In a nutshell: Take advantage of slowdowns to be more productive and prepared for the busy times ahead.

If there is one issue that seems to separate the most successful people in business from everyone else, it’s how they use their time.

Where many focus on working harder, they work smarter. And, when they encounter some downtime at work, they seize the opportunity to apply some creative, intelligent thinking.

In every job across all industries, there comes a time when employees find themselves with time on their hands. Business gets slow or there are pockets of time between completed projects. Those with experience in a job – or running their own business – eventually can anticipate these times will arise.

Everyone eventually gets downtime. It’s what they do with it that’s important.

The following are some ideas for ways to spend downtime that make the most of not having to focus completely on work eight hours (or more) a day.

Organize Your Thoughts

People are bombarded by more information today than ever. It can be a good thing in some ways. It also can lead to feeling overwhelmed and becoming unproductive. That’s natural, according to Mike Byster, author of “The Power of Forgetting.” Developing a method to eliminate unneeded thoughts and block out unwanted information can clear a person’s mind to focus on what’s important to them.

Byster suggests exercises such as focusing on facts, rather than getting immersed in details, and chunking out larger issues into small groups of four to eight things to remember them better. Other methods include writing things down on sticky notes or index cards, which can unclutter the thoughts swirling in your mind.

Another helpful tip is to engage in some routine activity that you can do without thinking. Or simply try meditating. This allows the brain to sort out issues while you give it a rest from actively solving immediate challenges.

Plan Ahead

Making a plan to map out future work is often the difference between success and failure. The act of writing things down on a calendar makes it somehow more real — and manageable. Here are other ways planning helps.

  • Relaxation: Work can be a constant source of anxiety for some people, particularly if they are unprepared for what is coming next. Having a written plan can reduce stress and allow you the freedom to simply focus on the next task ahead.
  • Keeps You Honest: If you write down that you will complete a project by Friday, Jan. 26, you are more likely to keep your promise and do it by then.
  • Preparation: Some argue that having a plan is not useful because things change so often. Not true. When the inevitable change does occur, it’s easier to incorporate into a written plan rather than having to fly by the seat of your pants.

As an aside, this works in your personal life, as well.


Work can be stressful, especially if you’re in the middle of a large project. But once that project is done, it’s time to let your batteries recharge. Taking the quiet time mentioned above is a good idea. So is engaging in an activity you enjoy, whether it’s hiking, biking or simply reading a book.

Exercise is key, as well. Much like when you work on a routine task, exercise gives your mind the chance to sort things out. It’s also great for your long-term health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devote an entire section of the site to exercise — even for those who currently do not exercise at all.

Update Accomplishments

Downtime also is a great time to update your resume with the latest accomplishments. Even if you are not looking for a new job anytime in the future, having an updated list of what you have done is useful for when you go into your annual review.

If you wait until just before your review, you will scramble to put together a list and likely leave off important accomplishments. It’s better to take part of your downtime to catch up on all the latest projects you’ve completed or ways you have improved the company’s product, services and bottom line.

These represent just some of the ways to make the most of downtime. It’s a gift to have the extra time here and there. Use it wisely and it can help not only your career, but your mind and body as well.

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