What to Do When You Have Nothing to Do
There’s definitely a sweet spot in terms of the amount of work you do. Ideally, you have enough work to keep you busy, enough variety to keep you interested, and enough time to do quality work, without sacrificing your personal life to meet deadlines.
But for most people, there are times when work slows down. At first it’s nice to have a break for a few days after being incredibly busy. You catch up on emails, read articles that you’ve been meaning to look at, file expense reports, clean up the piles of paper on your desk, and other administrative things. However, too many days with nothing to do can be unnerving. At first, you may begin to feel restless and bored. The days crawl by. After a few more days, you may begin to question your worth and feel guilty about having nothing to do.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are a number of things to keep you busy when things slow down at work. These things will make you feel useful and give you a sense of purpose, will make your employer think that you’re doing something useful, and will help your career.
Learn something new
Especially in the field of technology, you never stop learning. No matter how experienced you are, there’s always something new to learn. It’s important to keep your knowledge up to date with new developments in your field. That’s hard to do when you’re busy. So down times are the perfect time to catch up on your learning. This can take several forms:
- Read articles in professional journals, online magazines, blogs, and other Web sources. If you follow the right people, Twitter is a great source of links to the most interesting and relevant user experience articles.
- Research other user experience methods, technologies, and processes you can use. Look into new research and design tools.
- Catch up on the latest user experience books. If you haven’t looked at what’s out there in a while, you’ll be surprised by the number of new books. Look on Amazon or publishers’ sites, like Rosenfeld Media. But be careful not to read a book at work. That makes it a little too obvious that you’re not doing real work.
- Attend professional training.
- Do Web-based training through an online source such as Lynda.com.
- Look into conferences that you might want to attend, and use this time to write up a justification of the benefits of attending to convince your company to pay for it.
- Conduct your own research study in an area that interests you.
Share your knowledge
A lot of people overlook the fact that they have a lot of knowledge and experiences to share with others. When you’re not busy, it’s a great time to reflect back on your work and write down your insights and experiences from your recent projects. Many of us don’t do this because we think we don’t have anything interesting to say that hasn’t already been said before. But if you sit down and brainstorm, you’ll be surprised how much you have to contribute. Some ways to share your knowledge with others are:
- Write a blog.
- Write articles for online magazines such as UXmatters, Johnny Holland, Boxes and Arrows, etc.
- Write articles for professional journals or association magazines.
- Prepare a paper, presentation, panel, tutorial, or workshop for a conference.
- Present at a local professional association meeting like CHI or UPA local chapters.
- Present to an internal group within your company.
Work for yourself
When you’re not working on other people’s stuff, work for yourself. Most of the learning and sharing activities I listed above will boost your career, but here are a few additional things you can do. Be careful about doing these things at work, however.
- Document the work you’ve done by working on your portfolio, preparing case studies (for your company or for yourself), and created scrubbed work samples to remove client confidential material.
- Manage your Twitter profile: look into additional people to follow, look through the list of people you currently follow and determine if there are some less useful people you should remove, and do some tweeting yourself.
- Review your LinkedIn profile and update it. If you haven’t looked at LinkedIn in a while, there are many new features you can add to your profile. See if there are more people you should connect with. Write recommendations for people you think really deserve it.
- Look into other professional associations you can join and local events you can attend. If you’re really ambitious, you can look into ways to volunteer in local and national associations, such as organizing and helping run events.
These things can keep you busy, make you feel useful, and are a good way to keep your skills sharp and advance your career during what could otherwise be a boring and painfully slow period. When the work eventually picks up again, you’ll be glad that you used you free time wisely.