What To Do When the Office is Empty

Ninety-five percent of American workers say that taking their paid time off is important to them. And with 27 percent of companies upholding a “use-it-or-lose-it” vacation policy, many offices clear out progressively as year-end approaches.

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If you’re not actively covering for another employee, but still scheduled to work, you may find some extra time in your schedule and fewer colleagues with whom to interact on days like these. Although it can feel a little isolating to be at your desk while others are off, there are ways to make the situation satisfying while setting the stage for future success. Here are some recommendations.

ZERO IN ON A SPECIFIC TASK

Take advantage of a workday free from rapid-fire conference calls, email threads and unexpected requests, and simply concentrate on one selected project. “Our brains were designed to focus all resources on one task at a time,” says business coach Margaret Moore. She adds that narrowing attention on a single assignment improves memory function, reduces mistakes and enhances productivity.

DOCUMENT WHAT YOU’VE DONE

Day-to-day responsibilities generally prevent workers from tracking their own accomplishments. A seasonal lull is great time to tally up and record your successes.

Career advisor Mark Strong notes that saving these details will be particularly useful in preparing for upcoming performance reviews. But more importantly, he explains, “This list is invaluable when a position opens up in your company that you want or a promotion becomes available. Always be ready.”

DEEPEN YOUR KNOWLEDGE BASE

Many professions encourage or require continuing education (CE) to stay current with industry regulations and best practices. What better time to complete online CE modules than when you won’t be interrupted? If your learning objectives are less formal, take the opportunity to watch online tutorials, listen to podcasts or read influential blogs of interest to your job.

TIDY UP YOUR WORKSPACE

Envious of a co-worker who always keeps an uncluttered desk? You could do the same. Organization is a learned skill, according to efficiency consultant Andrew Jensen. You’ll benefit from being able to quickly locate important information, and you’ll also get a psychological lift. “Because cleanliness and organization are mood boosters at their core, they help to encourage [calmness], promote concentration and foster motivation,” observes Jensen. “Motivation, in turn, is a direct precursor of productivity.”

AMPLIFY NOTES

Notes from meetings or conferences help preserve key points, but they can lose context over time. Use a slow period in the office to re-read notes about important events and projects. Then create action steps from relevant information, suggests time management consultant Rashelle Isip. If you’ve recorded interviews, conversations or presentations, transcribe the audio capture into text files for future reference.

LET YOUR THOUGHTS FLOW

A quiet day at the office may be just the right time for a bit of contemplation. Brain science researcher Josh Davis, PhD, says “mind-wandering” can be a useful tool for workers. Staring out a window for a few minutes — something you might not do during a normal workday — encourages “creative incubation,” according to Davis, which means that you’re more likely to come up with an innovative idea than through your regular routine.

Find more helpful tips on job success and career advancement here.

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