Make your downtime work for you

By Francesca Margherita

Photo by Jeremy Cohen, featuring Chloé Stafler

Whether you prefer to use your downtime for self-care or heavy lifting for your creative business, here are some strategies for making the most of lulls.

When you’re running a creative business, the workload can ebb and flow, no matter how great you are at managing and budgeting your time. The busy periods that keep you on your toes can feel like the most important moments — but quiet periods can be just as meaningful.

To help you approach slower spells with intention, here are strategies from fellow creators for making downtime work for you.

Get creative

When you’ve got fewer urgent, day-to-day demands, that open time can be a great opportunity to get ahead on big projects that require some serious, dedicated brain space. For Marshall Short, founder of miniatures company PrintableHeroes, lulls are rich with creative potential. “I enjoy having larger content projects to work on during the slow season, or even just as a break from my regular content. [It] gives me an opportunity to push myself artistically and tackle content that I normally wouldn't be able to fit into my usual monthly deadlines.”

If you’ve been thinking about how you need to finally sit down and do an all-new wireframe for your website, edit that giant script, or get in the weeds on a long-term collaboration, your slower periods could be the perfect moment to move those big rocks with intention.

Make time for learning

One of the amazing things about sharing your work with an engaged fan community is that you’re continually getting feedback and learning from the people around you, even once it feels like you’ve hit your stride. But it can be tough to carve out time for your creative or professional growth when you’re handling daily work. Committing some of your downtime to enriching yourself can keep you inspired and growing as an artist, maker, and creative — and help you build your audience, optimize your processes, or even earn more money.

Painter Angela Anderson has built a community around her acrylic painting videos. She’s not only dedicated to helping others learn visual art skills, but she’s also deliberate about continuing to educate herself. During each week of the summer, she takes a day off of her usual video-making schedule. She says, “It has become one of my favorite times of year to refresh and use the extra time to learn new skills or explore other new venues.”

Take care of business

Maybe you want to prep your marketing plan for the holidays, iterate on something that’s been working well but has room for improvement, get ahead of your content calendar, or roll out a process for your team to submit expenses in the new year. Your downtime can be the perfect moment to dig into that sort of strategic planning with focus and clarity.

The sisters behind All Ages of Geek, who make anime reactions and reviews and host community events, use their downtime to map future work and to reflect on what went well — and what could have gone better — in the past month. “We plan out what events we want to have for our community, what videos we want to film, and what news we will be covering,” they share. And most importantly, this strategic planning, they say, “helps us support our patrons better.”

Your strategic planning time can also be an opportunity to do the work that doesn’t always jibe with your creative practice. If doing certain administrative tasks or organizing your financials interferes with your output but you know you have a slow period coming up, you can be deliberate about how you direct your time, by taking the pressure off later and planning for what’s next on all fronts.

Rest and reset

Sometimes, the best thing to do during a quiet period is to just come up for air. While using your downtime effectively for work can help you amp up your impact and keep your business running smoothly, it’s just as important to make sure you’re taking care of you. Digital artist Loish knows the joys of working for herself and owning her own schedule. But sometimes she doesn’t carve out enough time for herself. "I realized that I had spent the entire year saying 'yes' to every opportunity that came back and I have completely forgotten to say 'no' from time to time,” Loish says. “Now when the year starts, I make a plan for the coming year that includes vacations and breaks."

Mat Brunet, also known as AniMat, who creates videos about animation, treats their downtime as a mental reset. “I take a moment to separate myself from my work,” he says. “Not only do I return less tired and with my energy refueled, but I also see my progress from a new perspective. [It helps me] see what can I do to improve [my work], or how I can solve a problem.”

Set intentions

If you’re anxious about the idea of even having downtime — let alone deliberately carving some out for yourself and your work — you’re not alone. When musician and storyteller Alex Wong decided to pause his busy cycles of projects to explore new ideas, it meant saying no to some things he might normally have worked on, which triggered a host of feelings. Stepping back to invest in yourself or work in new ways “sounds great, but we’re so conditioned to hustle,” Alex says. “I’ve always derived personal worth from how busy [I am]. Doing [this] was an unfamiliar feeling, and it was scary.”

Creating some structure around his downtime has helped Alex stay accountable to himself in a way that feels more comfortable. If you follow Alex’s lead and try taking a purposeful step back, it’s okay if it takes some getting used to. He says, “It takes some intentionality to get into that space.”

Whether your quiet periods are due to routine seasonality or the natural fluctuations of business — or you’ve carved them out deliberately — approaching them with intention can help you grow as a creator and a creative business owner. Embrace that you and your work are worth the investment — through the busy times, the quiet times, and the time you take to get ahead or take a breather.

How do you use your downtime? Join the Patreon Creator Community Discord server to talk about it.

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