[Originally published in 2018.]
Often you feel like the work is never-ending. You’re stuck in overdrive, working hard to complete that project by the deadline. Or you’ve got multiple projects all at different stages and you’re moving as fast as you can. It doesn’t seem like it will ever let up.
But in most workplaces, there also comes a time when the workload begins to ebb a bit and you can take a deep breath and pull your head above water, even if just for a bit. And when that happens, it can be hard to know what to do with yourself. You’re so used to go-go-go, that you need to take a beat to figure out what to do with yourself when you aren’t fighting fires.
In the US, at least, the end of December tends to be one of these slower periods for many workplaces. People are out of town, annual reviews are taking place, not a lot of deals are being made.
Often I find that you look back at the slower periods (from the middle of a busy period, no doubt) and feel that you didn’t exactly take advantage of that time.
I think most of us truly want to be productive, even when the pressure is off. So, here are some ways that you can make the most out of the slower times, to set yourself up for success during the busier times:
- Clear Off Your Desk – Put everything in its place. Put that extra stapler back in the supply closet where it belongs. Straighten, neaten, tidy and toss.
- Remove Paper – Get rid of all that paper that’s been accumulating. File, scan and/or shred.
- Unsubscribe from all those marketing emails that are just cluttering up your inbox and not providing you with any value. (Try Unroll.me to streamline the process.)
- Digitize! – Have you still got a lot of paper hanging around? It’s never been easier to digitize. Most printers have a scanner. If you have an Android phone you can scan to PDF directly from the Google Drive app. If you’re on iOS there are plenty of great scanning apps (Scanbot or Scanner Pro are both are highly rated and connect with Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.)
- Organize Digital Files – Is your desktop a mess of document icons? Do you have a folder structure that has a HUGE “misc.” folder? Do you not have a folder structure at all? Clean up (or create) your folder structure and give those docs an (easily findable) home. Or, if you’re more of a searcher when it comes to document management, commit to ensuring that going forward, you rename documents as you save them down so that they are called whatever you are likely to search for!
- Organize Email – Are your labels, tags, and/or folders working for you? Take some time to clean them up. Automate labeling of emails by setting up filters and auto-applying labels.
- Prepare For Your Performance Review – Create an email label/tag called “performance” so that you can tag anything you want to include in your annual self-review (kudos you receive from others, emails you send yourself to remember your accomplishments, etc.). Doing so will make next year’s review process a breeze.
Tackle the Backlog
- Get to Inbox 0 – It’s elusive, I know. It can feel like an overwhelming feat. But you can do it. There’s no better time than a slow period at work to make it happen. Here’s exactly how to do it.
- Schedule a Productivity Power Hour (or Day) – We’ve all got tasks on our list that just aren’t as important as the rest of our work. And those things can start to pile up. Schedule an hour, or a day, and just knock them all off your list.
- Reflect on the Busy Period You Just Emerged From
- What practices or habits made the busy time feel even more overwhelming?
- What systems seemed rather inefficient?
- On your most stressful days, what was going on?
- Take the time to really think back and figure out what you can do now to help yourself later. Maybe you need to improve communication with a certain team or coworker. Maybe your information/resources weren’t always up to date. Reflect on the challenges so that you can work on the solutions.
- What’s Next? – It’s hard to think about the future when we are treading water in the present. But now you’ve got a little room to think. So think.
- What do you want to do, learn or become over the next several months or year? Do a little research to figure out the next steps and make an action plan. Figure out what you need to do each day or week to make your goal a reality.
- A big decision on the horizon? Start a list of pros and cons. Put your thoughts to paper. Start narrowing down the options and pick a direction.
I know I said I was going to give you tips about how to be productive in the slow times, so maybe you’re thinking “what is she talking about?”. But, taking breaks has been proven to help us improve both our creativity and productivity. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about it that I won’t rehash, but you are welcome to read it here.
My definition of productivity is “doing what I intended to do”. So if relaxing is what you intend to do, then ditch any guilt that might accompany it. Bask a little bit in the slowness. Take a deep breath, or a walk, because you know the busy times are right around the corner.