10 Things To Do When You Have Nothing To Do

By | Jan 19, 2009

Creative Commons License photo credit: sunshinecity

One piece of advice that I give to every up-and-coming administrative assistant is this: NEVER SIT IDLE!  If you have nothing to do, then go out and find something to do.  Occasionally, though, you do find yourself temporarily at loose ends, so here’s a list of 10 things to do when you have nothing to do.

1.  Clean up/Reorganize your desk

Go through your whole desk.  Clean out the inevitable junk drawer, move things around to make them more accessible, toss out old pens that don’t write, clean your keyboard, monitor and phone (in my experience these always need cleaning), move your deskpad and clean under it, clean the crumbs and dust from your keyboard tray.  In other words, just give everything a good sprucing up and make everything nice and organized. If you have a little time after that you can go on Instagram and get Instagram video views to have more fans.

2. Review Your Files

Go through and review all of your files.  Start with your working files.  Make sure everything is current and appropriately labeled.  Make sure no labels are falling off and need to be replaced.  Move any no longer current files to your reference/history files.  When you’re done, do the same thing for your main files, moving older items to archives.  If you haven’t already done so, type up a file structure for handy reference for when you’re looking for a file but can’t remember where you filed it (that’s saved my buns a time or two).

3. Read Through Your Contacts

Whether you keep them hard copy in a Rolodex or electronically in a program like MS Outlook, you should periodically review your contacts and update the information.  I’m not just talking about phone number and address, but also little details you learn over time like the assistant’s name and number (vital information), spouse and childrens’ names, likes and dislikes.  Also any negatives that you might need to know about next time they visit or call, like we had a major glitch on their account last year and really, really want to keep them happy.  These are the kinds of details that help cement relationships and make clients feel appreciated.

4. Review Your Desk Reference/Procedures Manual

Go through your Desk Reference/ Procedures Manual and look for items that need updating or adding.  Have you taken on a new duty that you don’t have documented? Have some of your duties changed? Take time to update your desk manual so anyone coming in behind you knows how things are done.

What do you mean you don’t have a Desk Reference Manual?  Well, this is the perfect time to make one, isn’t it?

5. Organize Office Supplies

It’s been my experience that it doesn’t matter how often you organize your office supplies, they always need straightening again.  I don’t know what it is, but when people get into the office supply cabinet, they are like little kids, just scattering things too and fro.  Straightening up the office supply cabinet is always good for a few minutes work when you’re at loose ends, and people actually do notice and appreciate when the supply cabinet is user friendly.

6. Set up Recurring Tasks

Go into MS Outlook and set up recurring tasks for all of your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly duties.  That way, when days are crazy, it’s easy to remember tasks that might otherwise slip your mind.  I have reminders set up for little things like remembering to lock my file cabinets when I leave, as well as big things like running year end reports.  While I don’t need the reminders every day for some tasks, it’s nice to have them there on those infrequent days that I do forget them.

7. Review Your Office Equipment

Is some of your office equipment aging?  Spend some time looking at and pricing alternatives so when you do need to replace some of your equipment, you can do so quickly and easily.

8. Redesign Reports

Are there some regular reports that you look at and think could be done better, but you just never had the time?  Well, now you do.  Go in and redesign some of those reports that have good information but are ugly to look at or the ones that have good information but could have better.  I always like to keep a list of little projects like this to have around for when times are slower.

9. Enter Business Cards into Contacts

Enter that huge stack of business cards your boss is hoarding into his Contacts list in Outlook.  If you have a business card scanner, that makes it even easier.

10. Brush Up On Your Software Skills

These days the amount of software skill a good administrative assistant is expected to know is mind boggling.  Use your down time to increase your skill with existing software, or even expand your skills with new software.

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Remember, nothing looks worse for an Administrative Assistant or other office professional than to be seen sitting idle.  Regardless of how much work you do, trust me, what they’ll remember at review time was the one time they saw you sitting with nothing to do.

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18 Comments so far
  1. Nicholas | Pixobyte.com (2 comments) January 24, 2009 4:10 am

    Wow, thanks for the cool tips, I am Free most of the time.. sitting plain all the time 🙂

  2. Prasanna (1 comments) January 24, 2009 10:47 pm

    Its very rare for me to be in the ‘have nothing to do’ state. But, inspite having work, If I go out of mood, I start reading others blogs & share my thoughts with them.

