One of the very difficult things about maintaining a creative career with limited energy, is that it can be hard to maintain a steady, reliable momentum. Whilst I think it make very good sense to accept and embrace this unreliability and just get on with our careers as an when we can, there is often something demoralising about feeling “behind” with work, feeling that were always fighting just to keep up with our schedules. This can be an energy drain in itself.
Plan for the unreliable
Indeed, one of the few reliable things about my life is that I know that I am going to have low energy periods when I can’t work! It makes sense then to plan for these as much as possible. Just like planning financially to always have a few months worth of living expenses in the bank, it’s such a good idea to always have a few weeks’ (or even months’) worth of work already done in our energy bank accounts.
Of course, in part the sort of work you do rather dictates how possible this building up of a work reserve is, but I think it’s a very good idea if you’re someone who struggles in the long term with energy to at least have some areas of your working life in which you can get ahead in.
Creative work is perfect for getting ahead with
Happily much creative work can both be done at the practitioners own pace, and can also be done ahead of time to build up the sort of reserve of work I’m talking about. Having a reserve of work that can be called on in low energy times feels very reassuring, and make taking time off for poor health, or just because you feel you need to be kind to yourself, so much easier.
In my own creative business, when my energy is good, I’m working at building a reserve of work in numerous ways:
1. Writing blog posts ahead of time (my aim is to always be a month ahead with my blog publishing schedule).
2. Scheduling a weekly “backbone” of tweets that I can add “live” tweets to as and when inspiration strikes and when my energy allows.
3. Be working on numerous larger writing and drawing projects which I hope will be long-term sellers (I plan to have two or three completed projects next year which will hopefully in turn fund future project development).
Now all this is an ideal. It rather depends on having enough spare energy to “get ahead” with. Clearly for people with low energy reserves this just isn’t possible. To get ahead in the way I’m suggesting you would need to work twice as hard as normal by doing your regular work, plus the get-ahead work. I think for most of us this isn’t practical or desirable.
Declare a catch-up week
Instead I’d like to suggest declaring a catch-up week, or even month. In that time you either cutback considerably on your regular work, or better still, stop completely. Instead work on building up a reserve of work, scheduling blog posts for the following week (or month) perhaps, or working on a large project you’ve wanted to get finished, something that will support you in the long term.
The secret here is not to do extra work, but rather work at your usual pace, just on future work. In other words don’t set yourself up to fail in the future. If you’re a blogger for instance and can comfortably write one post a week in you good energy times, don’t use your catch-up period to schedule three or four posts in a week in the hope that you’ll be able to maintain that pace after you’ve “caught-up”.
I would suggest you aim to get at least a couple of weeks ahead if possible. That way if your energy fails you’re likely to still stay ahead, or at least not feel you’re falling behind again. Obviously the further ahead you can get, the more leeway you have (my aim is to get at least a month ahead in as many of my work areas as possible). What works for you will depend on how your own energy and ability to maintain a manageable momentum fluctuates.
Getting further ahead
Just like with monetary savings, once you have a little reserve, it can often feel easier to add more. In good energy times you can get in the habit of not just maintaining your reserve but perhaps adding a little more to it. Slowly you might be able to edge a week or two further ahead with your “work savings”. The freedom you’ll feel to be able to only work when you’re able is a hugely liberating.
Why not start your “work saving plan” by scheduling a catch-up week very soon?