How to Kill Time at Work: 10 Things to Do on a Slow Day

Illustration of a man working on his computer

This article contains links where CareerAddict may earn commission from qualifying purchases.

Is it a slow day at work?

Have you completed all your tasks for the day, week or even month, and got nothing else to do?

Are you just having one of those days where your productivity levels have plummeted to Mariana Trench depths?

Are you on the figurative verge of dying from boredom?

Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Here are 10 productive things to fill your time at work and make it to the end of the day without losing your mind.

1. Read up on work-related topics

One of the best – and most productive – ways to kill time at work without getting into trouble with your boss is to read up on all the latest news, developments and information about your job and industry. There’s always something new to learn and, ultimately, boost your success at work, whether it’s from a blog, journal or a book you bring in to work.

If you’re an SEO specialist, for example, you could read up on all the latest SEO-related news, tips and strategies, and incorporate everything you’ve learned into your job and even share your knowledge with coworkers.

Meanwhile, consider setting up Google and Twitter alerts for specific keywords related to your job and industry. I’ve set up alerts for ‘SEO’ and ‘website optimisation’, among other keywords. Once something gets published that matches these keywords, I instantly get notified, which keeps me always up to date on industry news and digital marketing trends.

2. Organise your inbox

Okay, some people find this a tedious and boring task. Personally, I find a perverse satisfaction in organising basically everything and anything.

If your job involves dealing with clients and partners and shooting out emails left, right and centre on a daily basis, then organising your inbox (if you haven’t already done so) is the way forward. Not only will it help you pass the time, but it will also make your inbox much easier to manage and help you stay on top of your emails. 

I like to keep my inbox squeaky clean. I’ve set up dedicated folders for all the various topics and categories I’m likely to receive emails for, like editorial enquiries, job applications and website feedback. Each time I respond to an email, I move it to the subfolder I’ve created within its relevant folder, so I know where to look if I need to cross-check something later on.

3. Plan ahead

Killing time at work may be fine for a while, but it adds up when things need to get done. And planning your work is a great way to give your day structure and, ultimately, boost your productivity.

Buy yourself a weekly desk calendar [paid link] or create your own homemade calendar, or if you prefer a paperless approach, create an account on a project management site like Trello, and plan your tasks, projects and goals for the week or month ahead.

Start by making a list of all your daily tasks. This could be checking emails, posting to social media, making phone calls and attending team meetings. Then make a separate list of all your current and upcoming projects and deadlines. Once you have all this, you can start planning your work based on urgency and importance.

Being the organisational freak that I am, I maintain both a physical calendar and a Trello board with all my tasks, projects and ideas.

4. Entertain yourself

By entertaining yourself, I don’t mean wandering over to your colleagues’ desks and striking up an hour-long debate on cats vs dogs. Just because you have time to kill doesn’t mean they do too.

Instead, turn to Google (or your search engine of choice).

The internet is an endless source of entertainment, whether it’s playing brain games like Sudoku, chuckling at memes on 9GAG, creating your very own blob opera on Google or watching funny cat videos on YouTube. (Science actually says that watching cat videos is good for you and, specifically, your productivity and stress levels. It turns out cats are the clear winner.)

A word to the wise, though: make sure you navigate the internet for entertainment purposes on company time without getting caught! The last thing you want to do is get yourself fired.

5. Offer your help to coworkers

Got nothing to do while your coworker is struggling to complete a project with a fast-approaching deadline? Ask them if they need a helping hand.

After all, you don’t want to be that employee chilling at their desk while everyone else is running around the office like a bunch of headless chickens.

Even if they decline (because it’s a one-person project, for example), they’ll certainly appreciate the offer, and they’ll likely repay you in kindness the next time you yourself are stressing over a looming deadline. Your boss will take notice too, and your willingness to help others and, essentially, be a team player will undoubtedly be appreciated and is bound to come up during your next performance review.

6. Declutter your workspace

If your workspace looks completely dishevelled, it might be time to give it a much-needed spring-clean.

An uncluttered workspace makes life at work easier. You know exactly where everything is, and you spend less time foraging mountainous piles of documents for that one report you need, ultimately boosting productivity and efficiency and decreasing anxiety levels. Plus, you’ll make Marie Kondo, tidying guru and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up [paid link], proud.

