The second part in our series on the unexpected upside of downtime. Having less to do can create space for the significant ideas that shy away when we’re just too busy. Here are some techniques for bringing out those ideas and giving them the attention they deserve.
You can find the first part in this series on the surprising uses of downtime here:
1. Strengthen Client Relationships: Reach Out to Existing Clients to See If You Can Help Them in Any Way
Downtime is often part of the regular ebb and flow of agency and freelance life; a dry spell that will pass. But sometimes it’s a symptom of a serious issue with no clear end in sight. In such a case you have to act.
One of the best ways to bridge undesired gaps in work load is to reach out to existing clients and see what ideas you can come up with together. Perhaps you have some long dormant ideas for them that you never really had time for in the past.
Great client relationships are about forming ideas together and the ability to act on those ideas. As a consultant-client team, you have the ability to do both.
Reaching out doesn’t take much. Having lunch, or as we wrote about earlier “taking a fika” (as we say in Sweden for having coffee), can be surprisingly effective. The worst that could happen is a strengthened client relationship.
Collect and Value Client Insights During Your Downtime
Make a habit to keep a list of your clients, how much they spend and what they tell you about their goals and plans. Value these insights. It’s your crystal ball and window into the future. Keep your list of clients and what they’ve shared up-to-date. Create a habit of contacting your clients regularly. Don’t wait until you’ve fallen on bad times.
2. Create More Future Clients: Write Blog Posts for the Next Month or Two
If you’re following this blog you might recall that we published a three-part series on blogging for agencies and freelancers. One of the key points was the importance of blogging regularly: Consistency beats quality when it comes to blogging.
That doesn’t mean that you have to write like a clock. Only that you publish on a regular basis.
Many professional bloggers see their motivation and creativity come and go. One way they handle it is by leveraging their writing highs by creating repositories of content. You can do the same.
A couple of slow days provide a perfect opportunity to let the ideas come to you. You know the truly inspirational ones that tap you on the shoulder while you’re taking your shower at 7 AM, and despite your efforts to recall them fade away like last night’s dreams.
Get away from your usually writing spot and bring a notebook. Write down whatever comes to mind. Using your new ideas, look at your existing file of ideas or list of blog topics and combine them to develop outlines for brand new content. If you don’t feel like writing, try repurposing an old post as an infographic. You can then queue the content you want to publish over the coming weeks.
3. Business Development and Strategy: Workshop With Your Team About the Future
Every agency calls itself “strategic” today. Similarly, many freelancers are a “strategists” in this or that. With all this strategic thinking floating around, you might think agencies and freelancers would be more strategic about their own business. In my experience, they aren’t.
Just like the forgotten blogs and down-prioritized websites of agencies and freelancers, strategic planning is often skipped in favor of client work. A period of downtime can be an excellent opportunity to do some strategic planning together. It’s also an opportunity to get a “brain dump” from every member of the team. You aren’t the only one who suppress ideas due to lack of time.
For this to be a meaningful event, set time aside and prepare the kind of workshop you usually offer your clients. Book a place outside the office to stimulate new thinking. Prepare it and plan it well it to make sure you put the time to best use. Even without client work, there’s always an alternative cost for the time used.
Set the Mood and Expectations Using Energizers
Here are some suggestions for other exercises and tools to use:
Develop Your Own Offer Using Customer Journey Mapping
In groups, draw the customer journeys for recent projects. Involve the entire team when reviewing these and trace the steps this client went through. Mark pain points and areas of improvement. This will likely result in many useful ideas for things you can get better at.
Identify Things to Improve Using Speedboat or Sailboat
Do a speedboat or sailboat exercise to identify what works well and what could work better. This is a fantastic way to get a list of improvements your agency could make to work even better as a company, and as a team.
Imagine the Future and the Way There By Creating a Cover Story
To imagine the future, try doing a cover story exercise. This is a way to collectively imagine a future for your company and team and builds excitement for where you’re going together.
4. Personal Growth: Invest in Learning and Self-Improvement
In our modern society, and especially in the world of entrepreneurs and the self-made, productivity is holy. The naive idea seems to be that productivity means to always be working on something. But if we look back, we realize that some of the greatest leaps in human history didn’t arrive through “busyness” but through reflection and introspection.
To come to meaningful insight, it’s important to let the mind wind down now and then. As for me, I reach this state by being out in nature. When hiking or on the ski slopes, my mind can think freely. It’s just me and the trail, or the slope. Diving is an even more meditative activity due to the importance of controlled breathing for optimal buoyancy.
You don’t have to jump into a wetsuit to get in the “zone.” Simply taking a walk in the park or visiting a museum can put you in a different frame of mind. Just make sure you allow yourself this psychological space. Don’t let guilt or any idea of “wasting time” interfere with your introspective reflection. This is your time and you’re putting it to damn good use!
“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Bertrand Russell
Who knows, perhaps your stroll will lead to an insight that will revolutionize how you work and market your services. Time well spent indeed!