12 Productive Things To Do On a Slow Work Day

Slow days happen for a couple of reasons. It could be that our workload is just lighter that day – say we’re waiting for necessary information to start on a project, or it’s simply the off season in your field. Or, maybe there are legitimate projects to be done, but because of burnout or general malaise, your motivation to get real work done may be at zero.

Slow days – those rare beasts – are a chance for us to catch our breaths. But it’s important to be strategic about using them, rather than frittering the day away reading blogs on your phone. Here are twelve ideas to get make the most of your downtime at work.

1. Get organized: If you’ve been reading my posts for very long, you’ll notice this is almost always my first suggestion – for good reason. If you’ve been running pell-mell ahead at work, your desk, files, and priorities are probably in disarray. Take some time to clean and organize your workspace – both physical and digital. This will help set a more organized tone going forward (at least for a little bit), and you may come across important paperwork that got lost in the busy shuffle. Almost every time I do this I find a misplaced note or forgotten email that I neglected to take care of when I was busy with work.

2. Clean out your email inbox: Tackling your cluttered email inbox is a great way to use your down time. Reply to everything that needs a quick reply, or schedule a block of time later to respond to lengthier emails. Delete or archive anything that’s no longer needed. Whether or not you ever reach “Inbox Zero” (I sure never have), it’s helpful to clear out some space. I use Evernote to archive informational emails and Instapaper to save promotional emails I’d like to read later, then delete them from my inbox.

3. Review your past few months: Take some time to look over what you’ve accomplished in the last few months. Do you need to add anything to you “bragalogue”? Is there anything you could have done better? Are there any loose ends that you need to follow up with?

4. Plan for future projects: While taking time to organize and reflect is great for slow days, it’s also important to strategically plan for the future. Take a look at any big projects that are coming up for work, but don’t forget to factor in your personal career goals, too. Are you hoping to ask for a promotion or change departments in the next year? Brainstorm the steps you’ll need to get there, like take a certification course, or volunteer for a new type of work.

5. Educate yourself: You probably have a stack of trade journal articles, webinars, and books that you’ve been meaning to get to. Take some time on a slow day to catch up on news and trends in your field so that you’re well-informed. Attend an online training to pick up new career skills. Ask another coworker to give you a crash course in a new piece of software.

6. Reach out to your network: Take a few minutes to compose a thoughtful email or make a call to someone in your network you haven’t spoken with for too long. This could be an old mentor or professor, a past coworker, or a colleague you met at a conference. Any number of benefits can come of rekindling these old relationships.

7. Thank someone: Has a coworker, a mentor, or a team member done something over the top for you in the last few weeks? Show them how much you appreciate them with a handwritten note, a recommendation on LinkedIn, or a note to your manager praising them.

8. Work ahead: Can you take a bite out of a big project that’s looming in the future? Maybe it’s as simple as sending a few emails, collecting documents, or planning out the steps you’ll need to take. Avoid a bit of the crush of future stress by knocking a few items off the to do list on a slow day.

9. Document your workflow: You’re probably not going to be around in your position forever – so take a few minutes to help out your future replacement by creating Standard Operating Procedure documents around some of your most common assignments. You can also create templates or style guides for common collateral you create (new hire announcements for HR, or brochures in the marketing department).

10. Plan your team’s strategy: Take a look at your team’s present, past, and future, and start brainstorming ways to step up your game. Write up a strategy document to bring to your next meeting, or ask a few team members to to join you on a coffee run to brainstorm some ideas together.

11. Network with other departments: Downtime is a great time to build relationships with other people in your organization. Ask someone out for lunch, or just visit another department to chat about what they’re doing.

12. Check in with your boss: Ask your boss for a few minutes to chat about how things are going. Give her an update on how your projects are doing and what you’ve achieved so far, and outline your next steps. If you’re foreseeing this slow day stretching out into the next few weeks, ask your boss what other priorities she may have for you, and help brainstorm new work you can take on to help develop your skills and show how valuable you are to the organization.

How do you manage your time on slow days? What have you found are the most productive ways to pass the time?

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Good tips! We all have “slow days.” I like to catch up on professional reading, webinars, and visiting social networks (like GovLoop) during these times. I am always cleaning up my e-mail box and I definitely plan for future projects. Good tips!

Patrick Fiorenza

Great tips! Slow days I like to try and get ahead, or just plan out for a few weeks – so a busy week won’t sneak up on me. I’ll also sometimes start writing a few blog posts, and just save them for later on, knowing that I will be busy and won’t be able to get around to writing them down the road. Sometimes it’s important to just relax too – I think I’ve learned that after having a crazy busy stretch, completely fine to just relax. Do some reading outside your field, explore new areas of interest and then try to take that knowledge and integrate into your work. Slow days are a good time to step out of your bubble a bit, and take a look at your work from a different perspective.