5 Productive Things to Do on a Slow Day at Work

Phew-you've just wrapped a major event or come out the other side of a recruitment push. You've become a master multi-tasker, you've learned how to work twice as efficiently, and you're no longer fazed by having a new challenge thrown at you every hour. But now, it's suddenly your "slow season." What? What do you actually do at work when you find yourself with a few extra hours (or days) on your hands? Obviously, Facebooking and online shopping aren't the right answers (unless you're on your lunch break). But if you're wondering what to do once you've answered all of your emails and organized your desk, here are five productive ways to use that extra time.

1. Succession Planning

A succession plan ensures that if you evaporated into a cloud of smoke tomorrow, your organization would have a written record of exactly how you do what you do. Basically, this takes your job description, then breaks it down and outlines tasks per month: The bullet that says "plan annual campaigns" becomes "July: Set dates for upcoming fiscal year, thank volunteers." If this document doesn't yet exist, create it! Believe me, it will make your life easier when you leave your job (and your boss will love you for it.) And if you do have one, update it. You may be certain that you'll never forget that you sent the fall newsletter in October instead of September, but remember, things will get crazy again. It's important to keep your succession plan a living, relevant document.

2. Organize Your Emails

Even if you file every message away in your email archives, there are some you should save on your company's shared drive or in your personal files for later use (or when you're gone). Save anything involving hiring or HR matters, but also those that you've used to diffuse a tricky situation. You owe it to your company (and to yourself) to save those emails you spent hours crafting so that you'll have the snazzy language on hand for next time. Also save great feedback you've received on projects (hello, cover letter) or comments from a key stakeholder discussing why he or she participates in or loves your product or your work (hello, testimonial). And go through and deal with any emails you've filed away for "later" (e.g., "next year maybe so and so could be the keynote speaker").

3. Pick up the Phone

Remember why you taught your parents to text? Because a call invariably turns into a lengthy discussion. But sometimes, this is a good thing. When you have time, take the opportunity to schedule catch-up calls with your clients and stakeholders. Begin with small talk, then ask for their thoughts on how things are going or on any ideas you've been bouncing around. You'll build trust and a spirit of teamwork, and you'll strengthen the relationship. (One caveat: Make sure he or she is a "phone" person and that it's a convenient time. Calling people unannounced, without a purpose, or at a bad time may kill time for you, but it wastes time for them.)

4. Help Out

You have time to spare, but what about your colleagues? Are any of the other departments in an all-hands-on-deck phase? This is a great opportunity for you to learn about other parts of the organization or gain some new skills. And even if there's only need for an envelope-stuffer, your colleagues will definitely appreciate it (and hopefully return the favor next time you need some extra help). If no one needs your assistance, look for new projects. Browse through your organization website for typos or pictures that could be replaced. Read your promotional materials-could something be changed or clearer next time they're updated? Your boss will be happy that you took the initiative and notice your interest in the organization as a whole.

5. Read Up

Of course, there are those times (read: Friday at 4:15 PM) where it doesn't seem realistic to start a project, approach a colleague, or unpack the website. So, what then? If you just have a short time to kill, focus on your professional development. Read articles on leadership, networking, marketing-anything that you'd like to know more about. Get the latest on sector trends or browse the big blogs in your industry. By staying informed and learning more, you're increasing your value as an employee (and a future job seeker). There's definitely plenty you can do to pass time on a slow day or in a post-event lull. That said, if you constantly feel that you don't have enough work, talk to your supervisor about long-term tasks or projects that will make better use of your time. Slow days are nice-but not when they happen every day.

Tell us! How do you make use of down time at work?
This article was originally published on The Daily Muse. For more ways to make the most of your time at work, check out:
Growing up just outside the nation's capitol, Sara McCord's childhood dream was to someday be the President…and a supermodel. Married to a college football coach- which requires an encyclopedic knowledge of mascots, a premium cable sports channel subscription, and the ability to move to a completely new community every couple years- she looks forward to moving to Maine in summer 2012. Sara has worked and volunteered in the public interest since graduating from Franklin & Marshall College in 2008. Catch up with her on her blog Grab A Latte (www.grabalatte.blogspot.com) or follow her on Twitter for entertainment (or similarly) nonprofit and marketing RTs @Grabalatte.
Photo courtesy of Sterling Communications.