You’re in the famine phase of the feast or famine cycle of freelancing. You’re worried and you’re panicking. What do you do?

Do you:

• Start beating the bushes looking for any new freelancing gig.
• Hold your own pity party.
• Take time to recharge your batteries.
• Pause for a minute and reflect where you’ve been and where you need
to be.

If you’re like me, you’ll do all of the above. The famine cycle of freelancing is a lot like the cycle of grief. There are several stages that you need to work through. Like grief, if you give yourself some downtime and allow yourself to go through the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the famine cycle, you’ll emerge stronger than you were when the famine cycle started.

Some Free Time May Be Best

Sometimes Type A personalities who own their own businesses have trouble accepting downtime. I know I do. To me, unexpected downtime is akin to failure. When I find myself with unexpected free time, I go through a litany of reasons why I may not have a project on the calendar. Those reasons may include: I failed because I didn’t schedule enough projects, or I failed because I didn’t see a project ending, or I failed because I didn’t realize that clients sometimes just fade away.

If you find yourself with some unexpected free time, you may want to do one or more of the following.

• Change your thinking.
• Tell yourself that you haven’t failed. Instead you’ve been given some unexpected free time.
• Realize that life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.
Look at the downtime in a different way, as a positive.
• Look at the downtime as an opportunity for some personal growth.
• Think about what you can do for You during this unexpected lull in your schedule.

Don’t Take the First Project That Lands in Your Lap

The first thing you don’t want to do is take the first project that comes along. This is a mistake because you may be accepting a project that isn’t a good fit. You may be accepting a project that isn’t going to pay well, and you may be accepting a project just to feed your ego, to fill the void.

Before you make a hasty decision and accept just any project, take a breath.

• Read the project over.
• Think! Go for a walk.
• Take time to mull the project over.
• Consider what’s involved, the turnaround, and the fee.

If it’s a good fit, accept the project. If it’s not, let it go. Other projects will come along.

Re-evaluate

After taking some time to breathe, re-evaluate.

• Did you cause the lull in your schedule?
• If you did, what can you do differently?
• Do you want to schedule projects closer together?
• Do you want to accept more than one project at once?

Embrace the Holes

Accept that there will be times when you’ll have holes in your schedule. Sometimes it’s best to just embrace the holes. Take a minute and step away.

• Do some research that you haven’t had time to do.
• Go to the library.
• Visit a bookstore.
• Surf the Web.
• Interact with others on Twitter or in different interest groups on LinkedIn.
• Build your network.
• Participate and add to the conversation that’s going on around you.
• Learn from what others are saying.

What if You Get Tired of Social Networks

You probably aren’t going to spend six hours a day interacting with others in cyberspace. What can you do that you might not be doing if you were working on a project?

• Take some time to update and punch up your resume or cover letter.
• Once your resume and cover letter have been revised and polished, dig out your list of contacts.
• Write the letters and e-mails you’ve been putting off.
• Show potential clients what you can bring to the table, what you can do for them.
• Toot your own horn.
• Let the letters and e-mails sit for a day before you put them in the mail or before you push send. You’ll thank yourself later.

Take Some Time to Be

Sometimes the famine part of the cycle comes when you least expect it but when you need it the most. If this happens, you might want to:

• Take a few days to regroup.
• If you can afford it, treat yourself to a massage.
• Meet a friend for coffee or lunch.
• Soak in a hot tub.
• Take some luxurious bubble baths.
• Go to the movies.
• Take long walks.
• Read a good book.
• Watch the clouds float across the sky or listen to nature.

Clean

Cleaning can also take your mind off the hole in your schedule.

• Clean your office; I mean really clean your office.
• Put things away.
• Sort through the files you’ve been shoving in the filing cabinet.
• Take the inactive or un-needed files off your computer.
• Do the deep house cleaning you’ve been meaning to do but have been putting off.
• Clean the bathroom or the kitchen or even the whole house!

Cleaning reduces stress and forces you to focus on other things. It’s also great exercise.

Take Some Time for You

When you’re exhausted from cleaning, do something just for you. Something you haven’t had time to do but have been meaning to do. You might:

• Look for and discover your bliss.
• Visit a fabric or yarn store.
• Make the craft project you’ve had in the closet since your last bout of free time.
• Take the class you’ve been putting off.
• Go to the Y and swim laps.
• Walk the mall and look at the window displays.
• Volunteer.
• Breathe!

Who knows, you may find that the extra time you were worried about is over before you know it. Just when you think your schedule is wide open, the project you’ve been dreaming about may appear in your e-mail, or someone may ask you to take on another project that’s been on the back burner. No matter what happens during your downtime, accept what you’re given and take time to appreciate your accomplishments. Be comfortable in who you are and where you are. No matter what you do, don’t forget to breathe.

Copyright 2013 Cassie Armstrong and Morningstar Editing