For busy, multitasking professionals like myself, having downtime during the workday can feel somewhat foreign. My to-do lists typically feel constrained by deadlines. In the absence of time-sensitive assignments, some of us would likely even forget how to do our jobs to the best of our abilities.
Hindsight is 20/20. Although thriving in deadline-driven environments is an important skill, deadlines do not need to be the only catalyst for productivity. Our society is hyper-focused on short-term gains, so much so that we can sometimes forget how it all fits into the bigger picture. Fortunately, I have embraced moments of reflection during my “professional downtime.” These moments have been crucial to my professional development; I can look back on what I did well, where I have room for improvement, and how I can apply those revelations to future projects.
Here are some tips for optimizing your professional downtime at work through personal reflection and proactive planning.
Take a look at your notes and planner. Have you procrastinated handling a pending task? Studies show that we tend to procrastinate to avoid emotions that our brains associate with said task. But if you aim to quell your boredom, the feeling(s) you avoid when procrastinating could become a distant concern. Even if you are not consciously avoiding any assignments, I encourage you to brainstorm ways to make your job performance more efficient. Efficiency tasks might include cleaning up files, organizing piling paperwork, or creating a spreadsheet to track expenses. Whatever you decide, times of lulled activity give you independence and autonomy to improve how you perform at work.
In addition to taking on tasks that improve your professional efficiency, you can also choose to begin projects that will challenge you. These projects might include volunteering with a new corporate-wide committee or planning a virtual event for a cross-country branch office. Outside of the office, lull times are an excellent way to challenge yourself professionally. Because you likely do not have to work as many long hours at work, you now have more control over how you spend your days. Less time devoting to time-sensitive projects means more time to take on new hobbies, such as evening meditation sessions or morning runs. Using the downtime at work to find happiness outside of the office will increase your energy, improve your mood, and prepare you for any upcoming busy periods.
While lull periods are inevitable, they are not a ‘life sentence.’ Trust your instincts regarding what feels normal and what doesn’t. If you feel like you have exhausted ways to optimize your efficiency, then it may be time to consult your colleagues. Some professionals look at their calendars and estimate the average amount of time between projects. Gauging your timekeeping data is a great way to know your patterns. Once you have a good sense of how long a lull period typically lasts in your role, you can use that data when contacting your manager about when to expect your workload to pick up again.
I acknowledge that fostering periods of professional downtime comes more naturally to some than to others. With more workplaces turning to remote work, many rely on staying busy as a means of navigating the unforeseen pandemic. If your gut tells you that you need more, you should trust that feeling. Reach out to your colleagues and ask if they need an extra set of hands with an assignment. Of course, also make sure your manager knows that you are feeling restless. Building transparency with your colleagues about your work style can help with project planning overall. Maintaining that transparency will demonstrate that you are committed to taking the initiative and maximizing your professional contributions.
About Bo Parfet
Bo Parfet began his finance career after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from Colorado State University. He also holds a Master of Arts degree in applied economics from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
During his tenure at J.P. Morgan in 2002, Parfet embarked on a journey to climb the Seven Summits: Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Denali, Vinson Massif, Elbrus, Carstensz Pyramid, Kosciusko, and Everest. He completed this goal in 2007 with Mount Everest and is one of about 85 people in the United States to climb all Seven Summits.
Today, Parfet’s career demonstrates a sincere devotion to social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. He founded the Seven Summits Award Program, which offers grants to students in healthcare research. Parfet also devotes a significant amount of time to Denali Venture Philanthropy, which he founded in 2010 with his wife, Meredith. The organization fosters partnerships with socially conscious entrepreneurs who share his values of positive social change and philanthropy.
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