5 Ways to Make the Most of a Slow Week at Work

It's the holidays. The office is quiet. You could dedicate your 9 to 5 to Candy Crush and returning gifts. Or, as work-place expert Lynn Taylor points out, you can use this downtime to beef up your presence in the office and get pumped for the year ahead.

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Photo by Yehteh

1. Create a kudos file.
Start a running list of praise that you've gotten from bosses, clients, and coworkers. "It will help you recognize your value and focus on your successes," says Taylor. Sneak a peek when you need a confidence boost, whether that's just before an intimidating presentation or in the middle of a lousy day. Spread the love by sending thank-you notes to a few colleagues.

2. Lend a hand to other departments.
Certain coworkers might be in an all-hands-on-deck phase. Ask if there's anything you can do to help (with your boss's approval, of course). You'll learn something about another part of your organization and get a nice pay-it-forward buzz.

3. Reach out and touch someone.
Pick up the phone (that thing on your desk with buttons and a cord). Call clients, colleagues, or vendors to check in on long-standing or complex issues that are better handled verbally (than in, say, a hundred short e-mail exchanges). They'll appreciate the attention, and you may be able to resolve something. Allow time to take care of personal business, making those calls you always put off, whether they're to your health-insurance provider or the aunt whose birthday you missed. Stay available all day so you'll be able to pick up when Aunt Eileen (or your PPO rep) calls back.

4. Scan your sent mail.
A big part of your personal brand comes from how you communicate, so pull up a few messages and read them from the recipients' standpoint. Ask yourself: Is this e-mail friendly? Is it too terse? Unnecessarily wordy? Does it leave people wondering? Use your findings to tweak your style. A rule of thumb: "Rather than "I need you to do this," say hi, use the person's name, be a human," says Taylor. And it wouldn't kill you to throw in a smiley face now and then. "The brevity of e-mail can feel negative. Emoticons help prevent mis-interpretation," says Taylor. Just be judicious; save smiles for when they truly contribute to the clarity of your message.

5. Give yourself an annual review.
Think: How can I do my job better? Am I advancing my career? What would make me happier in my work? How can I be of more value? Look for courses that can help you grow; your company might even reimburse the cost. Bring insights to your next evaluation. "Managers appreciate when you look at the big picture," says Taylor. "This type of exercise can be an awakening—it can change your job and your life."