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 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?



Great article.

I recently wrote something that addressed this same issue in my blog. I basically agreed that you should plan for activities for your downtown, during your busy times. Usually thats when you can identify processes that would help you work more efficiently.


good post.

Here’s what i would add.
start planning your downtime in advance- while you’re working if you come up with an idea put it on your “someday/maybe” list. (This is “getting things done”(GTD) language for a list of things you may get to in the future). during downtime review this.

documentation and clean up- document your previous project. write down the steps you took to complete it (if they’re complex) in case you need to redo it. Get rid of old versions of documentation and coding.

review your previous project- see what went right and wrong. learn from it. improve your process or knowledge.

follow up- check in on your previous completed projects. make sure that it’s being used correctly. There may be opportunities for improvement. Your “customer” will be impressed by your dedication quality.

start building a machine- this takes templating to a new level. This creates a system. For example if you are a web designer and bid for projects. templating will improve your introductory letter. Building a machine will get you more jobs with less effort. Your machine could include an introductory letter, sample work by category, a list of testimonials, an up to date web site, follow up letters, sample proposals by target market. You get the idea- everything you need to bid on a project but that takes you no time to bid.

With all the above suggestions you see why i haven’t had any downtime in years.

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

Pile on the coffee, of course.

And enjoy my family. Downtime is just that for me…down time! I do my studying/catch up during me uptime. Come to think of it, ‘downtime’ is generally uptime as well…. :)

Data points, Barbara

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