The terror of the blank schedule–‘Funemployment’ and the creative mind

Back when I was a contractor, I’d often find myself at the end of a job with the next move not yet defined. I grew to look forward to those times. It was a way to take a little enforced breather before I began the whole rigmarole again.

‘Funemployment’, I used to jokingly call this limbo land. Sometimes I’d plan something (a week-long sewing course; a daytime trip to the cinema and watch two movies in a row; writers festivals). Sometimes it was just a break to catch my breath.

But while ‘funemployment’ does sound fun, it has the slightly edgy feeling of falling off the end of the known world, and into a void. When I went on maternity leave six years ago, with few plans to return to fulltime work anytime soon, and after the mental pea-souper of early first-time parenthood lifted, I was surprised at how much I felt that I had lost contact with a large part of who I was; apparently a large part of  my identity was that of a worker.

Black and white photo of a young guy in shorts and boots jumping against a cloudy sky.
Taking a leap into the void can be fun, but it’s still a void. (“Theo’s Falling Photo” by Shane Rounce on Unsplash)

Daily discussions around the water cooler don’t seem like much at the time, but when I put them together, I felt that a lot of who I was had been left behind.

It’s interesting then, and not a little daunting, that I find myself heading into a work situation—freelancing—in which I really am all alone in this. I am solely responsible for making for myself the kind of work life I want.

And the farther you live out of the city, the harder it can be to find a job in certain fields.

So, what to do when there’s a quiet spell, work-wise? Here’s what I’ve been doing:


Build your shopfront

More than once in the last year, I’ve been asked “what is your web address?” I’ve been working on that, and I’ve just launched my blog and the beginnings of my business portfolio online.

If you want clients to come to you, they need to to know where to find you. Your website is your shopfront; your own patch of dirt. Do you have your own patch of dirt yet?


Don’t drop off the face of the earth

I hate networking. Hate it. Hate it. (Hate it.)

But I do try and keep in touch with people I’ve enjoyed working with, because I never know when I’ll be able to help them with something, or vice versa. Update your profiles, and let people know what you’re up to. When was the last time you went through your client list; your contact list; your LinkedIn connections? Find the ones you would like to hear from, and maybe even work with, and send them a friendly note.

Back when I was seeking out contracts, opportunities often came to me. I think that was because I always sent out a brief and friendly update on my social media that I was finishing a contract and to hit me up if anyone knew of any opportunities. Or, there was that time I ran into a former colleague in a café who then asked me for my contact details, so she could invite me in for an interview. I may hate networking, but relationships have been a powerful factor in bringing work my way.


Take care of business and then work out how to do it better

I have a long history of ignoring paperwork until I can’t avoid it anymore.

Make sure you get on top of yours, particularly if it means improving your bank balance. Invoices you haven’t had time to chase up? Chase them up. Tax return that’s due that will mean a decent refund? Lodge it.

Then look at your processes. Can you set anything up to make things easier when things get busy? Look through your notes and your email inbox and to identify any tasks that you can turn into a repeatable process to make them work better.

You’ll know the kind of task I mean–it’s the notification that makes you sigh and say ‘I’ll read that later’ when you see it appear on your smartphone; it’s the letter that you drop back into your in-tray with a grimace whenever you spot it.

As a beginning freelancer, I tend to get daunted by the simplest things, such as the email I send in response when someone wants me to quote on a job. Or a cold-call letter. Or an invoice form. Right now I’m chasing down a basic contract to use (here’s a great page with several good things to download that–I am not a lawyer–may be useful to a freelancer in the Australian context. I will need to start tracking invoices–I’ll even need to make a tax invoice template–and I’ll need to find a better way to keep receipts of freelancer expenses to claim.


Improve yourself

Sign up to something that will improve you in some way. Check your local community adult educational institution; even universities run industry-relevant short courses. Or, if funds don’t allow you to invest in training, it may just be a matter of ‘replenishing the well’. When will you have the time to just get out and drive? Hop on a train and travel to the end of the line and then back? Go to the city and just walk around? Do a tour of every free exhibition you can find?

(Some photos I took while walking around Melbourne last year during ‘funemployment’. Photo credit: Kellie Flanagan © All rights reserved)

Get out and about, look around and soak up the world around you. Maybe even let the change in environment trigger your desire to get creative.

Find your own version of ‘funemployment’, and see it as the gift it can be.

When you have unexpected time off work, how do you use it?