21 Productive Things Designers Can Do with Down Time

Designers, freelancers in particular, go through various cycles and there inevitably will be some times when you’re between client projects and you don’t have a whole lot to work on. During these situations there are a lot of options that could still make effective use of your time. Rather than feeling like you have to resort to crowdsourcing consider all of the options that are available.

This post is intended to show you a sample of things that you could focus on when you do not have enough client work to keep you busy. Read through the list and find a few that interest you the most. Keep these in mind for when the slow times come and you’ll always have something you can do to keep moving in the right direction.

Bored at Work

1. Code Your Own Framework or Starter Template

Many designers use CSS frameworks (such as the 960 Grid System) as a starting point for their projects. WordPress theme frameworks are also commonly used by WordPress designers and developers. Although there are a lot of frameworks to choose from, it’s likely that you might like to change or tweak some things to meet your own needs. Consider using some of your down time to work on developing your own framework that could be used on many of your projects in the future. It could make your work quicker and easier going forward.

2. Design Templates for Sale

With the increasing popularity of marketplaces like ThemeForest and MojoThemes, making money by selling templates is a realistic possibility. If you’re only using your down time for creating templates, as opposed to making it a major part of your business, selling at a marketplace is probably a better idea than creating your own theme shop since it won’t require as much work from you. By having a few templates or themes that appeal to buyers you can start earning some on-going income to supplement your revenue from client work.

3. Design Stock Graphics for Sale

In addition to designing and selling templates, you also have the option to create stock graphics for sale. Stock photography sites like iStockphoto and Fotolia will allow you to sell vector artwork and other graphics. Marketplaces like GraphicRiver are also an option. Like selling templates or themes, selling stock graphics can help you to build up some supplemental income, which is always a good use of your spare time.

4. Design for Membership Sites or Blogs

You can also make money with stock graphics even if you don’t want to sell at stock sites. There are an increasing number of membership sites (like our Vandelay Premier) and design blogs that buy work from freelance designers. The items will then be given to their members or blog readers, which can also give you some added exposure, assuming you are credited.

5. Create Freebies

Aside from selling, you can also create graphics and resources to be given away at your blog or at another blog. Freebies are always appreciated by readers, and the highest quality freebies are also great for attracting links, tweets and shares on Facebook. There are any number of types of freebies that you could work on, including textures, Photoshop brushes, vectors, icons, design elements, etc.

6. Work on Your Blog

If you have a blog on your site, chances are that it doesn’t get a lot of your attention when you are busy with client projects. The time you have between projects can provide an opportunity to update your blog and reach more readers. Blogs can be excellent sources for helping new clients find you, they can attract links to your site, and they can allow you to have another avenue to network with others in the industry.

7. Write for Other Blogs

In addition to writing for your own blog, you can also use your time to write for other design blogs. There are lots of blogs out there that pay for articles, and even more that are willing to post free guest submissions. Freelance blogging can be an excellent supplement to your income from client work, and any type of work on other blogs can help with exposure, name recognition, and link building. Writing for popular blogs will also push you to do your best work and you’ll probably learn new things in the process. From my experience, one of the most beneficial things about writing for other blogs is the opportunity to network with influential blog owners and editors.

8. Write for a Magazine

Writing for blogs is not the only writing opportunity that is available. There are many design magazines that accept articles from designers like yourself. Being published in a magazine can also be a nice addition to your resume and may bring added credibility.

9. Read a Book

Most of us would love to be able to dedicate more time to learning and improving in certain areas. There are tons of quality books that designers and developers could benefit from reading. It’s difficult to find the time to read when you have a lot going on, so why not use your down time to pick up some new skills by reading a book. If you’re not sure what you want to read, take a look at 10 Free Online Books for Web Designers and 44 Brilliant Books for Web Designers/Developers.

10. Follow Tutorials

There are thousands of quality tutorials available online that can help you to learn new skills or techniques. It could be a Photoshop tutorial, Illustrator tutorial, coding tutorial, or anything else that can help you to learn something that will help in your work. This is also something that tends to be neglected when you’re busy, so time between projects is perfect for going through tutorials.

11. Learn About Photography

Photography can be an ideal creative activity for designers. Many designers enjoy photography, and learning more about it can even help in your design work. Not to mention that having some quality photos can be useful your design work. Many designers like to photograph textures that they’ll use in their work. You may want to read a book about photography or just simply get out and practice.

12. Follow Up with Past Clients

If you’re in a situation where you currently don’t have any work, why not get in touch with your past clients to see if there is anything that you can do for them? This can be an easy way to pick up a new project as many of your clients will need some tweaks on their website, business card design, help with marketing, or any number of other things that you can offer. Even if the client doesn’t have any immediate needs it helps to stay in touch with them, and when they do have a need for your services you’ll be on their mind.

13. Be Proactive with Networking

Having a solid professional network is essential to success as a web designer, especially for freelancers. Why not use some of your available time to reach out to other designers, developers, marketers, or anyone else that you would like to network with? Your networking efforts could include face-to-face networking, sending an email, connecting on Twitter or Facebook, leaving blog comments, etc. See 5 Principles of Effective Networking for more tips.

14. Work on Your Portfolio Site

Your design portfolio website is a critical asset to your business, but it probably doesn’t get much of your attention when you are busy. You can take this time to add new items to the portfolio, post new testimonials, make tweaks to the design, or completely re-design the site.

15. Setup a Portfolio on Behance, deviantART, etc.

In addition to showcasing your work on your own portfolio site, there are a number of community-oriented sites that allow you to showcase your creations. Some of the popular options include Behance, deviantART, Carbonmade, Flickr, and Coroflot.

16. Volunteer for a Non-Profit Organization

If you want to put your skills to work for a good cause while you don’t have other projects to work on, consider volunteering your services to a non-profit organization. I would recommend that you work with an organization that you are personally involved with or that a family member or friend is involved with. There are certainly some situations where an organization that is getting free work won’t put as much emphasis on the process as they would if they were paying for it, which can make things difficult for you. This can be made a little easier if it is an organization that you’re involved with, and it also helps if you’re passionate about the organization and their work.

17. Experiment with a New Content Management System

Most designers use content management systems or e-commerce platforms on a high percentage of their projects. There are tons of systems out there to choose from, but typically designers tend to stick to the ones that they are familiar with, and in some cases this may not be the best fit for a particular project. Using your down time to experiment with a new CMS or e-commerce platform can help you to identify solutions that may be a goof fit for future projects.

18. Do Analytics Work

Your portfolio site may be one of your leading sources of new business, and if it’s not, it has the potential to become one. Most of us don’t take the time to analyze where our visitors are coming from, how they are interacting with the site, and what can be done to make the site more effective. Why not use some of your down time to do some in-depth analytics work on your portfolio site?

19. Design a Business Card

You may want to use your available time between projects to design your business card or other marketing materials. A well-designed business card can help to make an impact with people that you meet, and may lead to more work.

20. Get Outside

Sometimes it’s nice to simply get out of the office and away from the computer. Getting outside and being around nature can provide inspiration and can also refresh you so that you’re ready to go when a new project comes along. Depending on how much time you have available you may even want to travel and see new places.

21. Enjoy the Time Off

Not everything that you can do with your down time needs to focus directly on work. Sometimes it is best to simply appreciate the slow times by relaxing, because when new projects come along you’ll certainly need to focus and dedicate yourself to the work. A short time off can help to recharge so you’ll come back with more energy and enthusiasm about your work.

What’s Your Experience?

What do you like to do with your down time? Have you found something that works really well for you? Please feel free to share in the comments.

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