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Staying Productive During Downtimes By: Nicole Bridge

Welcome to the second half of 2018! Even if the beginning of the year flew by at record speed, you might be experiencing an August slowdown. Many colleagues are soaking up the last of their summer vacations leaving roomier calendars, fewer emails and quieter phones.  While the break is nice, it can also be disorienting. Some of us find it easier to plan the workday when a busy schedule is impacting our priorities and pushing us to stay moving. This month we will share some strategies for staying focused and using the downtime to get yourself organized for the remainder of the year.

Nurture Your Professional Network

Whether you are looking for a promotion or hoping to grow in your current position, a strong network is the best bet for increasing visibility and staying high in the mind of organizational leaders. In a recent article on effective networking, Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2018/01/09/how-to-network-more-effectively/#790f0d253f56) noted how important it is to touch base with your contacts throughout the year and not just when you need something. Use the office downtime to nurture and grow your professional network. Log into LinkedIn to update your resume and add detailed descriptions in the profile section. Using clear and precise verbiage will ensure that your name turns up in more searches. Share examples of your work, committees you have participated in or projects you have completed. Take some time to touch base with your current contacts, reaching out to comment on and share the articles they post or simply like their activity and send congratulations for work anniversaries and promotions. 

Check for any upcoming internal events that might present an opportunity to meet others such as trainings, speakers, and volunteer initiatives. Ask a friend to join. Has anyone you know recently been promoted? Send them a congratulatory note and invite them to grab coffee one day. Ask your supervisor if you can pick their brain about what you can do to increase visibility in your organization. Perhaps they can recommend projects for you to get involved in this month when your workload is light.

Catch Up on Industry News

When you are deep in the trenches, it can be hard to stay up to speed on industry-wide happenings. Take some time to read industry-related news, relevant discussion boards, or search for industry experts to follow on social media. Check for relevant podcasts that you can listen to on your morning commute. Chat with your colleagues (if their workload is slow too) to swap tidbits and hear about the things they learned. Getting a handle on the big picture will help you better understand your own organization’s mission and goals and ensure that you can speak knowledgeably about the importance of your own work.

Visit with Your Supervisor

Take a walk around the office and pop in to visit your supervisor. Remember, you don’t always have to have a specific reason to reach out to your boss. Stopping in to ask them questions about their job and how they came to their position are excellent ways to focus your own professional goals and stay on their radar.  You might even revisit your development goals and competencies for the year to see how you are progressing and ask whether they have recommendations for additional projects that might help you achieve each milestone before your end-of-year review:

Tidy Up Your Inbox

Does the site of your Outlook account fill you with dread? A messy inbox is stressful to the eye and makes it tough to locate what you need when you need it. Here are some quick tips for cleaning out your inbox and setting up a system to keep things orderly moving forward:

Unsubscribe to promotional emails. Look for the unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email. The sender might lead you through a couple of questions before officially taking you off their list, but it will only take a minute and having one less email to delete every day will be worth it in the end.

Set up folders relevant to your workload. If you are working directly with clients, consider organizing your folders by name or company title. If your workload is project-based, you might consider folders that reflect time sensitivity such as "Today”, "This Week”, and "This Month”.

Archive old emails. Platforms such as Outlook and Gmail have simple functions that allow you to archive folders once you no longer need them for your daily processes. Clean each folder before making them historical, taking out any junk and repeat emails. You might consider also placing critical correspondence on your organizational server- especially if it helps future project leaders better understand the tone of the relationships on the projects so that you can avoid repeating any mistakes.

Give Your Computer Some Attention Too

Is your desktop also looking messy and your computer moving slowly? Try these simple tricks to clean it up and get it running like new:

Move files into folders. Sometimes we save files directly to our desktops because it will be easier to find them later. The trouble is, it requires a lot of memory for your computer to pull those items into view each time you turn on the machine. Moving them into folders gives your computer a break and keeps it moving quickly.

Organize your desktop. Delete shortcuts that you no longer use and only use the shortcut feature for locations you visit frequently. Move app shortcuts to your start menu by right-clicking the app icon and selecting "pin to start.” Delete any unused screenshots. If you are using your desktop to store a few files, collect them into a single folder. Once you’ve finished, arrange any remaining icons so that they are pleasing to the eye. To do so, right-click on the desktop and you’ll get a few options such as "auto arrange icons” and "align icons to grid.”

Enjoy the relaxing speed but don’t completely space out. This is your time to take a deep breath and get organized for the rest of the year.

Ask a Mentor

Your mentor has certainly experienced the ups and downs of workflow and schedules. Ask them for any strategies that they may have to make the most of downtimes. Here are a few questions to get you started

Do you ever experience a lull in your workload?  If so, what time of year?

How do you stay productive during downtimes?

Do you participate in any valuable networking events?

What are your favorite trade journals or sites for industry news?

What filing system do you use for your emails?

How do you archive old files?

Do you ever talk to your supervisor about your goals before your annual review?

How do you evaluate your progress against core competencies throughout the year?