Keeping Productive During Downtime

I’ve noticed with every company I’ve worked for that the work typically comes in waves. Not gentle rolling waves, but usually HUGE ominous waves that loom over your head, causing you to stress and stay late every night of the week to meet the deadline. And then the storm passes and you have some downtime. You may be relieved for a while, but soon you find that work has tapered off almost completely and you find yourself bored and unsure of what to do.

The best solution is to ask for more work or offer to help out. This shows that you care and you’re a hard worker that takes the initiative whenever you can. But what happens when there’s no work to be had, or you were only approved to work on certain projects?

Typically I do my best to keep busy by organizing my files, re-checking my work, and anticipating the next move. But when I’ve done all that I possibly can and still no work is offered to me, I refuse to just sit there and stare at my email, allowing my eyes to glaze over.

Some Things You Can Do to Keep Productive During Downtime:

1) Explore your employer’s (or their clients, if it’s an agency) website.

immerse yourself the identity and look at what they do well and what they don’t.

2) Check out your company’s inspiration. If you’re lucky, they will have a “library” of inspiration somewhere. Nothing HUGE, but maybe a bookshelf with old magazines or design books. It’s amazing what resources your company may have that you can take advantage of.

3) Explore new fonts. Your client is bound to have different fonts than you, so why not push them around on a blank artboard and see how well they work with other typefaces. I would never tell you to steal them because it’s not only illegal, but unethical. But playing around with a typeface you’ve never seen before can only sharpen your skills and add to your knowledge about type faces.

4) Write blog posts. Instead of drawing attention to the fact that I’m not working by logging on to my blog site, I just open a text edit doc and write everything, then copy and paste it in an email to myself.

 5) Sketch new concepts for personal projects. From afar, sketches could be anything. Just try to break it up every once in a while by looking up on your screen, checking your work email, and clicking in the design document.

6) Rather than play music, listen to podcasts, video tutorials, and audio books on design. It’s the least obvious action that shows that you are not working AND you’re staying current in the design community.

7) Brainstorm and make lists of personal project ideas. At one time I’ve got at least 3 ideas in my head, and several things tacked up on my corkboard at home. A lot of them may never be accomplished because they are usually something I’ve never done before, or something I need to learn a new skill for to do, but writing the ideas down will allow you more room for newer and better ideas to come forth.

8) Research. I’m constantly looking for inspiration on the web. Pinterest, google search, and sometimes even stock sites seem inconspicuous enough if your agency deals with stock a lot.

9) Take a 10 minute break and go outside. Sometimes the simple act of getting up and moving, can be more beneficial to your mind and health than sitting there staring at a blank screen. Plus, I swear as soon as I leave, I’m always needed.

10) Pick someone’s brain. If someone there has a skill you don’t have, ask them about it (provided they aren’t swamped). That is one way to show you are engaged as well as hungry for knowledge.

11) Go home. If they don’t have anything coming in for me for the next 4 hours, and I’ve done all of the above and still have hours to spare, I’d offer to just go home. If you are in dire need of the hours, then

Things You Should NEVER EVER Do While On The Job:

Never go on Facebook (unless your job incorporates a lot of Facebook usage). It’s the first sign that you’re not working and the page is so recognizable that you can’t get away from it.

Never watch movies or tv shows unless you’re visibly on break

Never sleep at your desk or anywhere else in the office. This may be OBVIOUS to some, but I’ve seen a few sly snoozers in at their desks and it’s just unprofessional.

Never play computer games. This again, is not sneaky and is not professional.

Freelancers With Downtime:

But what happens if you’re a freelancer, working at home? There’s distractions all around you and no one to tell you to turn them off and continue looking for more work. If you just completed your last job on your plate, the most logical option would be to go and find new work.

Before You Apply

Update your resume. Update all your social media and professional network sites like Linked In and Behance as well with your recent experience and the “looking for work” status.

Update your portfolio site with latest projects

Blog, and tweet about your latest finished work

After applications, when responses are slow

Start a personal project; something new that rounds out your portfolio or adds a new skill to your belt.

Update your software/hardware. 

Learn a new skill. Get a monthly subscription to and learn a new program, take a class learning some sort of fine art skill like pottery, painting, or glass blowing

Attend AIGA events and network

Create a self promo piece to wrangle in new clients


I welcome you to comment and add your own tips on how to stay productive during downtime.



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