Make the Most of Downtime

More of my conversation with freelance designer Steve Gordon, Jr., author of "100 Habits of Highly Successful Graphic Designers" (see the two previous posts here and here.)

I asked Steve about Habit #75: Enjoy the time off. Don’t freelancers sort of panic when they’re not working 24/7? (Um, see #80: Get a life.) You write about organizing your downtime like it’s work time. What kinds of things should freelancers be doing when they’re not doing paying work?

Steve replied with a laugh: Yes … yes we do! But it’s how LONG we panic that tells you how well things are going. Look, we’ll all go bat-crap-crazy if we work perpetually without rest or recharge. Organizing the downtime gives importance to the things we do when not designing. That way your time isn’t sectioned off into the stark black and white titles of “working” and “slacking”. Also the downtime can be self-imposed and very necessary, as much as it can be you just waiting on more work to roll in.

So what can you do during downtime? That can vary, from organization to education to play. Marketing yourself as a freelancer takes a lot of thought and planning as it’s an animal all its own. Putting time into that is often hard if you've got work on the table. Downtime is great for think-tanking your own business. Working on your own website is a given. Maintaining a blog or some means of communication has become a big key in showing the world what you do and, more important, how you think.

Clean and organize the office space you’re using. Take a class in some other realm of creative life that you aren’t well-versed in. Oh, and PLAY! Play a whole helluva lot! Independent creatives do indeed have the ability to set their own schedules, so why fake it and bang out work on a constant 9-to-5 schedule if you really just need to get out and take a walk. Who’s stopping you? I personally do NOT agree with those who tell stories of constant 16 hour design days and long nights of toiling over work. That’s a stereotype and more about bragging up the hours you put in as some weird badge of honor than it is about design. Like it says in the book… Get a Life. Work smarter, not harder!

The hard thing is putting a time clock to the way a creative mind works. For instance, I was recently out and about enjoying a weekend trip to the mall when inspiration hit and I had to scramble to a bookstore to grab a pen and sketchbook so I didn’t lose the idea that hit me. No timesheet would give me credit for impromptu, accidental brainstorming while walking the mall. So if my mind is constantly in the on-deck circle for ideas and work, I deserve capitalize on, or even create, a little downtime.