Someone’s late for a meeting.
Or you’re at your desk and your manager is out for the next few hours.
You’ve got nothing to do.
So…what do you do?
If we’re at home, we’d probably watch Netflix.
That’s not going to cut it. Instead we check our phone.
Or create yet another Instagram story about how boring work is (trust me…we know!)
Uh…let’s do better. Here are some tips help us improve ourselves, our relationship with colleagues and even our work.
Take a look.
1. Write Thank You Messages
When you’ve got a few minutes to yourself or aren’t sure what to do, try sending out a few thank you messages. And better yet, do it by hand. The handwritten note has a lot of power. This could be to a new contact you met at a networking event (great to meet you!) or to a colleague who just completed a big task (way to go!) or maybe a quick thank you note to a recent customer (how is everything going?). These encouraging words could boost someone’s day and didn’t take any time from yours.
2. Make Meal Plans and a Grocery List
Go ahead and plan out that grocery shopping list. The worst is impulse grocery buying because you’re hungry. If you plan it out to begin with, you’ll eat better because you’re not acting on impulse. Instead, you’re clear and level-headed.
3. Review Your Schedule 2 to 3 Months Out
Never hurts to be prepared! Start thinking about your travel plans, holidays or big events like conferences you have coming up. This may trigger some other ideas to work on to be prepared or just help you start your packing list. Either way is fine.
NOTE: For more productivity tips, check out this ultimate guide to productivity!
4. Learn a New Language
You know you want to…but you can’t ever find the time. Well now you have the time, because you’re looking to be productive while you’re bored. Here you go. Now’s the time. This list of online language courses will give you something to tab over to when your other work slows down.
5. Practice Your Current Skills
So you’re good, huh? But could you be better. Even if you’re an A-player (and how do you know, really? Is there an A-player test? (No, not “a player”). Anyway, unless you’re roundly recognized as one of the tops in your field, there’s probably somewhere that you can improve. And even if you are the best in your field, you’ve still gotta practice to stay on top.
Do you think Stephen Curry has stopped taking jump shots? Or that LeBron James never takes fadeaways? No way. Even the best have to keep their skills sharp to stay on top. So how do you do that? You may want to practice on a new problem, or improve your time on some old skills.
For me as a writer, I like to copy old advertisements or books from authors and copywriters that I admire to soak in how they do it. For you, maybe it’s sketching in a style you don’t usually try or practicing your sales presentation in a new way. Whatever it is you do, find a way to practice it when the pressure is not on.
6. Read Something Important
There’s a difference between scrolling through Twitter looking for some new political gossip, and setting aside time to read important books that could help you in your craft, business or with leadership. Or maybe it’s fiction to give your mind a break and to let your subconscious do the tinkering.
7. Learn to Speed Read
Speaking of reading, you could learn to read faster. Then you’d have even more time on your hands to…read more things. First, take this test to measure how fast you can read. Then check out this an explanation from Tim Ferris about how to read faster. Seems worth it.
8. Organize Your Email
You’ll never hit inbox zero if you still have emails in there. Remember those random emails you starred or marked as important, but you totally forgot? (What? Bills are due…again?) Anyway, take a few minutes and clean out your email inbox.
9. Check Your Assigned Tasks
Just because you currently have a few extra minutes doesn’t mean that your colleagues aren’t working. So if you’re looking for something to do or pitch in, check your tasks in your project management software. With ClickUp, we send you notifications when new work needs your attention. How convenient.
10. Take a Walk
Yes, move a little, especially if you’re in a deskbound job. It can help your motivation, enthusiasm and relieve stress even if you’re not at your top physical peak. When comparing days that people walk at lunch versus when they don’t, there’s a huge difference in mood and focus. Here’s a very official article that explains it all if you’re not convinced. My favorite is to walk to the nearby pharmacy, convenience store or grocery store to buy candy bars…which kind of eliminates any of the health benefits. Whatever, just make sure you exercise and move around.
11. Organize Your Desk and Declutter
I know a thing or two about messy desks. When I was a journalist, I stacked up old newspapers, printed pages and layout designs all over my fairly large desk and a conference table. This was ostensibly for us to read, proof and edit, which happened, but then the papers would stay around a lot longer after that. I’d like to think our mental state would have been better without all that paper clutter around. Anyway, don’t make the same mistake and carve out a few minutes to clean up. For more desk organization tips, check out this helpful article.
