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Peaks and troughs: what to do when work is quiet

Written 17 June, 2019, 5 minutes to read

Wherever you work, you’ll always encounter peaks and troughs. There are times when you’ll be working flat-out, starting early and finishing late; and periods of eery quiet, where clocking out early would seemingly make zero difference to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you work in an office, remotely or freelance – there will always be slow periods at work, especially as the holiday season looms. But rather than sitting and stagnating, or waiting for new work to land, there are ways to maximize these quiet periods. Here are a few solid ideas for what to do when work is quiet.

1. Work introspection

In a world where so many of us feel perpetually busy, periods of quiet offer a welcome opportunity to actually take stock of what we’ve been doing. Once we finish a task, we often leap onto the next job without any real reflection – but this means we learn little about the ways we work, and almost nothing about how we can improve.

With common work distractions like meetings and email removed or dulled, we finally have the space to analyze our productive performance. Whenever work is slow, take the time to look at your workflow. If you’re not sure where to start, try using an automatic tracker – they can record all your work activity for you so you can skip straight to analysis. Look at your past month of activity and consider:

  • what you actually achieved
  • where most of your efforts went
  • what tasks are unproductive
  • which jobs took too much time
  • what you actually found rewarding

Once you know where your strenghts and weaknesses are, you are better placed to introduce effective change which actually address them – whether that means changing processes, automating pointless tasks, bringing on new resources, improving your scheduling, getting training or setting new development goals.

2. Get ahead

You may not have any pressing work to do right now… but realistically, you will have soon enough. Use these quiet periods to get ahead however you can. Think about the type of work you’re asked to do most, and spend time preparing for future assignments: research and scope out upcoming work, create draft copy or code you can rework later on, audit your previous work to ensure it’s still current or look for improvements, and draw-up templates wherever possible to simplify workflow.

Consider your own professional development and skills – Is there a new app or tool you’ve been meaning to trial? What’s going on more generally in your niche? What courses do you want to try? Are there any useful upcoming conferences you could attend? Research, practice, play with new concepts and make plans.

3. Build your brand

Whether you freelance or work in an office, it’s always a good idea to have your own branding in mind. You may not see yourself as a “brand person”, but you’re probably wrong: by operating in the world of curriculum vitae, you already have a brand. Whenever anyone clicks onto your LinkedIn page or Twitter account, or whenever they check out your profile on your work website, they’re interracting with your personal brand.

So take advantage of a work lull to think about how to refine your online presence. Consider the key skills you want to develop and take the time to give your professional profiles a new lick of paint. While self-branding is especially important for freelancers, it’s equally important for considering your own professional direction. Even if you’re totally happy in your job, continuing to invest in your interests and specialisms can reveal exciting and rewarding new professional opportunities – both for new work in your company and external side projects.

4. Get organized

We all know how messy things can get during those chaotic times at work – so when things are quiet, take time to clean up the digital mess you’ve made. Go through folders and archive the stuff you know you won’t need. Categorize useful resources for future reference. Delete pointless emails, unsubscribe from mailing lists and block those pesky promo emails you have no interest in. It’s all about making your machine more efficient for when work picks up again.

Remember to also give your harddrive some TLC – uninstall redundant apps, backup what you need, delete the rest. Maybe even run that malware update you’ve been delaying for weeks. Then, look at your workspace. If it’s messy, tidy it! It might feel like procrastination, but it’s not: a tidy desk helps your brain work better. Throw out (and recycle where possible!) all the old papers and notes you don’t need. Then buy yourself a plant to celebrate; it doesn’t just look pretty, it’s proven to enhance your happiness and productivity.

5. Network

Just like building your brand, you don’t have to be freelance or on the lookout for a new job to make yourself more visible in your field. Networking with other professionals helps keep you up-to-date with the latest trends and developments. The more visible and proactive you are, the more your reputation builds, and the more power you wield as an individual.

Use this downtime to scope out networking sessions, or call up old clients you liked but haven’t connected with for a while. Check in with old colleagues, too – and again, none of this has to relate to moving jobs; if you’re a manager, it could lead to finding great new hires, and if you’re an employee, you could gather new tricks of the trade or uncover useful information.

6. Work on your professional relationships

As important as networking is, it shouldn’t come at the expense of developing relationships with the people you work with on a daily basis. During busy periods, many of us are guilty of declining when team members ask us for lunch, so use these quiet times to reconnect. Take time to acknowledge others for their work, too, whether it’s sending a little “thank you” email or actually going up and thanking them in person.

Ask your team members to join you for lunch or coffee – remember remote colleagues too! – and use these social situations to form stronger bonds and build rapport. That way, when things get busy again and everyone’s rushed off their feet, you already have the framework for effective collaboration in place.

Does your workflow need some love? Improve your efficiency by automating these repetitive tasks.

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