How to Turn a Slow Work Day Into a Career Development Opportunity
Don't let those rare quiet period go to waste. Just in time for the dog days of summer, experts suggest projects that can benefit your career and even lead to career development opportunities.
1 Get Yourself in Order
When the office feels like a ghost town, and it's a slow day at work, revisit all those “someday” tasks. Tackle that screwy database or expense sheet. Get on top of your email. And don’t forget to tidy up your work space. “Things tend to accumulate over time, and the visual reminder can have a negative effect on your productivity,” says Cynthia Kyriazis, president of Productivity Partners Inc. and author of Get Organized. Get Focused. Get Moving. A neat desk will put you in the right mindset to hit the ground running once the pace picks up again, and give you the chance to tackle a career development opportunity when it arises.
2 Rethink Your Process
It’s all too easy to get trapped in the “That’s how we’ve always done it” hamster wheel. But when your colleagues are on vacation, take a step back and reevaluate. “Just because a task, system, or program exists doesn’t mean it’s useful or as efficient as it could be,” points out Morten T. Hansen, management professor at University of California, Berkeley, and coauthor of Great by Choice. Meetings may be one of the most dysfunctional time-sucks. The key to more productive ones, says Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter, Faster, Better, is a little preparation and a defined protocol. “At Amazon, the first few minutes of meetings are spent silently reading a memo,” he explains. “One person has concisely outlined the topic at hand so employees know exactly what choice needs to be made and who needs to make the decision. That means the time isn’t wasted on educating; it’s spent on achieving an action.”
3 Tally Up Accomplishments
“By inventorying your achievements, you’ll position yourself to have a more results-oriented conversation during performance reviews with your manager,” says productivity expert Carson Tate, author of Work Simply. Review your inbox for emails that contain praise from colleagues, vendor partners, or direct reports, and search for examples of how you’ve solved problems and created value for your organization. Check sales reports and note your sales numbers, or take a look at your major projects and compile presentations or documents that illustrate your strengths. At the very least, you can’t deny that seeing evidence of all your feats is an amazing motivator.
4 Sneak in Some Networking
Create a list of people you’d like to connect with, either in person or virtually, and note what you’d like to get out of the conversation, recommends Tate: “Do you want to gain perspective on how another department solved a similar problem? Do you want to learn more about a colleague’s career path?” Being specific gives you a good opening line to approach someone with—and lets that person know exactly how to help. A quiet afternoon at the office is the perfect opportunity for a leisurely lunch. Even posting fresh work-related content on social media or commenting on someone else’s post may help you open a dialogue with a new contact.
5 Expand Your Skill Set
Perplexed by public speaking? Wish you were a stronger coder? Take advantage of any development opportunities provided by your company. Often employers offer free webinars related to your job. “There are even tons of free instructional videos to watch on YouTube to advance your technical and presentation skills,” says Tate. For in-depth lessons on targeted topics for a wide range of industries, check out the 80,000 online courses at udemy.com (priced from $20 to $200). If you have a long stretch of free time, consider taking on a little a day. Hansen is a big believer in the 15-minute rule: Focus on one skill for the next three weeks, like mastering a sales pitch or participating better in meetings, and spend 15 minutes—no more— every day trying to improve.
Lean into the lazy days of summer and imagine what your ideal next step would be, says Duhigg. Then use his SMART technique to break down that goal into manageable pieces. Say you want to be promoted to manager. S is for specific: Figure out what you’ll have to do to get promoted—perhaps take on a new project. M is for measurable: How will you evaluate your success? A is for achievable: Ask yourself (and mentors) whether getting promoted is within reach. R is for resources: Do you need a degree or extra training to be considered? Finally, T is for timeline: Work out how long you’ll need to spend on obtaining this goal and set a date to talk with your boss.