12. Do the Dishes at Work
At an old job, we had a kitchen with two refrigerators for about 60 people. But we all had the same morning habit. Stand around the coffeemaker and wait for coffee. It was a great time to chit chat, but then when 10:30 rolled around…the sink would be full of dirty coffee mugs. And we even had a dishwasher. Sort of like the point above, decluttering and cleaning up can help you focus, creates a positive team environment and not to mention looks good for any potential customers, clients or vendors who happen to be in the office that day.
13. Think About Long-Term Strategy
If you’re confined to always responding to the tyranny of the urgent then you may not have time or energy to tackle the big stuff. If you’ve got some downtime, now is your chance to embrace that strategic work that everyone says they want, but won’t give you any time to complete. Even if you’re a lower-level member of the team, this could be your time to shine. Coming up with a few new ideas, even if they aren’t immediately put to use, shows initiative and a desire to contribute. That’s what work is supposed to be about anyway.
14. Watch a Ted Talk
Let’s be honest: This is the responsible person’s way of procrastinating. It’s the socially acceptable way to be like, “Look I’m wasting time but in a manner that makes me look like I’m doing something important.” Yeah, we got it. And generally, Ted Talks are more productive (I think?) than Netflix, so have it. There are lots of smart people talking on there. It’s like college, but with only the best lectures from the best professors condensed down into half the time with no tests. Why don’t colleges just show Ted Talks? If you’re looking for a great place to start, here’s a list of the top must-see Ted Talks.
15. Help Out Your Colleagues
This concept is a little crazy, so bear with me for a minute. But I think you can handle it. If you’re finished with your work for the time-being, or have a little extra time on your hands yet your colleagues still have work to do then you could help them do their work. I know that’s wild, but it’s part of being a great colleague. And fostering collaboration.
With an awesome project management tool, you can see who’s working on what and where you may be able to chip in. Go ahead and be direct about how you can help. That way it keeps you from doing something you’d rather not do, and doesn’t put your colleague in a bind to think of something on the spot or to admit they can’t handle something. Project management software like ClickUp gives team members visibility into what’s happening to help everyone get their projects completed faster.
People say they want great teamwork, until they actually have to work with a team. Take this chance to prove yourself.
Daydreaming means you’re smart.
I didn’t make that up just to make myself feel good. See, science. Take this one too far though and you’re veering into the procrastination zone, which is kind of like the Twilight Zone but not as interesting. Maybe set a timer so that you can get back to the action.
This activity will help you be productive because it allows you to propose solutions without committing to them. Some people may call this “brainstorming” but without the whiteboards and awkward catered lunches. Try 15 minutes to write out the issues, and possible solutions. When you do this, your creative brain will activate and take over. With writing, you can comprehend what’s happening more clearly with more detail.
18. Improve Your Recall
You’re at trivia night and can’t remember the biggest box office hits of 2007. (Spider Man 3 followed by Shrek The Third. Big year for 3s.) Well, to get better you’ll need to stretch those brain cells…both for your short term and long-term recall. Here are some exercises to help your brain. And with great power comes great responsibility for you to remember those box office returns. Don’t let your team down.
19. Share Your Expertise
Sharing is caring and you should also love your neighbor. What’s one way to do that? Tell others what you know. One way to do this is create a quick LinkedIn post or answer a Quora question on a topic that you know a lot about.
20. Stretch or Exercise at Your Desk
If you’re a desk jockey like myself, the sedentary lifestyle can be hard on the ol’ limbs. You need to stretch and move around a bit, even for 5 minutes. You could walk outside or get more coffee or go creep on some other floors of your office building to see if they have better bathrooms. Or if you’re on that conference call and can leave the immediate area, do a few leg lifts or touch your toes.
21. Meditate or Pray
Meditation and prayer help you with self-control, combatting stress and even makes you nicer. Relaxing and calming down has mental health benefits in addition to spiritual ones as well.
See, there is life beyond your phone. I promise. You can do other productive things while you’re bored or have downtime that can improve collaboration, teamwork and relationships while also improving your own abilities. Make your downtime at work productive, too.