A lot of emotional energy and time is consumed by worrying about the larger economic conditions that affect us personally and professionally. It is easy to say “Don’t worry” and difficult to do. Like with depression and rage, (see http://bit.ly/aMs2Rz) action often overcomes dread. The energy of worry can be re-directed into useful actions.
So, you are mostly out of work, either unemployed, or underemployed, or not consulting to many (or any) clients. One of the disruptive patterns of un- or under-employment is that your time is broken up by the work you can do, the job hunting, the networking and the marketing that is required (see http://bit.ly/dp97Gv) . But there is still plenty of time left over, and it gets wasted, often in worrying. Or, conversely, the time worrying wastes valuable time for other more useful pursuits.
I was once scheduled to have lunch with the mother of my close friend and business partner, and needed to move the scheduled time. I asked my partner what else her mother might have scheduled that day. “My mother? Scheduled? My mother is retired – she can only do one thing each day!” This comment has stayed with me all these years, in that perplexity about why when we have almost no time to ourselves we can get so much done. But when we do find a period of free time, almost nothing on our List gets accomplished.
And so it is with time on our hands when seeking work. We are enervated not energized. We are pleased with ourselves when we have pursued our job boards, sent our resumes, and networked with our colleagues. But the down-time still weighs on us.
Think carefully for a few minutes: You cannot fix the economy that you didn’t break. You cannot fix the folks who helped to break it. You cannot fix the natural cycle of your industry that brings you to a low point every few years. You might notice that there is a pattern in some of these cycles — also not anything you can fix, only something you can anticipate in the future (see http://bit.ly/9HsyiP). So, get to acceptance of all this, and move on to fix what you can.
I remember my first downturn (industry-wide) when I was a young consultant. I didn’t have any perspective on economics back then, so I could not place my consulting practice in that the larger picture. During the work days I tried to understand how to market in a wasteland. I would be so alienated each morning, that I took to doing my errands first thing in my walking neighborhood (then Beacon Hill in Boston), just to have the human contact of my local merchants – the postmistress, the greengrocer, the butcher, the newsagent, to jump-start my social brain so I could return to work on the marketing and outreach. This was not a conscious tactic, but a necessity, and it worked.
So, what else can we do to maximize our downtime, and avoid the wasted time of worrying?
- Create alternative marketing tools for yourself. This could be starting a blog about your expertise (or a secondary blog directed at an adjacent industry) to expand your market reach. Or participate in online social networks with your expertise and commentary to create extended visibility.
- Volunteer at a not-for-profit that is aligned with your industry, job or expertise, and volunteer to offer your skills. Consider what you might “trade” for that volunteering that might gain you exposure in your search for work – access to prospects, speaking engagements, sponsored webinars, and so on. (for more on this, see “Understanding and Optimizing Pro Bono Work” at http://bit.ly/b88DVp).
- Aggressively refine, extend or re-build your working infrastructure to smooth your workflow when it returns. This may mean updating or cleaning your database, or your contacts lists, or your social networks. It may mean learning a new software tool that would speed your work. It may mean cleaning out your files. Focus on those tasks that will truly enhance your work life, not the drudge work that doesn’t matter. All those tasks you never get to, that slow down your real work – get to them.
- Reconnect in an upbeat way with people you lost touch with while you were so busy. You will discover many of these while you are refining your infrastructure. Don’t put your worries on them; just make a friendly outreach that asks for nothing. Not only will these meetings take this unfinished business off your List, you may find some interesting synergies or new thoughts from the connection.
- Work aggressively on projects that create ongoing passive income. Make certain that the subject matter of these projects is of deep interest to you, even if it is not connected to your primary work. Keep the overhead low. Do not treat this project as a hobby, but as an alternative business that will continue to drive passive income to you after you are fully working again. If you need a partner in this, to make it succeed, then find the best partner and begin. Partners will share the burden, broaden the skill sets required for the business, and will continue to move each other forward.
Now, if you approach these tasks as “make-work” you will fail at them. If you structure your day and schedule yourself with way you did when you were busy working, these tasks will energize you and lead you into new territory.
And the new energy will suffuse itself into the search for work, the marketing and the networking. Energy gets more energy, like working out at the gym creates more strength for the day ahead.
And very soon, you won’t have time to worry; you’ll only have time to fix what can be fixed, and move ahead.