“I quit!”... 6 Tips for Optimizing Your Gap Time Between Jobs

In this critical moment, we can easily deceive ourselves by believing that we just haven’t been reading the map correctly. Or, we can throw out the old map and look at these challenges as distinguishing opportunities to see beyond the way things are; as a chance to re-invent ourselves.
— Peter Forbes

Over five months ago, the words "I'm moving on" came out of my mouth to my supervisor. It was the kick off to a three-month resignation process to get things in order, pack up my "stuff", and leave the organization.  

As a working mom with a long commute to and from work, there were so many layers of preparation to exit my job and transition to a voluntary period of unemployment. I am fortunate to have a supportive family and in particular, my husband has been stellar at holding this space in time for me to reenergize myself for my next endeavor. 

I had applied to a few jobs while employed, but knew I had this gap time between gigs ahead of me. This was the second time I took a "gap time" between jobs (or as a colleague once called it, "intermittent retirement"). The first time, my fiancé (now husband) and I decided to leave our jobs in Cambridge, Massachusetts to find a new place to call home. We decided to relocate to Vermont for new jobs and career fields, months before the Great Recession of 2008. This second gap time is a pivot in career field, purpose, and life design.

It is worth acknowledging that finding and applying for a job is a job in and of itself. Mental and physical energy is required to land a job. If you don't have the reserves to do so while you're at your current job, the execution may not turn out great on a cover letter, resume, or interview. Here are tips I have learned about optimizing your gap time. 

 Lake Champlain from the Burlington bike path. A place I enjoy walking to and meditating at. 

Lake Champlain from the Burlington bike path. A place I enjoy walking to and meditating at. 

6 tips to optimize your gap time

#1  Catch up on sleep and go unscheduled for a short period

We forget, while employed, how many hours we put into our jobs. Certainly, more than 40-hours per week when you consider the emails we check on our phones at all hours of the day or the late night work assignment after you put your kid to bed. When there is no go-go to a job, catch up on sleep and get into a practice of getting 8-hours a night. The first couple of weeks, after leaving a job can result in a withdrawal from a routine, allow yourself to be unscheduled and go with the flow.

#2  Spend time with friends and family

Sometimes we forget the time consumed by our jobs, including commutes and working on deadlines, and opportunities missed to connect with friends and family. Utilize this time to reconnect with the people, who are and will be your support team through this short journey.

#3  After being unscheduled, schedule your gap time

Unstructured time at the beginning can be a helpful restart. Before panic and anxiety sets in, start to put together a schedule for yourself. Block off time to work on job applications, update your resume and professional profiles, informational interviews, job fairs, exercise, and family excursions. Creating a morning routine, like making your bed or meditation, provides consistency and a means of focusing your energy to kick off each day.

#4  Write

Whether in a journal, email to a supportive friend/family member, or blog post, writing can help you reflect on the past, synthesize something you learned in the present, or discover what you want to try in the near future. It doesn't have to be a perfect essay; your writing can be a few words or run sentences. Seeing the ideas, stream of thoughts,  on paper or a screen can be helpful in retuning your personal narrative on what you have done, why you left your position, and where you want to go next.

#5  Get exercise: Mind & Body

Our minds and bodies are often neglected when entrenched in our work. Take time to return to or learn a new physical exercise. Start up slowly and build up stamina. Similarly, getting into mindfulness exercises, such as meditation, can train your whole being to find balance and prepare you to handle your next job.

#6  Learn and practice a new skill

How often do you get a chance to learn and practice a new skill without interruption or a looming deadline? There are plenty of resources online, offline, and locally where you can learn a new skill for free or for an amount that fits your budget. Learning a new skill, software program, or volunteering in a different environment will demonstrate to a potential employer your willingness to expand your skills toolbox and constructively use your time between jobs.

Life is all about growth and change. It’s not static. It’s not about some destination. It’s not about answering the question once and for all and then it’s all done. Nobody really knows what he or she wants to be....What people need is a process - a design process - for figuring out what they want, whom they want to grow into, and how to create a life they love.
— Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Designing Your Life (2016)

What to Check Out:

  • A song inspiring me today: Rise by Eddie Vedder on the Into the Wild soundtrack (2007)
  • An app that is helping me regain mental space: Headspace
  • A book I started to readDesigning Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived Joyful Life (Knopf, 2016)
  • A training to check out: Personal Storytelling Online Academy led by the Million Person Project. I recently signed up and participated in a free 5-day Tell Your Story bootcamp via MPP's Facebook Live group. I thought the exercises were interesting and the facilitators, Heather and Julian, are genuinely interested in helping you to discover and share your personal narrative/story.
  • Updating your LinkedIn profile? Here is an expert to learn from: Through a Harvard career webinar for alumni, I participated in a LinkedIn training led by Sabrina Woods to spruce up my profile. I highly recommend looking at her LinkedIn handouts and articles on her profile.