Kondo recommends first identifying the items you need to do your job and then finding a designated spot for each one, like a box, tray or pen holder. Get rid of anything you don’t need: put old documents through the paper shredder, recycle pens that don’t work – you get the picture. Then add one item to your workspace that ‘sparks joy’. This could be a vase of freshly cut flowers or a family photo in a nice picture frame – for me, it’s my LEGO brick calendar [paid link].

7. Develop your skills

There’s always room for sharpening your skills or building new ones altogether – and not just when you have time to kill at work. It should be a lifelong quest to keep learning. After all, when you settle with what you already know, you fail to grow, both on a personal and a professional level. When you commit yourself to continuous learning, though, you’re able to venture out of your comfort zone more easily, while it also opens doors for you as you boost your profile and remain relevant to your industry.

You’ll usually be able to find local seminars, workshops, conferences and classes on industry-related subjects, which all provide you with the added benefit of expanding your professional network. If you can’t find anything appropriate locally or you don’t want to travel, though, consider taking your learning online, whether it’s attending a webinar or completing an online course. Sites like Coursera [paid link], Udemy and MasterClass [paid link] are all great options, and depending on the course you take, you’ll receive certification upon completion.

On that note, ask your boss if they’re willing to cover the costs of your training, or at least offer financial assistance. Chances are they’ll gladly oblige, particularly if it benefits the company. After all, any good company that is invested in employee training knows that a more knowledgeable employee is always a win.

8. Doodle

Although some people were quick to criticise Hillary Clinton for doodling on her speech notes during the UN General Assembly back in 2012, it’s by no means a bad habit to have. In fact, research shows that doodling is good for you: it improves your focus and memory recall, while it also fosters creativity and serves as a mental break.

Now you don’t have to be Picasso or da Vinci to doodle. The whole point of doodling is to relax and get your creative juices flowing, not to create the next Mona Lisa – although, if you do: good for you!

Take a pen or pencil to paper and start aimlessly scribbling different shapes, patterns, landscapes, caricatures – whatever comes to mind. The beauty of doodling is that you don’t have to overthink it or be self-conscious of what you’re drawing or how good it is. Just let the motion be fluid!

9. Try to make work fun

When we do the same tedious tasks day in, day out at work, it’s not unusual to lose a sense of purpose and feel demotivated. But this can be rectified by making work fun.

Do this by turning tasks into games: see how many emails you can respond to in 10 minutes, assign a point for each page you complete for a report, pretend that your colleagues are villains and the only way to stop them from taking over the world is to deliver the project you’re working on – whatever makes work more enjoyable for you.

You can also reward yourself for every task you complete, like a sweet treat or a short break. This gives you something to look forward to. I check my social media for five minutes after every big task I complete, while I give myself a $25 budget to buy something nice once I deliver a project – my last reward was this cool hydroponic vase by Takefuns [paid link].

10. Look for a new job

If you find that you’re bored at work on a permanent basis, then it might be because you no longer find your job challenging and interesting or, worse, you’re suffering from the effects of burnout. Either way, the remedy is the same: find a new job.

Instead of quitting in a blaze of glory, though, you’ll first need to line up your next gig. Start by updating your résumé with any new skills and qualifications you’ve acquired and new achievements you’ve accomplished since your last job search (our professional writers are just a click away if you need help with rewriting your résumé). Once you’ve done this, start browsing job boards (like our very own CareerAddict Jobs) for suitable opportunities, and then start sending out applications.

Now I’m not suggesting that you embark on your job search on company time. Most companies install monitoring software on employees’ computers, and chances are you’ll get caught, which could end badly for you. Instead, use your personal laptop (if you’re allowed to bring it in to work) or your smartphone to apply for jobs on your lunch break, and whatever you do, never send your résumé to potential employers from your work email!

Whether it’s Friday and you can’t wait for the weekend, or you’re having a particularly slow day at work, filling your time productively will make the day pass faster, and you’ll come away feeling pretty good about what you’ve accomplished.

How do you kill time at work when you’ve got nothing to do for the rest of the day? Do you doodle, offer your help to coworkers or find other ways to keep yourself from losing your mind? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 29 July 2015.