Long hours in a Big 4 and other large firms are often seen as the norm. But what happens if you find yourself on the bench and scratching around for something to do? In this blog post I share an exclusive extract from the 2nd edition of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ (Click here for a free sample chapter) to help keep yourself constructively busy and motivated when work is light.
How to keep yourself constructively busy and motivated when work is light
If you ask any professional what they want from their work, they will probably talk about these three things:
- interesting and mentally stretching work;
- interesting clients;
- regular career progression.
This means that when there is less work, or even no work around, it can become very demotivating. There are always times when work is light on the ground; that’s the nature of any business which sells its time for money. In particular, deal-led departments such as corporate finance, will often oscillate between times of intense work and ‘downtimes’ between deals. In fact, when there is less work available many professionals stop delegating work downwards because they hate the thought of having nothing to do. Also, your partner may be poor at delegating work down because they are more concerned about meeting their own targets. This actually compounds the problem because the busier they are doing client work, the less time they have to spend on finding and bringing new client work into the department. These slow times at first are a joy as they give you time to recover from what’s gone before. They also allow you to get stuck into those lists of things that you have promised you would do when the workload dips, ie your ‘will do’ lists. However, if this downtime stretches on and on, it can start to be demotivating and concerning for everyone in the department – particularly if in your role you have little influence on the flow of work into the department. Heather used to be involved in organizing a fast-track management programme for newly qualifieds. As part of this programme, Heather worked with the participants as they moved between assignments. She remembers that the participants always found it hard to start in the deal-led environments. They always had a period of ‘bedding in’ while they waited for a new piece of work to come into the department and to be assigned to that project team. Some participants found it easy to deal with this bedding-in time, while others really struggled. What can you do to keep yourself positively busy when work is thin on the ground? One of the best ways to keep motivated is to do meaningful activities. For example, you can build up a ‘will do’ list of activities for you to do when work gets light. This means that when you are faced with a ‘light’ day, then you can refer to this list and meaningfully fill your time until the client work picks up again. Ideally the items on this list should align with things in your career action plan. Your ‘will do’ list will typically have four different kinds of meaningful activity:
- invest in relationships and your profile;
- invest in your (and others’) professional development;
- marketing and business development activities, eg research.