What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do

You’ve finally finished and sent off that big project. You’ve worked hard, and you’re ready to kick back and veg out for a while.

Resist the urge. Certainly, you’re entitled to a break. But it’s tempting to let a break grow and expand until it has taken over most or all of the time you should be working. So instead of earning money, you’re cruising the Net, canning peaches, or watching TV.

Okay. So maybe you don’t have any work waiting for you. What should you do, fake it? Well, that’s one of the things we’ll get to in a moment. For now, let’s look at a few – very important – activities to do when there’s nothing to do.

  1. Go Client Hunting.

    In Secrets of a Freelance Writer, Bob Bly advises that if you’re not doing something that makes you money directly, you should be doing something that will help you make money. “Promoting yourself” has to be at the very top of that agenda.

    Use downtime to generate a list of your dream clients. Call them or research the Internet to find out key contact names. This might not be a group of people you feel comfortable contacting … yet. But by developing the list now, you’ll have information you can easily update and add to as you build your career.

    In a similar vein, make a list of clients that are probably ready for your services right now. Research their contact information. People respond better when you contact them by name … even product managers.

  2. Develop Your Portfolio and Self-Promo Package.

    This is where “faking it” comes in. If you don’t have a very thick portfolio, work on putting one together that shows off your skills. Develop a stunning DM package for real or made-up products in a number of different niches (health, financial, etc.) in a number of different formats (magalog, #10 letter, etc.).

    These are samples of what you can do, not “real” work – so label it as such. And work as hard on them as you would on a real assignment that pays $5,000 … because, some day, this work will pay off like that.

    But don’t stop at developing a strong portfolio. Expand it into a compelling self-promotion package that includes an introductory letter, resume, list of clients (if you’ve had any), testimonials (if you have any), and your self-designed business card.

  3. Master Photoshop, InDesign, or Other Software.

    The worst possible time to master new software is when you’re working under a deadline. If you have a good instruction book in one hand and your mouse in the other, you can turn out some pretty good results. But, guaranteed, you won’t remember how you did it.

    Take advantage of your downtime to perfect your software skills. And learning new software systematically can be fun … so it seems like you’re playing while you’re really working.

  4. “Hose Out” Your Computer.

    Use some of your “there’s nothing to do” time to do some needed computer system maintenance. Like defragmenting your hard drive. Or reorganizing files and folders into a logical order.

    Keeping on top of this crucial aspect of being a computer owner can save you grief down the road by preventing a computer crash.

    And while we’re on the subject of crashes, do not wait until you have some downtown to back up important files. It should be done on a regular schedule – preferably every day. Don’t rely on your memory, either. Invest in good, reliable software to do it automatically.

  5. One More Suggestion …

    If the above recommendations don’t keep you busy during those times when it seems like there’s nothing to do, consider doing volunteer work. Pick an organization that does work you admire, and offer to do some design work for them … free of charge.

    You’ll not only be building your portfolio, you’ll also be improving the world around you.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: May 31, 2007

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