We are used to being “too busy” – our daily lives consisting of juggling work tasks, looming deadlines, clocking out late, and then waking up to do it all over again – but somehow we manage. Somehow we manage to keep pressing on and any dreams of a ‘break in the schedule’ are pushed to the background. This is very true for many lawyers, accountants, and consultants who are on the partnership track as anything resembling ‘breathing room’ in a schedule is merely a dream – but what do you do when this work suddenly dries up?
What to do when work is quiet?
Out of the many effects that this sweeping Coronavirus pandemic has caused, one of the biggest ones that it has forced upon us all is in the working world; it has forced us all to stop. Whether work has slowed down or completely ceased, many of us are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, what it is like not being busy and as a result, not knowing what to do when work is quiet.
We all know that being ‘busy’ doesn’t always mean that we are being productive, but for the first time ever, we don’t have those distractions or ‘fires’ that need putting out every day. So what are we left with? No ‘busy work’ and in some cases, no actual work, which leads to career and financial worries and maybe even a dip in your mental wellbeing as you drift through each day not knowing what you need to do to move forward.
Now, while the pandemic has had a massive impact on everyone’s overall productivity, health, and happiness, stagnation isn’t going to move your career forward and sitting around and waiting for work to pick up is by no means the best use of your time. If we are all to make it through this period so that we come out in the strongest position possible, then we need to maximise the time that we do have now. To do this, here are 6 solid ideas for what to do when work is quiet.
1) Take the time to reflect
With many of us feeling lost and uncertain with the current state of the world, now is a really good time to take stock of what you’ve done and what you’ve achieved. Not only is self-reflection a great learning exercise to help us develop and improve ourselves, but it is also an effective tool in building ourselves up and fostering a growth mindset. We all need to pat ourselves on the back, especially now, so take advantage of work being quiet and use this time to properly analyse your performance.
Look at your past month or couple of months:
- What have you achieved?
- What did you put most of your effort in?
- Which tasks were unproductive?
- Which jobs took too much time?
- Which tasks/projects/client work did you find most rewarding?
Once you know where your strengths and weaknesses are, as well as what you are passionate about and what you don’t enjoy, you can then introduce effective change. Change that will help you to grow and improve so that you can progress along that all-important partnership track. If you’re thinking about what to do when work is quiet, take the time for some deep reflection.
2) Make a plan and create new goals
The mistake that many professionals make is thinking that because they have more time and the pressure is off, they will get more done. What ends up happening, more often than not, is the opposite. Why? Because the mindset of “I have plenty of time” tends to lead to more time being spent on unimportant tasks or distractions. This is more so the case now with so many professionals still working from home. All this time that we have can easily be spent on juggling work and family life, unimportant errands or just pointless distractions such as social media and Netflix.
We make a plan when we are busy so why should it be any different when work is quiet? Make a plan for the week and set yourself some goals. This will allow you to approach every day with a clear plan of two or three essential tasks that you need to get done to achieve your end of week goal. You can add smaller tasks to check off your to-do list too, but you need to make sure that you eat the frog and get the hardest, most valuable tasks done first thing.
You have to be more deliberate about planning than you would during a busy period, so here are some things to bear in mind:
- Think strategically about the most valuable tasks you should be doing/could do now – what high-value tasks do you usually not have time for? What will bring long term value?
- Create SMART goals.
- Plan your tasks into your week and break them down into time increments (e.g. 9 am – 12 pm most-important task, 1 pm – 3 pm small to-dos etc).
- Review at the end of each day and at the end of the week.
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3) Focus on business development activities
If you’re thinking about what to do when work is quiet, one of the best things you can do is to focus on business development. Business development is the kryptonite of many lawyers, accountants, and consultants as they know they should be doing it but they struggle to make time for it. Well, now you have the time!
Business development is crucial to progressing to partner (that’s why we’ve written so many blogs on it!), so to keep your career moving forward in this stagnant time, here are a few areas that you should be focusing on:
- Building your brand – think about how to refine your online presence and give it a new lick of paint. When it better represents your niche, build and develop your brand; get good quality and consistent content out there, engage and post on social media channels and forums, share interesting, relevant, and useful content. The more visible and proactive you are, the more your reputation builds and people will start to see you as the go-to expert.
- Networking – as face-to-face networking isn’t possible at the moment due to COVID-19, use your time to build your virtual networks. Scope out virtual networking sessions and keep up-to-date with the latest trends and developments. Make connections with new prospects and old clients; make yourself more visible in your field.
