It’s hard times right now for a lot of folks. The ripple effect of COVID-19 is being felt on everyone in ways that aren’t purely health related. Gigs are cancelled. Events and conferences postponed indefinitely. It’s tough times out there. This post isn’t about the health side of things, but tries to give you a few ideas on what you can and can’t do during the invariable business/economic turbulence you might be experiencing right now.
Our industry can be quite demanding. Before you know it you’ve gone from one project to another for years straight and never really had the chance to take some time off. I know from personal experience the struggle to constantly fight for projects and do whatever you can to get them. Work weekends? Check. Work holidays? Check. Install something over Christmas and New Years because that’s when the executives of the big company aren’t in the office? Check. This compounds greatly with the pressure we feel during downtime between projects. We’ve all felt that itch of “I don’t have a project right now but I have so much paperwork to catch up on” or “I don’t have a project but I need to do everything I can to muster up work otherwise we’re going out of business!” Both these things can turn whatever down-time you may have had into more stress.
One thing I seriously recommend professionals in our industry do is take a moment for yourself. You can’t travel, you can’t go out to events, you should stay out of crowds, so grab a book, hop on Netflix, get in the garden, grab whatever your favourite relaxing activity is and really decompress all the stress and anxiety that have piled up on you during the last years of practice. If you don’t deal with the build up of pressure, stress, anxiety, frustration, and other negative emotions, they’ll eventually come out in ways you won’t like. You might get burned out, you might snap on someone in rage, or worse you might just stop caring about your work completely. It’s not like you have to turn down clients right now either since everything is cancelled or indefinitely delayed. So this might be the best chance you’ve ever had to just sit down and give yourself a much deserved rest.
Find new pivots
No one really knows how long COVID-19 will be around for and the economic ripple is bound to last much longer, so it may be time to start exploring how you can bring the skills you have, put a different spin on them, and bring present them in a different light so that they may be viable right now. If you’re an artist, maybe this is the time to start exploring digital asset creation or selling things like generative art posters. If you’re a video production person, this may be the time to start exploring what you can/can’t do remotely and virtually for clients. If you’re a developer, maybe it makes sense to use your real-time skills to make fast content generators. The reality is that a lot of markets are down and out right now, but there are still tons that are trying to hold it together. Broadcast is one that I notice a lot of efforts to keep the lights on. ESPN for example has home studio setups for their sports programs, and even though all the sports are on hiatus, they’re all still talking about sport-related topics. That’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. You might need to put a bit of creativity into the spin of it, but it should be a real thing you consider especially if you don’t have the financials savings to last 3-4 months of no income.
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Double down on skills
For a lot of folks, the best part about being in-between projects is having the ability to do some intensive skill development. Maybe this means building some tools that you wish you had for projection mapping or previz. Maybe it means it’s finally time you learn some GLSL. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to dive into C++ or Python apps or Spark AR. If you have enough finances to weather the storm for a month or two, this could be a unique opportunity to double down on improving your skills, learning new skills, and developing prototypes that you wouldn’t normally be able to justify because you have “more important things to do.” The unfortunately reality is that for most people there aren’t that many things to do in general, which means that you also might not have a lot of demand for your time and attention. If you consider your time now as an investment into the future, it might have a chance to pay off. One thing that I’m certain we’ll see a lot of when the gigs start opening up again and events start getting scheduled, is that there are going to be a bunch of unexpected talent come out of the woodwork. Or some new tools get released that take a previously unknown developer and make them in-demand. These things are going to be coming from the folks that had the energy and ability to take all the downtime and focus it productively towards hitting the ground running once COVID-19 settles down.
The times probably won’t get easier before they get harder, so it is a good idea to really consider your situation and what you can and can’t do during your downtime. For some folks, decompressing might be the best option for the long run, and for other folks, pivoting might help bring in some interim cash flow. Or maybe you decided to double down on skills development. Whatever you’ve chosen it’s best to be proactive with making your choice. Nothing is worse than waiting around to make a decision about something and realize a few months have passed and you haven’t gained the benefit of any of the options I’ve mentioned. Stay safe!