5 Ways to Make the Most of Time Between Jobs

Last Updated Jul 15, 2011 11:30 AM EDT

A few months ago, in another post, I asked BNET readers to keep time logs for me. I've gotten several dozen from people in all walks of life. Often, people have packed schedules and are looking to free up time. Some of the most interesting, though, come from people who are between jobs. They have plenty of time, but have a different question: how can I actually enjoy my time, given the uncertainty?
It's a good question. When you're busy, you fantasize about all the things you'd do if you had more hours at your disposal. The problem is that, if you've been laid off or are just starting your career, or have left your job for other reasons, it's hard to know for sure that you'll land an awesome job in exactly 4 months. If you knew that, you'd relax and use the time to go out with friends, maybe travel if that's in the budget, or achieve other personal goals. Since you don't know it, you tend to think that any given minute should be filled with looking at another job board, or making another phone call, or checking email again, in case someone got back to you, even though we all reach a point of diminishing returns.

There are a few ways to make the most of this search time, though -- making progress on the job front while still enjoying a more relaxed schedule.

1. Keep moving. Exercise is great for stress release, and exercising outdoors seems to increase the already plentiful feel-good benefits. Even a 30 minute walk is a perfect reason to leave the computer. Keeping an exercise log and charting your progress will also remind you that you are still moving forward even if you're on a break from the professional world.

2. Schedule something social 2-3 times a week. Now you've got the flexibility to work with other people's schedules. Meet friends for breakfast, make plans to run together over their lunch breaks, or take the time to plan a weekend hike with friends. Anticipating fun experiences is a key component of happiness. Bonus: you can call it "networking” if you'd like.

3. Set a "work day” and give yourself permission to stick with it. Most people who work full-time clock 35-45 hours a week, and that's a reasonable amount of time to search for work as well. When you're done for the day, you're done. Or perhaps you work better from a list of desired results. Set yourself a list of tasks for each day -- a certain number of calls, a certain number of requests for referrals -- and then unplug once you've hit them.

4. Set a personal goal. Try one (just one!) that's specific but requires a bit of stretching. Maybe you'll write 1000 words of fiction per day. Maybe you'll read all the novels of Jonathan Franzen. Maybe you'll finally learn to swim, or take that photography class you've been eyeing but have been telling yourself you just don't have the talent to master. Getting outside one's comfort zone in one area of life tends to have spill-over benefits in others. I'm not saying that photography class will morph into a massively profitable photography business, but after writing about careers for a decade, I have seen it happen again and again.

5. Remind yourself this is all temporary. Most challenging times are. Back in college, I spent a semester studying abroad in Australia. During that time, I went on an excursion that, among other things, had a small group of us hiking in the monsoon vine forest right outside Kakadu National Park. Unfortunately, due to seasonal rains, the river we were hiking next to rose and covered our path and, before we realized it, we were lost. We fanned out in multiple directions using good wilderness techniques (one person walks until he can just see the last person, then the next walks until he can just see him, and so forth). Covering a radius of about half a mile this way, we eventually found a fence that led to a small dirt road where -- since night was falling -- we decided to camp.

Looking back on this all now, it's pretty obvious that we would be rescued. People had been expecting us to return, a road generally leads somewhere, and we'd only hiked a few hours so we couldn't be that far into the wilderness. And, indeed, the whole ordeal only took about 8 hours before we heard the search party firing their guns into the air. Nonetheless, in the middle of those 8 hours, when you're hot, hungry, thirsty, muddy, mosquito-bitten and sitting in the dark with various animal noises all around, it's hard to appreciate this fact.

One way to take a long term perspective? Start writing the story in your head that you'll tell people about this time. How I survived the monsoon vine forest. How I got my career zooming forward again. You're a talented person and if you want to, you will definitely land a great job. That's the ending of the story. Filling in the details is up to you.

How have you filled time between jobs?

Related:
Photo courtesy flickr user, skpy

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