- Nurturing relationships – building rapport now paves the way for effective collaboration down the road, so focus on your relationships. You now have the time to build and foster great relationships so give clients, colleagues, and even old clients a call to check-in; thank your team for doing a great job and reach out to offer your help where possible. By using this quiet time to reconnect – in a time where this is extremely powerful as many of us need that social interaction – you are ensuring that when things get busy again, you already have the framework for effective collaboration in place.
4) Develop yourself
Self-growth is always an effective use of your time, so while you have more of it, think about how you would like to develop personally and professionally. Is there something that you’d like to do more of to enhance your happiness? Are there certain skills that you’d like to learn or develop? Are there any professional development activities that you wouldn’t normally have time for? What talents can you develop to help you achieve your goals and reach your potential?
Think about what would be incredibly valuable to learn or develop now, while you have the time, and add them into your daily routine. Self-development activities could include:
- Attending a virtual conferencing or networking group.
- Enrolling in an online course.
- Purchasing books to study a particular area.
- Growing your online presence.
- Identifying your areas of improvement and developing them.
- Challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
- Journaling and meditation to become more self-aware.
5) Get organised and get ahead
You may not have any pressing work to do right now but there are still many other things – things that you’ll need to fit in at a later date when you’re really pressed for time – that you can get on with. If you can’t think about what those things might be, break them down into two areas:
What do I need to do now to get organised later?
- Do I need to organise my physical and virtual workspace?
- Do I need to go through and organise my emails?
- Do I need to file or categorise anything physically or digitally?
- Do I need to categorise any useful resources for future reference?
- Do I need to backup any work or can I delete redundant apps and files?
- Do I need to finally update my laptop/computer?
- What else can I do now to make me more efficient when work picks up again?
What do I need to do now to get ahead when I’m busy again?
- What work am I asked to do the most? Can I prepare for any of that now?
- Can I audit my previous work to ensure it’s still current or update it?
- What can I do to simplify my workflow and improve my time-management?
- Can I make any processes more efficient? Can I implement improvements to existing projects?
- Can I outline my content, social media, and business development strategy for the next few months?
- Can I write a batch of quality articles so that I can make sure I’m posting consistently later?
- Is there an app or tool that I can trial now which will automate/streamline processes?
- Are there any courses or classes that I can take to develop my skills?
- How can I keep up to date with what’s going on in my niche? Are there any upcoming virtual conferences that I can attend?
Put simply, being proactive now keeps you from having to squeeze in these tasks and activities at other times when you feel exceptionally tight on time. As these are often things that need to be done for organisation, efficiency, and growth, use the time you have now to get ahead!
6) Prioritise self-care and recharge
Taking a break may seem like a weird piece of advice for an article on what to do when work is quiet, but trust us when we say, it’s absolutely essential. How many times have you gone back to work after a weekend or holiday feeling like you haven’t had a break at all? How many times have you worked late, not slept well, and then got up early to repeat the same day again? Lawyers, accountants, and consultants are especially guilty of overworking. Not only that, but they are guilty of overworking to the point of being less productive or to the point of burnout.
So, while you have this time, time that you’ll most likely never have again I may add, recharge your batteries fully and take time for regular self-care. This can be something as simple as making the most of the quiet and observing nature at it’s finest. It can be spending more quality time with your family or dedicating the evenings to exercising, meditating or reading. It can be about rediscovering a passion or hobby or tackling household projects that have been put on hold. It can be about doing absolutely nothing at all outside of your ‘working hours.’ Whatever self-care means to you, use this time to focus on your wellbeing. If you do this now, you’ll be full of energy, far less stressed, and ready to take on the world when you’re back to work and the busy-ness hits!
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Keep usefully busy now so you can maximise your time later
If you’re wondering what to do when work is quiet, focus on making the most of the time that you have now to get ahead later. When things pick back up, you’ll soon be rushed off your feet and pressured again with work so think about those tasks that you want or need to do, the ones that will only add more stress to fit in when you’re busy.
With the current pandemic still causing a lot of havoc globally, it can be tempting to succumb to the negativity of it all and to become quite sluggish with work, but all that is doing is making it more difficult for you when things pick back up. If you overcome this by managing your time in an intentional way, by thinking more strategically and less tactically, and maximising your output while you’re quiet, your future self will thank you for it!