Do you use your
Staying ahead when things get slow
By Angela Civitella
You’ve just sent off your latest report to your manager – and before the deadline, too. Great job! You’ve bought yourself a bit of time and can now get a head start on your next project. But, before you’re able to get going, you need some key information from a colleague, and he says that it won’t be available for a few days.
In this article, we look at why dead time occurs, the challenges that it presents, and how to use it wisely.
So, what can you do until then to fill the “down” time? You don’t want to just twiddle your thumbs. Do you catch up with admin? Ask your manager if there’s anything you can do? Or, do you just enjoy the rare downtime?
In this article, we look at why downtime occurs, the challenges that it presents, and how to use it wisely.
What is downtime?
You can find yourself facing downtime for any number of reasons.
Perhaps you need someone else’s input before you can begin your next project, as in our example, above. Maybe your software has failed, or your laptop needs to run a lengthy update. A client you were due to see might have cancelled, leaving a gap in your schedule. Or perhaps seasonal fluctuations mean that there’s not enough work to fill the day. It’s likely no surprise, then, to learn that dead time occurs across all industries, and affects employees of all levels.
Research estimates that it costs the U.S. economy around $100 billion each year in wages paid for idle time. The two hours and 45 minutes of downtime that Americans experience each week, on average, can cause people to become bored or anxious that they aren’t doing enough (or doing it right). This can damage job satisfaction and motivation, and may even result in high staff turnover.
‘It’s likely no surprise, then, to learn that downtime occurs across all industries, and affects employees of all levels.’
9 ways to use downtime wisely
You can’t always prevent downtime – its causes will often be out of your control. But you can decide what to do with it. Taking unfair advantage – having extended breaks or “slacking” – might be tempting, but will likely harm your reputation or career in the long term. Instead, turn this spare time to your advantage with these nine tips:
1. Make a timely decision
If you have downtime, don’t waste it by dithering over how to fill it! Decide quickly what you’re going to do. This will keep your motivation levels high and help you to avoid procrastination. You may need to defer to your manager when deciding what to do. He or she will likely have a better view of current team and organizational needs and will know where best to allocate your efforts.
‘You can’t always prevent downtime – its causes will often be out of your control. But you can decide what to do with it.’
However, if you have more autonomy in your role, avoid relying on your manager for ideas every time. It’s more professional to show initiative. For example, you could offer to take tasks off his or a co-worker’s hands or put your skills to use in other team projects.
2. Volunteer for new projects
Check your team’s work schedule to see if you can make a start on any upcoming projects. You may not have time to complete a project, but there will likely be areas that you could help out with – preliminary research, project planning, or initial brainstorming for example.
3. Help out your colleagues
Ask around and see if there’s anything that you can do to help out your co-workers. After all, just because you’re facing a slow period, doesn’t mean that they are. Helping colleagues with project work, technical support, or simple admin will benefit the whole team, and it will make you feel that you’re using your downtime positively. Simple acts like this can also help you to build positive relationships with other people and will likely “bank” you some favours for later.
‘Helping colleagues with project work, technical support, or simple admin will benefit the whole team…’
4. Develop yourself
Downtime is an excellent opportunity to work on your personal and professional development. You could, for example, learn a new skill. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to gain a better understanding of how your team use data, for instance, and want to use the time to explore Google Analytics™ or another data tool. Or, if you’re due to give a presentation in the next few weeks, why not take the time to brush up on your public speaking skills?
5. Recheck your work
Go back through the work that you’ve done and recheck that you’ve covered everything – particularly if you’re worried that you rushed some of it. Take the time to properly proofread and sense-check your work, before turning it in. You could even look at whether there are any ways to improve it. Could you introduce graphs or images, or do some additional research, for instance, to better highlight the key points?
‘Go back through the work that you’ve done and recheck that you’ve covered everything – particularly if you’re worried that you rushed some of it.’
6. Mentor a colleague
Chances are, you have skills and knowledge that people in other departments or your own team could benefit from. Maybe you’ve even been asked to mentor or coach a teammate in the past but until now, you’ve always been too busy.
Before you offer your services though, be sure to check that the other person is free. She may not be able to spare the time right now. If she’s not available, you can still use your downtime effectively. Perhaps you could plan knowledge-sharing activities for the future, update a process document, or plan a “lunch and learn” session, for example.
7. Review your career goals
Use the time to reflect on your career goals. This can be an unexpectedly revealing experience. If you often have downtime on your hands, for instance, then perhaps the work that you do isn’t challenging enough. Even if this isn’t the case, you can still take the time to think about what you enjoy doing, what you don’t, and what you’d like to do more of in the future.
‘Use the time to reflect on your career goals. This can be an unexpectedly revealing experience.’
8. Audit your To-Do list
Take the opportunity to review your To-Do lists – past and present – to see what you’ve overlooked or repeatedly “bumped down” the list. There may be tasks that you’ve actively put off or forgotten about, or which weren’t possible at the time. Don’t forget to add new tasks, too. Maybe an extra project that you took on earlier has led to additional tasks, or your personal development plan has revealed a new area that you want to focus on.
9. Do some admin
Even when it seems that everything’s done, there’s always admin to catch up on! So, take the time to get organized. Declutter your emails, tidy up your file drives, update your diary, schedule your next round of meetings, do your expenses, or book some holiday.
Getting totally up to date with the “little things” will free your time up when the next big task arrives on your desk and will mean that you won’t have any “nagging” To-Dos floating around.
Image: Pexels from rawpixel.comRead other articles by Angela Civitella
Angela Civitella, a certified management business coach with more than 20 years of proven ability as a negotiator, strategist, and problem-solver creates sound and solid synergies with those in quest of improving their leadership and team building skills. You can reach Angela at 514 254-2400 • linkedin.com/in/angelacivitella/ • intinde.com • @intinde