6 Things to Do When Work is Slow

If you’re a budding young professional, you’ve been at those internships or jobs where things were probably less than “bustling.” There might have been days where you sat at your desk with absolutely nothing to do. Even when you informed your supervisors about your extra bandwidth, they were still unable to find work for you. And especially when it comes to summer in government, slow weeks can be the name of the game.

So what do you do during those downtimes at work? Stalk an ex on Facebook? Take a couple of selfies? Get out your fidget spinner? You could do these things, but they wouldn’t be a productive use of your time.

As monotonous as slow days may seem, there are several ways you can use those periods to advance your professional development. Not only will these productive tips make you more equipped at your job when work starts piling in, they will also help your career in the long term:

  1. Organize. Nothing kills productivity like clutter and mess. When you want to maximize productivity during your busy workdays, help yourself out by clearing your workspace. Think of it as taking the time to pave a highway you can use when you need to travel fast.

Clear your desk by getting rid of anything lying around that you don’t use on a daily basis, i.e. old mugs, lanyards and post its. File old paperwork that needs to be saved and get rid paper that doesn’t have any value.

  1. Read up. Not talking about a Jillian Flynn thriller like “Gone Girl” here. When you have time to kill, it’s good to spend time reading up on your current organization. If you work at the State Department, for example, take some time to peruse the home page and get to know the five career tracks for foreign service officers. You might narrow down the career path of your choice. Or, if you’ve already done all your organizational reading, find articles on leadership or professional networking. Get the latest on government news and trends and what’s going on in the public sector.

By learning more about your workplace and government overall, you’re increasing your value as an employee and future job seeker. You can also take the time to watch some TedTalks or find some online courses to learn new skills like public speaking or coding.

  1. Track accomplishments. A slow day provides the perfect opportunity to sit back and take inventory of all our professional accomplishments. This can help with future performance reviews with your supervisor and can be an invaluable list if the perfect job opportunity opens up.

Government resumes are lengthier and require numbers and specifics when it comes to professional accomplishments. So open up an excel sheet and organize a list of projects, articles and any extra professional curricular development you want to highlight. Try and make sure they’re organized by date so you have a good timeline too.

  1. Update. Once you have a working list of all your recent professional accomplishments, you can work on cleaning up your professional portfolio. Update your USAJobs resume and LinkedIn profile by adding your latest achievements. Double check your education status and be sure all your information is up to date.

 You’ll also want to list any recent publications like blog posts or research articles. Spend time doing this as if you were applying for a job tomorrow. Whether you’re at your organization for the next four years or four months, it helps to think of yourself as a perpetual job seeker so you don’t stay too comfortable in your current workplace. Always be ready with an updated resume and professional profile.

  1. Dream big. Constructive daydreaming can actually be a great use of your time. Think of new product ideas or a blog series you could start for your organization. Or think of some skills that you would like to perfect – like learning a new language.

This is also a great time to think long term. Where do you envision yourself in the next year? Where would you like to be in the next 5 years? Dreaming of short-term and long-term goals can help you narrow future job searches and also make your time at your current workplace worthwhile by pursuing activities and projects that align with your professional goals. Make sure to jot down your big dreams and goals so you can check back periodically.

  1. Network. Use this time to grab coffee with coworkers you haven’t talked to yet. Learn about what they do at the organization and if they have any professional advice. Networking is often a resource that many fail to take advantage of. The people around you offer a wealth of knowledge and may even be the key to your next great position.

Got a favorite professor or mentor you haven’t spoken to in a while? Send them an email just checking in and asking after them. This demonstrates that you care and that they’re an important person in your life. Plus, you never know if you might need them for a reference or recommendation letter in the future.

Downtime at work can be painfully mind-numbing. But if you use this time at work productively, it doesn’t have to be. Take the time for yourself and your professional development and you’ll be ready to go once work picks up again.


This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.

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thanks this is great. I work on a grant that is ending soon, so things are slow as we wrap things up and prepare to move on in September. I have been looking for a way to encourage my team to think about their professional development without suggesting that they job search on company time!


Govloop always has such practical advice! Thank you for continuing to share great insights, tips and and advice for junior staff in government (around the world!).