What to do when you have nothing to do.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Lyndsey Yates. Lyndsey is a graphic designer and founder of Nine Dots Creative, she says:

“Today, after a crackers boombackers (my phrase, I just made that up) week, I have nothing to do. Well, nothing pressing anyway. So far I’ve spent 2 hours faffing about on my laptop (AKA browsing Facebook and looking on eBay).

Now the guilt is starting to set in that I’m not being productive enough. I would actually LIKE to do something with my day — it’s not all fuelled by guilt — but I think I’m actually now paralysed by possibility. All the things I’ve been meaning to get round to are just swimming around my head!

Tell me fellow DIFTKers, how do you deal with these days? I feel like I’ve been cycling down a hill really fast and I’ve stopped too quickly and gone over the handlebars.”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:43] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. My name is Frankie and this is Steve..

[00:00:54.390] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each week we take a question, a dilemma posed by the Doing It For The Kids community. Do our best to answer it and you forgive us our sins and then give us your experiences, your answers. We read them out, which is what we’re going to do now, starting with last week’s question, which was…

Oh, it was Michelle’s and it was about the sick kid, which, ironically — we had a sick kid yesterday!

[00:01:19] – Frankie
Oh, did you?

[00:01:20] – Steve
And it seems to work that way. Like things we talk about on this podcast then end up happening in real life. So if maybe we could do an episode where it’s like, “dear Frankie and Steve, how do I cope when a mysterious benefactor leaves 500,000 pounds on your doorstep, but you still have the school run to do?”

So Michelle’s was all about working around sick kids, basically.

Jessica Furnley got in touch. Hi, Jessica, thank you so much for getting in touch. Jessica said,

“I honestly wouldn’t feel guilty about letting them have a TV day when they’re poorly. Time spent sitting down, resting is like gold dust for them when they’ve been vomiting. If TV facilitates that, then it’s all good.”

[00:01:58] – Frankie
Rebecca Chalice says,

“My daughter’s been watching TV for two days as she’s been off school sick. Don’t feel guilty. Rest is the best recovery”.

Rest is best.

[00:02:06] – Steve
Yeah, so there we go. Right, let’s all quit feeling guilty.

[00:02:10] – Frankie
Screw the TV haters.

[00:02:11] – Steve

[00:02:12] – Frankie
Oh, it’s Alice Hollis.

[00:02:13] – Steve
Alice, thank you. She says,

“Like Steve, I’m always expected to be the primary caregiver and look after sick kids. It’s what my husband and I agreed when we had kids and one of the reasons I went freelance. But it can be annoying, especially when they have a new bug every other day at nursery. For longer term or contagious illnesses like chickenpox we have shared the care so that I’m not on mummy duty all day and working all night to make up the hours but my clients are pretty flexible and I’ve taken my poorly four-year-old to a couple of super important meetings.”


[00:02:48] – Frankie
Yeah, that’s impressive.

[00:02:49] – Steve
That’s good, isn’t it?

[00:02:51] – Frankie
Like not even a four-year-old, a snotty four year old. Potentially even one that’s got the runs. I mean, that’s accommodating, isn’t it?

[00:02:59] – Steve
Alice has made me realise that when I was talking about this last week… Yes, it normally falls to me. That’s what I was saying, wasn’t it? But if it’s something longer, they’re off sick for longer. And, for example, when our kids have had chicken pox, then my wife does, you know…

[00:03:16] – Frankie
Step into the breach?

[00:03:17] – Steve

[00:03:18.670] – Frankie
Adam Pearson. I’m sorry, Adam, I’m so sorry.

Adam says,

“I was really enjoying the latest Doing It For The Kids podcast until Frankie got out a squeaky toy and said, ‘Here, boy’. The dogs went mental. They spent ten minutes hunting for said toy in my office.”

Yeah, I’m really sorry. I didn’t even think about that.

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:05:25] – Steve
Okay, this week’s question comes from Lyndsey Yates. Hello, Lyndsey.

[00:05:29] – Frankie

[00:05:30] – Steve
Lyndsey says,

“Today, after a crackers boom backers (my phrase, I just made that up).”

I like it.

