Prepare to be Prepared – Using Your Down Time Effectively

waitingBack in April, Mike talked about the “feast or famine” cycle of the typical independent web worker and gave us some great tips on how to Build a Career on Bursty Work. It can be a struggle to juggle the ups and downs of this process so these suggestions are always timely and useful. What particularly resonated with me though was his advice to use your down time productively.

We’ve all likely been in that situation where we have spare time on our hands, and how we use that time can make the difference between success and failure when we are faced with the problem of having too much work. So here are some tips on what you can do in your down time to prepare for the up-time that is sure to come.

Master your tools – Chances are your applications have a lot more functionality than you are currently using. Spending time learning these capabilities and how to use them to your advantage can lead you to greater efficiency and better results. Using a site like KeyXL to learn the keyboard shortcuts available can also let you work more efficiently. Time spent here can give you huge productivity gains later.

Learn something new – Taking a course or reading a book to learn something new or sharpen your existing skills can be a great investment of your time.   New skills can get you new work or help you become a master in your field. Sites like Lynda.com offer excellent online video based training in a number of areas.

Templatize your work – Chances are good that a lot of your work is similar and repeatable per project. Taking the time to create templates for commonly used documents and processes will allow you to get up and running on a new project much more quickly. To get you started on this path Google offers some ready made templates for GoogleDocs users while Microsoft has always been generous with templates for their Office Suite.

One thing I’ve done which has been really very helpful is to create a standard set of to-do or task templates for each of my typical project types. Because so many of these steps are repeatable, taking the time to document them lets me now plug them in and go when I take on new work.

Maintain your schedule – The schedule of a web worker can be flexible, it’s one of the things that attracts a lot of to this type of work.  But consistency can be a good thing when it comes to a working pattern, especially when things are slow.   Keeping a regular schedule can help ease the transition back to regular work, and make the eventual early morning conference call or meeting easier to attend. It also guarantees lots of time to make sure you do the suggestions above.

It can be easy to get discouraged when you are experiencing a lull in your work. Having a plan to keep yourself busy during those times, one that can also help you prepare to get through the busy times is a win-win.

What do you do to maintain productivity in your down time?

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