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Nine things to do when work hits a lull

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

When you find yourself between projects or clients and work is slow, it can be disconcerting. Or it can be a gift of time.

Being a gig professional comes with a lot of uncertainty. We feel this the most when work is slow and we’re unsure where the next paycheque will come from. This can be a time full of worry, fear, and feelings of failure. But it can also be a time when we’re able to tackle things we’ve been putting off, or get our ducks in a row when the work starts up again.

1. Put your expenses under a microscope

The first time I was hit with the worry of where my next paycheque would come from, I pulled out my credit card statements and analyzing every expense and critically asking myself if we needed it. This ‘tightening of the belt’ can be a result of our sudden awareness that money is finite and that we might not always have enough. But this is a good thing to go through, and now is a time when we’re the most motivated to do it. I personally believe wealth should be measured by the difference between what we earn and what we spend. I like this definition because there are two parts of that equation and one of those is something we can more easily control – our spending. So get out those bank account and credit card statements and start asking yourself how much of those costs are really worth spending your money on. A dollar saved is a dollar earned, after all.

2. Tell your network you have capacity

The best way to get work is to tell others that you’re looking. Let your network know that you’ve got some capacity. I know this flies in the face of our desire to always appear busy, but I often find that, when you let people know that you have time, they can quickly think of things they’d love to pass off to you. And these little projects can turn into ongoing, steady work. I once let my former employer know that I had some capacity, so if they needed help with anything, I’m here. This simple offer turned into an ongoing contract of really rewarding work.

3. Seek out professional development

I honestly think this is one of the best times to focus on increasing or updating your skills. When work is slow, it means you have the time to pursue some educational courses, earn some credentials, or sign up for an online course on a topic that interests you. And the bonus is, you won’t have to throw off your whole balance thing by trying to tackle training on top of work. Obviously without knowing where your next paycheque is coming from, it’s hard to spend a lot of money on training, but if you can swing it, it’s a great investment in yourself and it’s also something you can expense against your income and save some of your earnings come tax time. Plus there are really affordable online courses now through all the reputable universities around the world that are great to take advantage of.

4. Get organized

I don’t know about you, but often my mind is a reflection of my surroundings. If I’m working in a home office that doubles as a storage room (very true story in my life) then it often makes it harder to focus when I’ve got a long list of work and looming deadlines. So, when work is slow, this is a great time to tackle those piles of papers, disorganized heaps of clothes, or mystery boxes and get them out of the house and out of your mind. The other interesting benefit of this that I’ve experienced multiple times is that this is a very tangible way to take control of something during a time when you’re feeling a bit out of control. As a self-professed control freak, this is a cathartic and comforting thing to take into my own hands and work on.

5. Prep for taxes

Whether tax season is right around the corner or six months away, the gig professional’s taxes are in a league of their own. Unlike our full-time employment counterparts, we have to track mileage, expenses, home office-related bills, invoicing, paycheques, bank statements, and all the little nitty gritty details that add up to either paying a big bill or saving some of our hard earned money. When work is slow, dig out all those receipts and bills and start tracking them. This will not only give you a head start on taxes, but it could also save you the costs of a bookkeeper and perhaps save your accountant time – and their time is definitely money.

6. Volunteer and be of service

When I was in my first six months of gig work, my contracts were fairly light and I found myself feeling useless, my skills wasting away. So, I offered up my skills free of charge to my daughter’s not-for-profit daycare. They took me up on it and said the timing was right because they were struggling with their website. So I ended up doing a few little projects for them and, in the process, I met other members of their board (expanded my network), updated their website for them (updated my WordPress skills), and contributed to an organization that mattered to me (felt good and useful).

7. Envision your future

What are your goals for your gig career? Where do you see yourself going and what steps do you need to get there? If you plan to start up an official consulting business, you can brand yourself and set up your website. If you’ve established your business but have envisioned offering value-add services for your clients, you can begin researching and creating valuable resources or how-to guides. Regardless of where you want to take your career, these lulls can be great opportunities to focus on the future and take some steps towards it without the distractions of urgent projects, long to do lists, and clients needing something.

8. Reach out and reconnect

You know how we will spend time with a friend and think “We have got to hang out more often,” only to have two months go by before your next visit? Or do you have that family member who you haven’t seen in years but they pop into your mind often and you wonder how they’re doing? You finally have the space to reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with or offer a helping hand to someone who needs it. During a quiet time in between projects, a close friend of mine had a baby and I remember feeling so thankful that I could be there to help and support her during that crazy, exhausting, overwhelming time.

9. Enjoy the pause

These pauses in life don’t happen often. We’re a culture that loves being busy. So these times of quiet, of peace, of waking up in the morning feeling a little uncertain of how you’ll spend your day…these are rare opportunities to sit still for a moment. It’s not necessarily easy, especially if you’ve grown used to the adrenaline rush of busy-ness. But this really is a fleeting time. This too shall pass. So enjoy it while it lasts, stop and smell the roses, focus on your breath, and all those other things you’ve heard said but hardly had the time to listen.

Slow times are an occasional reality in a gigifed career. But I hope you take comfort knowing that you can choose any one of these things to make the best use of this down time. Better yet, choose two or three! Because every single one of these options will benefit you in some way and make you an even better gig professional.

What do you do when your work hits a lull? Share your ideas or tips for what to do with the time in between projects in the comments below.

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