She continues,

“After a crackers boom backers week, I have nothing to do. Well, nothing pressing anyway. So far, I’ve spent 2 hours faffing about on my laptop, aka browsing Facebook and looking on eBay. Now the guilt is starting to set in, that I’m not being productive enough.

I would actually like to do something with my day. It’s not all fueled by guilt, but I think I’m actually now paralysed by possibility. All the things I’ve been meaning to get round to are just swimming around my head.

Tell me, fellow DIFTKers, how do you deal with these days? I feel like I’ve been cycling down a hill really fast and I’ve stopped too quickly and gone over the handlebars.”

[00:06:22] – Frankie
First of all, I have done that — as in, cycled down a hill too fast and gone over the handlebars. I didn’t brake, I totally panicked, didn’t brake. Went over a wall at the bottom of a dead end, at the bottom of a hill and ripped my nail off.

[00:06:32] – Steve
Oh my god.

[00:06:33] – Frankie
So there you go. There’s a story for you.

[00:06:35] – Steve
When was that?

[00:06:36] – Frankie
I was like 18.

[00:06:38] – Steve
I thought you were just going to say I was about eight… teen.

[00:06:42] – Frankie

Anyway, yes, I can relate to all of this.

First of all, this is very much one of those questions that do as I say, not as I do. In that I would always say if you have one of those days, like, actually recuperate and do the things you normally wouldn’t have the time to do and make and feed your soul in some way. And for me, actually, that’s cleaning. I know that sounds weird, but like, I never have the chance to clean or tidy stuff. So if I have a day that’s quite quiet, work wise, I like to like mop the floors and then I feel like… cleansed?

[00:07:14] – Steve

[00:07:15] – Frankie
But that genuinely is my form of self care, like making my environment feel orderly and clean.

[00:07:21] – Steve
Yeah, I get that.

[00:07:22] – Frankie
I also like to nap. Definitely down with that if I’ve got the time.

Basically, all of those things that like… And I don’t mean have a bubble bath and do your nails in that traditional Instagram ‘self care’ kind of way. I mean, if that’s your thing, cool. But whatever it is, don’t feel guilty about taking the time out of that day to do those things. But equally, on the other hand, use those days… no, I’m going to stop it there because you’re probably going to say what I’m about to say.

[00:07:47] – Steve
Oh, why? What was I going to say?

But equally, use those days… What were you going to say? Is this like some sort of parlour game? We have to finish your sentence now.

[00:07:55] – Frankie
But also, do things you would never have the chance to do, like going to the cinema in the day on your own. You would never get to do that ever ever ever!!!

[00:08:03] – Steve
Oh, yeah, I was going to say that.

[00:08:04] – Frankie
See, I told you.

[00:08:05] – Steve
No, I wasn’t going to say that. I wasn’t really.

[00:08:08] – Frankie
Or go for a swim or do things that are hard when you’ve got kids around and/or you have work to do, either of those things. Like Game of Thrones back-to-back on the sofa.

[00:08:18] – Steve
Frankie says that, but she doesn’t actually watch Game of Thrones.

[00:08:20] – Frankie
I know nothing of Game of Thrones. Something to do with dragons? I don’t know.

[00:08:24] – Steve
And she only knew that because Hannah from the Doing It For The Kids community the other day on Instagram was dressed as a dragon and Frankie was like, ‘Why is she dressed like a-, what is she even dressed as?’

[00:08:34] – Frankie
It properly cracked me up.

[00:08:35] – Steve
And I went, “It’s a dragon, it’s Game of Thrones. How can you not know? Like even if you don’t watch it?”

[00:08:41] – Frankie
She was in this dragon suit in front of a mirror. It was a boomerang. She was doing a dance, and it just said like, ‘GOT’. I was just like, what? What is going on? It did make me laugh.

[00:08:51] – Steve
I tell you what, though, she should be a dragon onesie influencer because it did make me want one. You need affiliate links, Hannah.

I mean, the thing is though, she says “it’s not that I don’t want to do anything, but I’m paralysed by possibility”. It’s a bit like when you go into a coffee shop and if you’ve not decided before you go in, it’s just utterly overwhelming. Same if you go into Pret or like, you know, there’s just so many options.

