To paraphrase Edgar Allen Poe, 'I was never insane except upon occasions when I was training for a marathon.'

How to stay sane when work slows down

To paraphrase Edgar Allen Poe, "I was never insane except upon occasions when I was training for a marathon." 

A few months ago I ran my first – and last – marathon. During six months of training, I ran 4-5 days per week. I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday mornings to prepare for long runs around the lake. It was an insane schedule, and I counted the days to the final three weeks of training season... the taper weeks.

Taper weeks are glorious because you run less, eat more (it's never too early to carbo load!) and have more free time than you can handle.

The downside? The "taper madness" you get from running less (what happened to my endorphines!?), eating more (why did I gain 20 pounds this week!?), and having more free time than you can handle. You can start to feel sluggish and – there's really no other way to say it – insane.

Before training for this marathon, I honestly thought "taper madness" was a myth, or at the very least, a ridiculously dramatic exaggeration.

Nope!

Taper madness was alive and well at my house, and mine manifested itself in quite a glorious fashion. I realized that while the marathon training schedule had been exhausting, I thrived on those deadlines and milestones. Without that structure, I became aimless, unmotivated and, frankly, undisciplined. Even the smallest task, like a quick 2-mile run, felt like something I could talk myself out of. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Sound familiar?

Communications pros thrive on deadlines. On bylines. On results. Few things are more satisfying than nailing a big pitch under a tight deadline or winning an RFP after months of preparation.

But what happens in the rare (but, in some cases, lengthy) downtime between big projects? We can fall victim to "taper madness," enjoying for a moment the respite from the craziness, but then getting too comfortable with our slower pace until we one day realize we're not giving our best to our clients. 

So as communications professionals, what do we do when we find ourselves with free time and a shortage of billable hours?

  • To quote 30 Rock's Tracy Jordan, we use our “mind grapes!” BRAINSTORMGrab your most clever coworkers (and pull from other departments) and toss around new ideas for your clients. They'll love you for coming to them with new ideas before they have to ask for them.
  • We snoop. What are your competitors doing in the field? Industry trends you haven't had time to dig into? Dig in now! 
  • We brag. Craft some case studies and white papers for your clients, and talk up your work for them. Like any relationship, you can't get lazy once you've won them over. Keep selling!
  • We make friends! Use the free time to network. Take your client to lunch. Meet a former colleague for breakfast. Go to those PRSA meetings you kept skipping because you were staying late at work. 
  • We PLAY! One former coworker kept a stack of Trivial Pursuit cards at his desk so we could take trivia breaks throughout the day. Another has a basketball hoop mounted on his office door so he can shoot (*miss) free throws from his desk. Sometimes it's important to take a cue from Jim Halpert on The Office and find ways to entertain yourself at work. The breaks will help spark creativity. 

(NOTE: Pitching Notes does not advocate encasing your coworkers’ belongings in Jell-O.)

Work's a marathon, not a sprint. (No wait, that's life. But go with me ...) There are going to be crazy busy times and "uh, I have zero hours to bill this week" times. Chip away at those seasons of taper madness, and let the downtime work for you. 

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