Not every day is going to be exciting and challenging and motivating; some days might be tedious, and some days might be downright boring. That doesn’t mean you should fall into a Wikipedia black hole. (Did you know the phrase “French fried potatoes” first showed up in print in English in 1856?)
Maybe your manager is unexpectedly out sick and you just wrapped up a big project. Maybe you are still onboarding or just back from time-off and haven’t fully gotten back up to speed. Maybe you’re getting ready for a promotion or lateral move and you’ve been winding down on your projects and handing things off. Maybe you’re actually just avoiding something you really need to do (that one doesn’t really count for a boring day; get to it!)
Maybe it’s just a slow day… no matter the reason, there’s always something to do. Even if you don’t have a task to complete, we can always be learning, and that absolutely counts for something. We know you’re all about thriving at work (that’s why you’re here), so these are a few ways to do just that when things feel like they’re in slow motion.
- Offer to help. Asking people on your team if there is something you can help them with is a great way to continue to build important relationships. Just make sure that you really don’t have anything else to do because if you’re offering to help them while not staying on top of your own work, you’ll look like an out-of-touch ass.
- Do some research (and then share it!). Take a page from my grandparents’ book and learn something! Look up current trends in your industry or marketplace; what is going to be affecting your next two quarters? Are your competitors in the news? You’ll be developing your own knowledge and then by sharing the info, you’re again showing your team (and boss) that you’re invested in what you all do. This also positions you as a strategic contributor capable of bigger-picture thinking than the usual tasks on your plate.
- Walk around the office. Making connections where you work is really important both personally and professionally. Personally, having friends at work significantly improves your engagement and experience of work, so go say hi! Professionally, having a reputation as someone who is invested enough in your organization to make connections outside of your department is a great way to subtly signal that you are leadership material. Closed-door policies are a thing of the past, but the opportunity to nurture your network can be rare. A slow day is the perfect opportunity to do just that.
- Check in with a mentor or mentee. This is an extension of building your relationships, but specifically, mentor/mentee relationships can often be pushed off in favor of more important things. It’s so easy to reschedule the monthly call, or move lunch to happy hour to breakfast to, “We’ll find some time soon.” If you’ve got some time on your hands, check in with your mentor/mentee and get back on track! They may not be having the slow day that you’re having, but by popping up in their inbox, you’re showing that you’re still invested. (Are you sensing a theme?)
- Finish the thing you’ve been avoiding! Maybe this one should have been first. Having a boring day because you don’t want to finish that excel sheet that your team has really been waiting for is a VERY different kind of boring than not having your next priority or goal or project set up. If your version of a slow day is just an avoidance technique, stop reading this article and get to it!
Did you catch the theme? It was unintentional, but pretty poignant if I do say so myself. Take the slow day to reinvest in yourself. I’m not talking about finishing your screenplay; you’re still at work. But use this extra time to focus on your professional development, your reputation, and setting yourself up for growth within your organization. It doesn’t matter if you want to stay for 6 month or 16 years, the way you handle these boring days will absolutely be noticed. And you should be excellent at what you do.
If these days are happening more often than not, it could be a signal that you’re not working up to your potential. Schedule some time with your manager to say you feel like there is more you can do (have specific examples in mind), and that you want to contribute in a bigger way. They may not have work for you—which might not be a great sign overall—in which case you should take it as an opportunity to shadow other areas of your organization. Getting a bigger picture view of what different departments and roles do can help shape your perspective in a way that will have an incredibly positive effect on the work you deliver. Plus, if you’re interested in taking on more responsibility or shifting areas, this is a great place to start, learn, and make connections.
Slow days at work might be inevitable, but it’s up to you to make them worth your time.
Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).