Some people are surprised to learn that life in a creative agency can be a seasonal thing – with peaks and troughs in productivity and incoming work. The ‘troughs’ usually occur over the summer months and the Christmas period, when staff take holidays and advertising campaigns are often put on hold. When these quieter periods occur you need to be prepared, and there are a few things you can do to ensure you remain occupied.

Ah, the infamous “quiet period” in the studio. I remember my first design job for a print advertising agency in Bournemouth, where during the Christmas period spanning the back end of December we’d actually have football tournaments in the studio, and concoct all manner of bizarre office games using whatever we could find lying around. As they weren’t the “cool” kind of agency to work in that had table tennis or foosball, we had to make do with footballs made of duct tape and rubbish bin basketball!

But for longer periods during which there is at least a little work to do (but not enough to keep everyone running at full tilt), there are any number of things an agency can do to maximise productivity, effectiveness and creativity. In no particular order, here are a few:

Go For a Walk

This one seems so simple as to be silly, and while we don’t advocate donning your hiking boots and leaving the office every time there’s nothing urgent to do, a short walk can now be a proven method of boosting creativity, even if only in the short-term. I try to take a walk most lunch breaks, and often listen to a podcast while I’m at it. Vary your route for maximum effect, and try jotting down ideas as soon as you get back to your desk.

Get Organised

Organisation is key to almost any successful business, and quiet periods allow ample opportunity to get things sorted. Even in the most organised office space, things can get out of place pretty quickly. I’ve worked as a freelancer from home as well as in a few different office environments, so I’ve learned to look after my work space if I want any chance of accessing files and getting to things quickly. Good organisation comes in many shapes and sizes, but could include:

  • Paperwork – buy some foolscap folders and arrange all your client-specific paperwork into them. If your work is more traditional print/graphics based, make sure all your job bags are up to date, and consider printing out a new layout of job bag that could help you categorise things more easily. Ask questions and critique work practices – nothing is more fatal than a “we’ve always done it like this” attitude.
  • Storage – I’m a sucker for good storage. Whether it’s a shoe rack at home, a really nice coat stand, a cool way to store my kid’s Lego or a novel way to organise things on my desk, there are always more and better ways to store things so you can stop losing them and access them more easily. Consider boring things like filing cabinets and think about using the “dead space” around – or even under – your desk.
  • Backups – If you don’t backup your word regularly and securely, then you’re asking for trouble. There’s an anecdotal story surrounding the near-loss of a large portion of the Toy Story 2 movie, which was saved only really by accident when it was discovered a team member had been making copies of the film in order to work from home. Even if this isn’t true, people lose vital work files every day due to sloppy, negligent or plain absent backup policies. Don’t be one of them. There’s a wealth of information out there on choosing the right backup solution for you, and if you think it’s too expensive, just take a moment to consider how much it’d cost you to recreate everything you’d worked on in the last 6 months or more…
  • Tidy desk, tidy mind? – Another really simple one, but you might be surprised the effect of tidying your workspace can have on productivity. The health benefits of making sure the things you touch are clean are obvious, and while studies show a little untidiness can promote creative thinking, de-cluttering will always help you stop losing things.

Start a side-project

Here at Createful we’re always looking for additional projects we can work on internally, and one of our most popular apps, the Wedding Planner for iPad, was the brainchild of our very own Kriss Bennett. Internal side projects help creative agencies in a number of ways – they foster an environment of creativity, innovation and responsibility, enabling even the smallest idea blossom into something useful and/or awesome. By keeping the whole process simple and quick (and stupid?), you can help retain employees by giving them a greater sense of ownership, and develop skills through hack days and lab sessions. Side projects don’t have to be physical products or apps, they could include hobbies, Tumblr blogs, writing, photography, robotics… the list is endless!

Look after your team

There are too many employees who fear the quiet periods or work, fearing the micro-management boss who stalks the office ensuring everyone is generating income all the time! But down time can be an opportunity to build relationships within your team. Performance appraisals (when done right!) can help at all levels of a business, ensuring employees feel valued and appreciated, and that employers are utilising their staff in the most effective ways. This (now slightly dated) article on the Creative Bloq website looks at some of the pros and cons of appraisals, and granted, while they may not fit your business model or team structure, clear channels of communication can only ever be a good thing.

For freelancers or those working in much smaller groups, appraisals will not fit the bill, and in this case I’d really recommend finding some kind of creative business mentor – someone who’s got more experience than you who can spare a couple of hours to talk through any issues you might have, and bounce around ideas.

So there you have it – it is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d be really interested to hear about other ideas and methods for making the most of quiet periods in a creative agency.