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I am a big believer in looking at the bright side of every situation, and seeing the opportunity in every challenge.

What to do when you lose your job or freelance work slows down and you suddenly have time on your hands?

Unemployment and underemployment can be very stressful. It is tempting to freak out and spin your wheels with hours of Craigslist searches and submit your resume to everything under the sun that you could conceivably do. And when this ‘strategy’ fails, to get depressed and catch up on your sleep, eat/drink too much, and watch a lot of TV and movies to distract you from the state of your finances, career, and general self-esteem.
Stop! Don’t do it!

Instead, try some of these worthwhile endeavors:

1.) CATCH UP ON READING

No, not reading novels or magazines. Catch up on the key periodicals, books, and blogs about your industry. (If you are sick of your industry and can’t find any motivation to read about it, then find one that is compelling and bring yourself up to speed about it) This way you will feel up to speed on new developments, and be able to dazzle people at dinner parties and job interviews.

Some tips to ensure that this reading time is strategic:
* Capture key bits of information and advice in files. Extract the best information out of any and every book/newspaper/blog and put it in a place that you can find it again. [for hardcopy texts, use my highlighter tips from my most popular blog post of all time- Ode to the highlighter]
* Write up a summarizing book report after you finish a book. May feel dorky at first and send you back a decade or two, but there is a reason our teachers gave us this assignment—so we would better integrate the information.

2.) TAKE SOME COURSES

To succeed in this competitive job market, it is smart to adopt the attitude of a lifelong learner.  Always seek to expand your skills and keep your brain and job skills toolbox in good shape. When you suddenly have time on your hands, it is a great time to sign up for a couple courses at the local community college or a university extension program. Take a marketing, writing, or computer class.
Or learn a whole new software application in your bathrobe through cool video tutorial programs like Lynda.com.

3.) STRENGTHEN YOUR NETWORK

Use some of your spare time to nurture those friendships and professional relationships that have been withering from lack of attention. Sure, build up your facebook friends and your linked in profile, but don’t stop there. Virtual community only goes so far. Pick up the phone and call people, send friendly emails or letters, and attend parties and networking events. Try to be positive and not needy in your interactions. When people ask what’s new- don’t gripe about being underemployed, tell them about the cool courses you are studying or the volunteering you are doing. (see tip 5) Take people who could give be helpful to your job search or career advancement out to tea/coffee. Have a potluck dinner party at your house. Make sure you are socializing for genuine reasons, and also some for strategic reasons. Be generous with your network and it will be generous to you.

4.) POLISH YOUR SKILLS & YOUR PACKAGING

Work on your resume. Rewrite your bio with the help of a couple people who know you/your work well. Get a new headshot. Update your social network profiles. Work on your portfolio or promo kit if you have one. Upgrade your personal branding.

Research jobs related to your previous positions and ideal jobs. Do you get excited at the prospect of any of them? What skills do they require that you don’t have? How can you attain these skills? Spend time looking at the web sites, bios, and portfolios of people whose careers you admire. Emulate some of their best practices in your own promotional materials.

5.) VOLUNTEER—-Strategically

Find one or two local organizations doing inspiring work on causes you believe in. Think of how your specific skills and experience could be beneficial to them, and then contact them to volunteer these services.

This will have multiple positive effects: It feels good to work for a good cause, it takes your focus off you and onto something larger, it can be included in your resume, and it could even result in a paid position down the road. If you see a perfect job for yourself in their organization, volunteer to throw a fundraising event to pay for your salary.

1.) DEVELOP YOUR WILD IDEAS

Do you have some crazy idea for a business you want to start? A creative project?
A community project?
Maybe this extra time is the universes sign to focus on it.  Sketch out your project; draft a business plan, work on that book you always wanted to write. Use this as a brilliant excuse to work on that thing you have been wanting to work on for years. If Plan A isn’t working out so well, might as well develop your Plan B.

Who knows? That sketch or book proposal or 1 page business plan may lead to a whole new exciting direction in your career. Even if they don’t seem ‘practical’ give your wild ideas and harebrain schemes their due and develop them out of the idea phase.

To Your Inspired Success!