The consulting company I work for entered a slow contract period last year. So I went from a bustling businesswoman who was on the road 2-3 weeks a month to someone with lots of open slots on her calendar.
This situation was new for me, though I know there are others out here who are or who have been where I am. Like many, I strive to live a full, purposeful life – profesionally and personally. And never have I had such a hefty chunk of open time to account for each day.
So I asked myself, “How can I best use right now?” Four ideas came to mind.
1. Complete unfinished tasks
I had gotten accustomed to my hours between assignments being defined and therefore scripted. So I kept a running list of what I could accomplish at home before the next flight. Things like: see the dentist, get a physical, clean the storage room, weed the garden, get a tune-up for the car. There was a second running list of activities to coordinate from whichever city I was in: have the lawn mowed, make minor fixes around the house, have the fireplace cleaned, pay bills. I combined those lists and systematically knocked off item by item.
2. Find ways to bring in money
I researched tactics to open a fresh stream of income, gleaning a couple of ideas from articles on Lifehacker.com (here and here) about making money during spare time and making money in the background. Then I was fortunate to land a couple of design and editing jobs for local professionals. I even had a garage sale to clear out items I have wanted to shed for years. Nevertheless, this search is ongoing.
3. Give unto others
This was always something I wanted to do but failed to devote the time. No more excuses. I hang out with my neighbor, a widow who needs help and a listening ear. And, I opened my home and schedule to my 14-year-old nephew after school four days a week.
4. Pursue personal growth
This journey is ongoing, too. Being without regular work has put an edge on my goals in this area. I aimed to improve and to gain tangible skills that would bolster my career and that play well in the marketplace. Then I found places to get those skills – Khan Academy, TED.com, local classes/organizations and friends.
Taken together, these things make life productive and full. The last several months have been a sobering adventure. Yes, adventure. I found a video entitled The Power of Time Off that describes what I mean. The speaker, Stefan Sagmeister, describes how a yearlong sabbatical refreshed his outlook and revived his creativity. His circumstances are different than someone who is involuntarily out of work, but the lessons are the same: However it comes, use the time well.
So, how well do you do downtime?