as a freelancer is harder. There’s no parent company giving you access to courses, no requirements in a performance plan to develop certain skills. You must be 100 percent self-motivated when it comes to learning a new skill or perfecting an existing one. This takes time (and some money) but can make you a more valuable hire as well.
Using downtime to up your game professionally is always a great use of time, especially if you can pinpoint a skill that’s in-demand and will give you an edge. Just don’t forget to update your portfolio/resume to promote this new ability or certification.
You may also want to dedicate some of this time networking for new clients. Maybe attend a few events you normally wouldn’t have time for, or commit a little time each day to really dig into LinkedIn or another platform that’s good for meeting people professionally.
STAY BUSY WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING
It’s not rocket science that your attitude stays more positive when you can keep yourself busy. As a freelancer, work is what often does the trick, but when you’re in a slump, make sure you have plenty of other options to fill your time. Make sure these are things that make you feel good about yourself, allow you to connect and help you feel accomplished. One small thing each day can go a long way, and before you know it, work should pick back up.