Dealing with Down Time

by Randy Petersen

“How are you?” someone asks.

“Busy!” I reply without thinking.

That now-reflexive response draws empathy and often camaraderie. People nod and groan. Everyone is working hard.

But what should I say during down times, when I’m not busy? We all go through periods when the publishing cycles turn against us, when our favorite editors all go on vacation, when our inboxes contain only spam. Even more important, what should I do in these dry seasons?

The Bible talks about “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:16 KJV). Most modern translation rephrase that as “Make the most of every opportunity,” or something similar. Not a bad paraphrase, but Paul used a business term with the word agora (marketplace) tucked inside. In a literal sense, this is saying, “Buy your time back from the market and use it for good.”

Isn’t that what we’re talking about? As a freelancer, you market your time, but at this point no one’s buying. How will you “buy it back” and use it in a positive way? Here are some ideas.

Don’t Lose Hope

You may be tempted to mope because no one wants your wares. You might worry about your career. But reread Ecclesiastes 3 and note that there are seasons for everything. Seasons to work feverishly on deadline and seasons to slow down.

Plant Some Seeds

There is “a time to plant and a time to harvest,” says Ecclesiastes 3:2. Maybe this is a time to invest in relationships with editors or potential co-authors. Float some ideas that aren’t yet at proposal stage, and see if any seeds take root.

Think Like an Editor

If you were the editor-in-chief of a Christian magazine, what sort of articles would you be looking for? Do some play-acting. Imagine yourself at the helm of one of the publications you pitch to. Then map out the next few issues as you’d like to see them. What topics should be covered? What stories demand attention? What tone would you like to set? Then return to your own persona and look at the Table of Contents you’ve just created. Is there anything the real editor might be interested in, anything you could write?

Fix Up Your Space (and Your Tech)

Maybe this is the time to make the guest room your office, or to get a proper desk chair that won’t give you backaches. Maybe you should reevaluate your hardware or software.  You never have time when you’re in the thick of things, but now that your schedule has thinned out, maybe you can discover some better ergonomics.

Learn Something and Write About It

You’ve always wanted to learn biblical Greek. Or understand computers. Or read the top ten novels of the last century. Or figure out Twitter. You were also too busy, but now you’re not. So go for it, but also write about it as you do. Thousands of others can learn from your learning process.

Grow Your Soul

Memorize a chapter of the Bible. Practice various forms of prayer. Listen to great music, or make music yourself. Wander through an art museum, or make some art yourself. Gather wise sayings from your ten closest friends and family members. Do a task at your church that no one else wants to do.

Take a Strategy Day

Make it a personal retreat. Find a room, preferably with a whiteboard, at your church or a local library. Invite a “consultant” to join you for part of the time—someone who knows you and will help you think logically. (It was my sister who helped me storyboard a career plan at a crucial time.) Map out your plan for the next four months, twelve months, two years, in getting work, doing work, lining up regular projects, and improving your own ability. Let your vision soar, but then bring it down to specific action steps.

Down time can be growth time for you and your business. As the “time-redeeming” passage goes on to say, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT).

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