Effective Use of Down Time

Posted on August 13, 2010

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When pushing toward a deadline, I often overhear colleagues relate that ‘when things slow down, I would really need to work on [blank]’. For many that time is now, has been now, and might even be now for some time.

Down time is not so great for automatons and project animals whose projects have slowed or gone on hiatus for various reasons. But for self-starters and strategic thinkers, down time is a great time for improvement.

Here are some ways I have invested my down time which might help you:

1) Office Standards. Work on creating a knowledge library of standard details, design guidelines and other in-house projects. Inevitably it involves research I never get usually have time to do.
2) Cataloging. Taking time to de-clutter a desk often renders neat piles, but what to do with those piles? I try to file in notebooks and group data in places that will be easy for me to reach when I am really pressed for time in the future.
3) Revise Processes. The lean or six sigma initiative or BIM companion software that was always on your ‘to do’ list now have some time for planning and most importantly, implementation. I find it is much less painful to make a clean cut and start something new when you have time to fix unexpected hiccups.
4) Networking and Business Development. All those lunches you promised to set up, the golf outings, the visits to former colleagues you have not seen in longer than you like to admit…now you should do them. Even better if you have favors to call in.
5) Community Involvement / Volunteering.  No excuse is good enough for not sharing your expertise with your community when you have time. Or volunteer for something totally unrelated to your day job for a new challenge. I like to stay present when my free time is cheap, to allow flexibility when it is at a premium.
6) Strategic Planning. The business plan aspects for next year that always get short shrift can get some added and critical attention this quarter.
7) Vacation. Why not take a vacation without the stress of ‘how buried will I be when I come back’? Truly relax, truly recharge.
8) Read or Write. Brochures, articles, conference papers on perpetual postponement can be dusted off, and even backed up by more accurate data. Dig into your book list or magazines and reading recommendations from others.
9) Kick Old Habits; Start New Ones. Whether instituting an early morning power walk / gym visit or simply eating your lunch somewhere other than your desk, self-assess and figure out where the work resolutions you made to yourself have been broken—then fix them.
10) New Initiatives. More intense sustainable design, social networking, a website extreme makeover, research industry technical data—the options are endless. Think about your home project list, and then translate it to the office.

Much like any project when money is tight, the idea is to leverage time for maximum effect so little capital is used when the kitty is sparse—to invest in work that can save money in the future.

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