How to Kill Time at Work

Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend. It marks the last day before your vacation. The final hour before the big meeting that just may determine the course of your career. Or maybe it’s just a chunk of time when you’ve finished one project and don’t have enough time left to dive into the next one. Even the most dedicated superstars have those moments when they just can’t seem to get anything done. Sure, you can kill that time by talking to your mom, texting your best friend, or getting caught up on Twitter. Or…you can knock out some of those tedious tasks that, while they don’t have to be done, will actually add some value (and stave off the guilts!). Next time you find yourself at work with time to kill, try knocking out some of these chores:

  1. Clean out your emails. Emails about that retirement party from six months ago just clutter up your inbox and hog space. Organising your emails is as easy as deciding what you don’t need anymore and how to organise what you do need. Tiffany Nix at Nectafy uses her inbox as a to-do list, and she wrote a great tutorial on how to get started. There’s another bonus to this chore: it’s a great way to brush up on the status of current projects. By the time you’ve read through all of those emails to decide what to do with them, you’ll be ready when it’s time to take the next step.
  2. Organise your files. It’s easy to get your computer files all jumbled up when you’re working at top speed. All it takes is not checking the destination folder when you save a document, and notes about a deal you’re working on for one client are saved to another client’s folder. And then there are all the documents you save to your desktop because you don’t want to stop and think about where to put them. Take the chance to go through your files and organise them. Some people do it by project, some by client, some by deadline, etc. It really doesn’t matter: just choose a method that works for you and stick to it
  3. Do some research. Research doesn’t necessarily mean reading reports and taking notes. It can be as simple as finding useful web pages and saving them in Evernote to read later. Then, when you’re ready to dive in and get to work (another day!), you’ll have your reference material all ready to go.
  4. Catch up on industry news. This is a safe and productive way to surf the internet. If your boss walks in, all you have to do is say, “Hey, did you hear about the deal XYZ company just signed? How do you think that’s going to affect us?” And, who knows, you might just find out about some opportunities that could help you take that next step in your own career.
  5. Professional development: This is kind of like #4, but it has more to do with catching up on things that affect your skill set rather than your company’s industry. Has your company adopted a new software program you haven’t mastered yet? Do you need to renew any professional qualifications? What skills do new graduates in your field have that you don’t? Brushing up on your professional skills benefits both you and your employer.

There you have it: five little tasks that all too frequently get pushed aside due to “tyranny of the urgent”. Nobody is going to call or stop by to ask on the status, and nobody will give you props for getting them done. But they’ll make your work life better, they can be knocked out quickly, and they require little mental effort: perfect for those days when you just need to kill some time before the next big thing happens.

photo credit: freeimages