This is why whenever I go into McDonalds, I just order a Big Mac.

[00:09:26] – Frankie
Chicken Legend every time.

[00:09:27] – Steve
So yeah, I think one thing you can do, if you know you’re going to have a day like that is — choose before you walk into your day.

[00:09:35] – Frankie

[00:09:36] – Steve
Extending the metaphor. We mentioned either last week or the week before. I can’t remember… That whole — planning what you’re going to do the day before. I think it’s quite a good idea to have a Trello list or your productivity app of choice, or even pen and paper, but some sort of list of things to do. Because I think one of the dangerous things, for me anyway, was sitting down with this utterly overwhelming buffet of things that I could be doing and then not knowing what to put on my plate first.

So with Trello, I list down everything. And don’t be vague about it either. Don’t go, “oh, blog post”, actually have “blog” and then some titles that you’re going to write about. Or… Don’t just write “admin”. Write “admin” and then “send invoices to blah, blah, blah, blah”.

[00:10:24] – Frankie
So true. It’s much less scary when it’s like a specific thing rather than, oh, “all the admin for your business!”. “Do your entire accounts!” Maybe it’s like, “get your receipts out” or whatever.

[00:10:33] – Steve
Yeah. Or reconcile your bank statements. So exciting being a freelancer…

You can have one Trello thing called admin, but click within that and then have a checklist of all the different tasks that you might need to do. And I think if you’ve got that, that means when your head is full of family stuff and all the other things and clearly you’ve been peddling downhill fast, working on client work or whatever, suddenly you’ve got time to yourself. It’s quite good just to be able to open something and for it to say, “how about you just do this?”

And so, yeah, then you just crack on doing the thing. You open admin and it says, “reconcile your bank statements” and you go, “well, okay, that sounds terribly dull”. Yeah or blog post and there’s the title waiting for you to write it.

[00:11:17] – Frankie
Yeah, because there’s nothing more terrifying than just — “I need to write a blog post!” and looking at a blank Word document, just being like errrr. Yes, it’s really good to use that time for adminy bits, etc, that don’t get done otherwise. But I like to use that time for the slightly sexier stuff that I never have the time for. The hidden extras that you always want to do but never can justify. The sexy extras that you’re always like, “yes, I really want to do that!” but just it’s always at the bottom of the list, persistently sitting there. It’s on there, but you just never, ever get around to it. And often, if you don’t have other client work or stuff rolling around in your head, you can really come up with ideas and be creative and really nail that task.

[00:11:59] – Steve

[00:12:00] – Frankie
I’m trying to think of examples, but I’m totally failing.

[00:12:02] – Steve
That’s okay, we can imagine what your sexy things might be.

[00:12:06] – Frankie
One of my big tasks that always gets done when I have downtime is updating my website because I have a portfolio based website. So putting new work on there is dull and it takes longer than you think, but it can make you feel so much more like, invigorated about your business. It’s a refresh. That’s a good feeling to get new work up and also to see your progress and be like, “oh yeah, my work’s getting better”.

[00:12:27] – Steve
I did that.

[00:12:27] – Frankie

[00:12:30] – Steve
One thing you say is about pedaling downhill really, really fast and then not stopping. Maybe you need to be pedaling slower in the first place? Instead of filling your whole day with client work, build in a bit of Lyndsey time every day.

And by the way, we should all call it ‘Lyndsey Time’, whether we’re called Lyndsey or not.

So a little block of time each day? Then if you heaven emergency for a client that you need to fill your Lyndsey time with, then you give that to the client. But otherwise, your Lyndsey time should always be for you to do something that was on that Trello list of things that you wanted to do. And then, that way, you’re not going to get that crazy rush that then leads to you falling off the handlebars because you’re going to be just taking in the view more as you go down the hill, wondering where that metaphor is leading.

[00:13:28] – Frankie
Yeah, we were talking about that the other day… Because, if you don’t know, we co-mentor each other. So once a month we talk to each other about business and stuff. You might have gathered, I did a survey last year about Doing It For The Kids people and who we all are and what we do, and it’s a massive task to analyse all of that. And so I never do it because it feels like such an enormous thing to undertake — I always ignore it. And Steve said to me, like, “Well, why don’t you just do one question a day? So analyse the results of that and produce a graphic for it. If you do that once a day for a month, you’re going to have pretty much most of it done”.

