This crushing silence: shit I do to recover from a Big Meaty Project

My colleague Meg Keene posted recently about dealing with "the period of quiet after the (lovely) storm." As entrepreneurs and small business folk, we work ourselves into a lather reaching big goals we set out for ourselves and … then what?

What does your downtime between projects look like? How to you remind yourself that you can't push the creative spark when it needs to take a break? And how do you refill the well? How do you deal with a creative change of plans? Go!

Rather than hijack Meg's comments with a longwinded response, I thought I'd collect my thoughts here. And so I present to you:

Shit I do to recover from a Big Meaty Project

1. Busywork

I'm one of those people who gets a deep and profound satisfaction from cleaning up small, measurable messes. After the complexity of a really big project, it gives me a weird sick satisfaction to go merge some duplicate forum threads on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, or go through my advertiser info pages to ensure that all my traffic numbers are up to date.

Sometimes, when my Big Strategy Brain needs a little rest, it's this digital dirt under the fingernails work that helps my brain unwind. It's a weird kind of unwinding to be sure, but it keeps my fingers busy when my mind needs a breather. Busywork keeps me from getting bored (I feel like I'm getting stuff done) but doesn't let me get exhausted or beaten down, because it's all non-urgent, non-critical stuff that very few people will even notice I'm doing.

2. Process what's been learned

As a life-long journaler, writing about what's just happened is part of how I process through what it all means. Sometimes, just doing a huge stream of consciousness braindump of OMG WUT JUST HAPPENED can help me file the experience and move on from it. Bullet points, scribbles in the margins, rambling run-on sentences: doesn't matter. The goal is just to get it out of my head, so that I can clear some space.

If I'm feeling extra motivated, sometimes I shape this braindump into guidance that can be useful to other people. At my core, I'm a service and self-help writer, and a lot of my writing takes the form of "What you can learn from this thing I just did."

Come to think of it, Meg has told me that it was one of these braindumps on my personal blog (a January 2008 summary of what I'd learned in my first year of Offbeat Bride, complete with how-to instructions about my business model) was what inspired her to start A Practical Wedding.

This is all to say: your braindump could have a major impact on other people's skills and goals. Don't keep all that post-project rambling in your head! GET IT OUT!

3. Create mini-challenges

Last July, I found myself simultaneously in-between Big Meaty Projects while also in the middle of one of the Pacific Northwest's fleeting and verdant summers. I decided that rather than start some new Big Meaty Project, I would set a new goal for myself: how little work can I get away with doing in August?

Each week in August became a new challenge: how FEW hours of work could I do to keep the Empire running smoothly? The answer: the work I typically take 40-50 hours to do each week really can get done in about 20. Granted, the big stuff stacks up after a few weeks, and that doesn't factor in any growth or dealing with any bugs or big problems … but it felt like a major accomplishment for the month of August. Apparently, even when I'm taking a break, I need quantitative measurements and goals.


And so, there you have it. My advice for how to deal with a post-Big Meaty Project slump. Happy late birthday, Meg!

  1. Thanks for the share! (I actually just finished a project at work and was off to do busywork – blog content migration – when this post caught my eye.)

    I love this. Since when I was in "Barnum" in high school and dealing with what our director called "Post-Barnum Depression", I've used techniques to deal with the Aftermath. For me, it's about just Accepting the Downtime Phase. I force myself to sleep in and relax. I definitely make it a point to RESIST GEARING UP with another big project to take away the sadness because I know that can work me up into a non-sleeping workaholic frenzy. That's where the journaling and busy work comes in really handy!

    Before I even finish my big project, I also pre-plan little fun projects to ride after the fact. For example, after my book launch this fall, I'm going to start getting into making cooking videos. Fun,pretty easy, and something to look forward to.

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  2. I love that #3! I found myself doing that in my professional life, too. If I was feeling burned out, I dropped all the "projects" I was working on and just did the bare minimum of kitchen work, ordering, and scheduling. Sure, it's not sustainable because of the lack of forward growth, but it works to get you some time off and refreshed a bit. I found I always seemed to do it right after a big project got finished, or right before & after a vacation.

    I'm so glad I'm not the only one who uses journaling to brain dump! That's why I started my blog. So much I thought other people would find useful, and no place to put it.

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