I remember a time not too long ago when cancellations made me nervous. When I thought “Holy shit, I’m not making money if I’m not tattooing.”

It was a scary place to live in. I was living from project to project, not making any progress. I stressed about making a dollar instead of focusing on things that actually made a difference.

Now…I don’t even try to fill my canceled spots. I don’t mind so much that I lost hundreds of dollars in a day because of a no-show. Crazy, right?!

Time > Money

The problem is that I was trading my time for money. As a service provider, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

Maybe not. We’ve been trained that trading time for money is how you make money.

From your first gig mowing lawns to now, you’ve likely handed over hours of valuable life to earn a few bucks. Then you hoped for a raise because you gave even more of your hours or days to your employer.

That’s a very, very limited way of thinking, though. Especially for someone in a creative field.

If you’re an artist like me, or an author, or a musician it can get even more stressful. When you’re not working for a client you should scramble to find a new one. Or should you?

Still just a rat in a cage.

If you want to get out of the rat-race, if you want to take the pressure off of the creative work you love, then it’s time to leverage some of your time into creating assets.

I know, this sounds boring as fuck to most creative types out there, but it’s one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned.

Because I love my career. I love tattooing, creating art, making designs, etc. I love it.

It’s a career I’ve been obsessed with since I picked up a pencil – how to turn art into money. And I’m glad to say that I’m actually “successful” as a professional artist. I can cover all my expenses from tattooing alone.

That love of this career blinded me to a lot of other options, though. And it turned something I loved to do into a chore when there was too much pressure. Simply put, that’s not something you want out of a creative career.

You want security FOR your creative career, not security FROM it. Here are five things you should do during your creative downtime – other than trying to fill your downtime up with another client. These are tactics I use to feel secure even when the times get tough doing the “job” I love.

1– Study something relevant

When I asked around about things people do when they don’t have a client, one photographer responded that he likes to procrastinate by learning new tools or software.

I like to procrastinate a lot with learning, too. I could study for days because I am addicted to learning. But I’ve recently tried to cut back on the amount of information I consume, and focus more on creative time. Output over input.

To be clear, cutting back doesn’t mean eliminating information. I’m doing my best to consume useful information based on the goals I’ve set for myself. Not just on topics that interest me.

If you can learn something useful based on your goals, it’s going to make a huge difference in your effectiveness.

Some areas that are almost always useful to study – Marketing, Business, and Creative Thinking. Pick up a book, take a class, and stay focused on what you need to learn.

2– Diversify your income.

I talked a lot about the pressure to do something you love as a career – and how much that sucks. Well, diversifying your income is the best way to take that pressure off.

I love tattooing and I love writing, but I don’t want to rely on those two things as my sole source of income. I’ve been there, and it’s more stress than it’s worth.

So, instead, I’ve been building assets with side projects for a while. Find a way to earn a passive income on the side to take a bit of the pressure from your creative endeavors.

I highly recommend looking into…

  • Dropshipping with Shopify (or, if you’re a techie like me and enjoy building websites, use WordPress with WooCommerce),
  • Investing (Index funds rock)
  • Slowly building a stock photo or illustration collection that can earn you some side cash.
  • Smart real-estate investing
  • Etc.

There’s an endless list of great opportunities to earn money on the side passively.

Diversifying your income doesn’t mean you’re going to build something that will make you an overnight success. Having a side income will definitely help you feel less stressed about a dud client, though.

3– Work on personal projects.

Client work isn’t the be-all, end-all of a creative career. As an artist, I spend a lot of time working on personal paintings and drawings. I also write a lot, as you can see on my blog, here. 😆

Who knows, your personal projects could pay off big-time one day.

Personal projects are also a great time to explore different styles and techniques. Try something outside of your norm, or find that ever-elusive flow state that makes work so fun.

Personal projects also give you the opportunity to develop and explore your own styles. Whether that’s art, music, or writing – doing something for yourself will make your regular creative work even better.

4– Catch up on the stuff you’re behind on.

Because I know you’re behind on something. I know I am. It’s the artist’s curse, I do believe.

Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s everyone’s curse. We always have stuff that we need to do. But alas…it’s hard to get it all done.

Still, using unexpected downtime to catch up on errands, that project deadline tomorrow, or the novel that you’re writing is a great way to make good use of your free time.

And if you’re not behind, count yourself lucky. Now work ahead on the upcoming stuff so you don’t feel so stressed out later!

5– Relax. For once in your life, relax.

Rest and recovery are important for strength training, and they’re equally important for your brain to work well. I have a tendency to lose sleep while I’m trying to plan big goals or while I’m working on big projects.

And I’m a dad. So exhaustion is the status quo. When I get the opportunity to rest and I am comfortable with the way my projects are going…I rest.

Sometimes I even PLAN to REST! That’s always a good day, in my opinion. 😴

Of course, rest and relaxation don’t have to happen in your bed or on the couch. Sometimes relaxing means spending the day with your family at the park.

Or going for a drive with your spouse, going on a date, writing in your journal, or reading a good book.

Appreciate what time you have to relax, because that’s where the good stuff happens. The space between is when ideas connect.

It’s going to be okay.

I know that it’s a challenge to not panic when you don’t have a direct source of income right in front of you. but don’t get stressed! Start working on yourself, your education, other sources of income, and focus on your own security. The money will come.

What’s something YOU do to fill your downtime as a creative professional? Let me know in the comments!

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