How To Use Downtime Between Projects as a Freelancer

Freelancers dread dry spells. The moment a client project is finished, we feel a void that can only be filled by a new project. Every day not spent working on client projects feels unproductive. It makes us anxious and stressed. Does it really have to be this way?

After a decade of freelancing, I’ve been through it all. I’ve been overworked, underworked, evenly worked, and oddly worked. I’ve had surplus clients, surplus time, surplus energy, and surplus ideas. Sometimes all at once.

At times, I had no client projects lined up, or they only filled up a portion of my working hours. I’ve experimented with many ways of filling this time, some more productive than others, and some downright destructive.

Today, I’d like to share with you my experience and help you make the most of downtime as a freelancer.

Broaden your productivity

We all start out selling our time for money. This is fine. But, as we grow more mature, it’s important to redefine what it means to be productive.

Reading books can be productive. So can writing a blog, building a side project, or recording a course. As freelancers, our business and our life are inseparably intertwined. Thus, anything with a positive effect on our life can be considered productive for our business.

This includes:

  • Expanding your knowledge base.
  • Expanding your network.
  • Improving your health.
  • Expressing yourself.

In my 11 years of freelancing, I’ve tried my hand at a lot of things. I’ve bootstrapped two startups and sold one after running it for a few years. I’ve also written a book, recorded a course, started a blog, a newsletter, a Twitter account, and an outsourcing business.

None of this impeded my freelancing career. In fact, it enriched it and made me more sought-after as a freelancer.

Plant seeds

Whenever you can make a low-cost bet with unlimited long-term upside, do it. This blog post is an example. Actually, almost everything you create online is an example - for a fixed investment of time and/or money, you plant a seed that may grow to unforeseen heights in the future.

Plant enough seeds - and plant them carefully - and your barren dry spells turn into a beautiful garden. This garden, in time, draws the attention of people who can help your business, hire you, or teach you.

And, sometimes, it can teach others about the wonders of gardening.

Manage your health

Mens sana in corpore sano. The Latin phrase should be inscribed on every digital worker’s wall.

You cannot maintain high productivity over a long period of time if you let your health disintegrate. When you have downtime, spend some of it away from screens, preferably outdoors or doing exercise.

I recently spent two weeks with barely any internet, with my family, in the middle of a mountain forest. It was a great time, but also, it was a great investment in my physical and mental well-being.

Activity is one of the foundations of happiness. Things that don’t move succumb to entropy.

Be mindful that you can’t buy health. Be wary of people who try to sell it to you. You don’t need a standing desk, you need movement. You don’t need special glasses, you need to rest your eyes. You don’t need a $3,000 mattress, you need deadlifts.

Every minute invested into your health will pay dividends over your whole lifetime - not to mention help you feel better in the present moment.

Teach others

Few things are as rewarding as helping others. I’m grateful to have had many opportunities to help people break into freelancing. When you watch others succeed using the wisdom you gained through trial and error, you gain selflessness and perspective.

There’s a selfish side to this - you can turn teaching into a business. Even if you don’t, odds are, some of the people you mentor will find a way to repay you down the line.

So why not try sharing some of your hard-earned knowledge while you’re waiting for your next client to come knocking? Who knows what opportunities and relationships will come your way?

Be open

Sometimes, good fortune will find you when you least expect it. A great prospect will email you while you’re lounging on a beach. A friend will introduce you to an investor for your startup idea. An entrepreneur will offer you a partnership position in their startup.

While rest is important, occasionally it makes sense to postpone it so you can pounce on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don’t mistake this for FOMO (fear of missing out). If the opportunity isn’t life-altering, postpone it and get back to planting seeds.

That’s the beauty of freelancing - it’s as flexible a business model as they come.

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