What to do during downtime at work

Downtime is a rare thing in most workplaces, but there’s a good chance you’ll experience a slow day every once in a while.

Some people are surprised to learn that agency life can be a seasonal thing; ups and downs in productivity and incoming work. Downtime usually occur over the summer months and during the Christmas season, when staff take holidays and advertising campaigns are often put on hold. Thus, when these quieter periods occur, you need to be prepared with a few things to ensure you remain occupied.

So, what do you actually do at work when you find yourself with a few extra hours (or days) on your hands? Unfortunately, most employees don’t know how to maximize their time on slow workdays because these rare intervals are about as foreign as your boss saying, “You’ve done such good work lately, I think you should just call it day and go home.” Obviously, Facebook and online shopping aren’t the right answers (unless you’re on your lunch break or social media is your job). But, if you’re looking to fill your downtime, here’s some tips that might help:

Get organized

What to do during downtime at work

Organization is key to almost any successful business, and quiet periods allow ample opportunity to get things sorted. While I’ve worked as a freelancer from home, as well as in a few different office environments, I’ve learned to look after my work space. If I want any chance of accessing files and getting to things quickly, you need to be organized. This could envolve spending time tidying your desk area and organizing emails, to cleaning up dead layers and grouping objects in your Photoshop files.

You should also take the opportunity, if you don’t already, to backup your work. If you don’t, you’re just asking for trouble. There’s a story surrounding the near-loss of a large portion of the movie Toy Story 2, which was saved only by accident when it was discovered a team member had been making copies of the film in order to work from home. Even if this isn’t true, people lose vital work files every day due to negligent or absent backup policies.

Start a side-project

Doing side-projects during downtime can help creative agencies in a number of ways. They can foster an environment of creativity, innovation, and enable even the smallest idea to become something big. Now’s the time to take the initiative and create a new website idea for a client or thingk about that new campaign you wanted to try. Be creative and do something the way you feel it should be done. Because you never know, the client or your CD might just love it.

Most agencies prefer you stay focused on their work, but others help retain employees by giving them the freedom to work on personal projects. While side-projects are a great way to hone new skills, and offer a creative outlet, they don’t have to be design related. They can be hobbies, blogs, writing, photography—the list is endless. As long as it doesn’t interfere or compete with your current job, side-projects are a good way to stay busy during downtime.

Read up

Of course, there are those times where it’s not realistic to start a side-project you might not get finished. So, what then? If you know you only have a short downtime, focus on your professional development. Read articles on leadership, marketing, award-winning ideas—anything that you’d like to know more about. Get the latest on design trends or browse the top industry blogs. By staying informed and learning more, you’re increasing your value as an employee.

Get some exercise during downtime

What to do during downtime at work

Get away from your desk and do something that will get you up and moving. A short walk is a proven method of boosting creativity, even if only in the short-term. Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander. And whether you’re walking indoors or outdoors, the walk itself boosts creative inspiration.

Look after your team

There are too many employees who fear downtime; fearing the micro-managing boss who stalks the office to ensure everyone is constantly working for the company. But downtime can be an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships within your team. Take this opportunity to go to lunch with a co-worker or even your boss, if possible.

Pick up the phone, instant message, or better yet, walk around and interact with co-workers. Ask them how things are going, and make a point to listen more than you speak. This will provide valuable insight from a personal and business aspect. However, make sure that you’re not interfering with their job if they still have work to do. Just because you have downtime, doesn’t mean everyone else does.

What to do during downtime at work

You can also check in with your boss. Ask them if they have other tasks or projects that might require a different perspective. They may have another job for you they never thought of. Downtime is also the perfect opportunity to give your boss an update on your achievements and discuss the future. Employees often forget to pass along good news and their future direction to the boss; too often the time is spent putting out fires. What manager doesn’t like receiving some good news and reassurances?

Bolster your networking

Having a solid professional network is essential in design, especially for freelancers. Why not use some of your downtime to reach out to other designers, developers, marketers, or anyone else that you would like to network with? Networking keeps you on top of industry trends and helps you remain visible with other industry professionals.

Your networking efforts could include face-to-face networking, sending an email, connecting on Twitter or Facebook, leaving blog comments, etc. Whether or not you plan to stay at your current job, having a solid reputation helps. Who knows, you may pick up some tricks of the trade, new projects, or even job openings.

Work on your portfolio

Your portfolio website is a critical asset to you for future job prospects, but it probably doesn’t get much of your attention when you’re busy. Take advantage of this downtime to add new items to the portfolio, post new testimonials, make design tweaks, or completely re-design the website. Click here to learn how to make your portfolio website stand out from the crowd.

Filling your downtime

Downtime in most work environments are rare. For that reason, it’s important to make the most of them. That said, if you constantly feel that you don’t have enough work, talk to your boss about other tasks or projects that will make better use of your time. Also consider your downtime as a chance to focus on your own interests, or to be proactive, rather than reactive. Slow days are nice—but not when they happen every day.

What do you like to do with your downtime? Have you found something that works well for you? Share it below or on social media.

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