[00:14:00] – Steve

[00:14:01] – Frankie
Yeah. And I remember Alec at our last meetup was talking about that and how like-, it’s like working out, isn’t it? If you go to the gym for ten minutes a day, you don’t see the progress day to day, but one month, two months in, you’re like, “oh, I’m strong and I’m less out of breath”. If you do that and you cycle more slowly down the hill, then when you get those days where you don’t have as much on, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming and maybe you can actually just have a relaxing time? At least for like, half the day.

[00:14:31] – Steve

[00:14:31] – Frankie
Like the guilt is gone and you don’t get that sense of overwhelm as much and you can mop that floor really hard.

[00:14:40] – Steve
Another thing you could try doing… Because she says about sitting down on the computer and then basically faffing on Facebook and eBay and whatever, if you don’t have the self control not to do that, and I’m not blaming you either, because we all do it, right? You can actually get blockers, can’t you?

[00:14:59] – Frankie
Yeah. In your browser. You can, for sure.

[00:15:01] – Steve
Just Google it. People have developed things that will limit the amount of time that you can spend on those websites basically.

[00:15:08] – Frankie
And she says, like, she wants to do something with her day, but surely that doesn’t necessarily have to be work? I don’t know, maybe she likes knitting? Or creating in a different way? Playing a guitar? You can still be productive and use your brain and produce things and feel like your day hasn’t been wasted without working, like doing paid work.

[00:15:32] – Steve
That has just reminded me that I meant to go back and watch your Instagram story of you and your family playing instruments. I didn’t have the sound on at the time and I thought I’ll go back and watch that.

[00:15:43] – Frankie
Oh, you missed out. Without the sound on. It was amazing. It was proper, like, avantgarde!

[00:15:47] – Steve
You were playing the guitar, right?

[00:15:49] – Frankie
No, I was just filming it. My sister was playing the ukulele.

[00:15:51] – Steve
Oh, is it not you?

[00:15:53] – Frankie
No, we do look alike.

[00:15:55] – Steve
So your sister was on the ukulele.

[00:15:57] – Frankie
Rob was playing like, a toy saxophone and my son’s on a little, plinky plonky piano, which sounds horrible. It’s like uh uh uh uh uh plink plink.

[00:16:02] – Steve
And was he singing as well?

[00:16:06] – Frankie
No, it was all his own composition. He was doing his train song, which is basically him whacking the piano and then saying words about trains over the top. And then he did this moment where he was like, “It is finished. It’s finished, guys”. And it stopped. It was great.

[00:16:24] – Steve
Oh I’m gutted I missed that.

[00:16:25] – Frankie
It was proper art house stuff.

[00:16:27] – Steve
Get the band back together.

[00:16:29] – Frankie
Or even things like being productive in a life admin way. Again, separate from work. For example — batch cooking, like we talked about in episode four. Or meal planning or, you know, other stuff that helps you feel less stressed day to day. Using that time to make the next week, month feel more manageable.

[00:16:51] – Steve
I mean, she said that she wanted to do stuff, didn’t she? But I do sometimes have days where I just find that I’m not being very productive work wise. Like, my mind just isn’t on it. And on those occasions, I like to go and find something else to do where I feel like I’ve not wasted my time just staring at the screen.

[00:17:06] – Frankie
And that’s why you work for yourself. Because I remember working for other people, being in the office and having those days. And you literally have to sit there and look like you’re doing shit, which is so exhausting. Like, why would you do that to yourself when there’s nobody watching you?

[00:17:21] – Steve
Okay, Lyndsey. Hope that helped in some way. But if you have an experience that you would like to share about this question, please do #DIFTKpodcast. Get in touch on Instagram and Twitter. Frankie will have posted this in the Doing It For The Kids community as well. And if you’re not in there, get yourself in there.

What would your advice be?

Let us know your thoughts using #DIFTKpodcast on Twitter and Instagram, and join in the conversation via the DIFTK Community on Facebook.