  3. Nhil / Call Center Gal (1 comments) January 26, 2009 7:53 am

    That’s true. When I worked as an F&A secretary, the most challenging time is when your boss is out, no one’s calling you on the phone and you’re (practically) done with all the tasks. I do most of the things you included here, and indeed it gives them an impression that you want to do ‘the extra mile’ to do your best at work. 🙂

  4. Jodith (189 comments) February 2, 2009 9:14 am

    I used to work for a boss that traveled extensively, and that’s when I came up with most of these ideas, especially the contacts update. He’d come back from a trip with piles of business cards, and I’d use the time on his next trip to get them all into his contacts and properly categorized, no to mention using the time to organize his files (physical and electronic) while he was out of my hair.

  5. Excel Help (1 comments) April 7, 2009 7:47 am

    I know what you mean by this list, I too sat at in a cubicle all day and thought about what the heck to do sometimes. Here’s a tip, carry a clipboard or folder around and you will always look busy.

  6. dvd storage cabinet (2 comments) September 10, 2009 2:37 am

    For tips on cleaning up your desk and have an organised minimalist workspace look at http://zenhabits.net/. It’s a great site.

  7. dvd storage furniture (1 comments) October 31, 2009 9:24 pm

    I love it! I always thought I was the only one that went nuts about making sure my contact data was always up to date and desk organization was up to snuff. I know a lot of people that struggle with this, so hopefully this blog falls into more people’s laps and I won’t feel like the only person with a totally neat desk. Some people don’t even keep theirs what I would consider sanitary, let alone organized.

  8. used purses (1 comments) December 26, 2009 10:27 am

    These are some very useful tips for anyone looking to improve their use of time. Some of them even are relatible to the everyday joe who isn’t an assistant of some sort. I mean who doesn’t need to clean out the junk drawer every once in a while.

  9. Roofing Materials (1 comments) December 29, 2009 7:53 pm

    Awesome article. It’s funny at times that people complain to be jobless but they have so much things they can do around them. And most of the time they are procrastinating and trying to be jobless.

  10. Jodith (189 comments) December 30, 2009 11:27 am

    *scratches head in confusion* If you’re talking about being unemployed, well that’s something different entirely. But if you’re talking about being employed but not having something to work on while at work, then you’ve pegged it exactly. If you look hard enough, you can always find something to fill your time at work that keeps you busy and benefits the office.

  11. Instyler (1 comments) April 1, 2010 6:17 am

    imho the first thing you do when everything is done is clean up your work area. Make sure everything is in order. Typically the longer I am into a task the more disorganized my work area becomes. When I’m done then its time to clean up and get prepared for the next task. I agree that its important to constantly keep upgrading your skills. For an admin assistant that can be as simple as doing a search on google for excel add ons and grabbing a tool that automates daily routines.
    .-= Instyler´s last blog ..Straightening and Styling Curly Hair With Instyler =-.

  12. Jodith (189 comments) April 5, 2010 9:40 am

    I’m the same, Instyler. If I’m working on one thing for a while, then everything I get interrupted with sits on my desk until I’m done and can organize it again.

  13. cleaning services mississauaga (1 comments) April 7, 2010 12:18 pm

    Great article.

    Yeah theres ALWAYS something else we could be doing to organize ect.
    I just got a new office chair for my workstation and it has improved my workflow a lot. Now I can sit for longer periods of time and get more work done AND my back doesnt hurt!
    .-= cleaning services mississauaga´s last blog ..Online Cleaning Quotes, Why Get Them? =-.

  14. Office Supplies (3 comments) April 20, 2010 2:43 am

    This is really great, useful advice. I have recently started a new job and obviously I want to make the best impression that I can. These tips will ensure that I always appear busy, whether

  15. Warburton's, INC (1 comments) September 28, 2010 12:00 pm

    Another thing you can try is planning your day and putting down what you’re going to do when for the rest of the week/month/year depending on your free time.

  16. Janice (1 comments) October 7, 2010 4:02 am

    I always thought I was the only one that went nuts about making sure my contact data was always up to date and desk organization was up to snuff. I agree that its important to constantly keep upgrading your skills. Thank you for your article it well helps a lot for me.

  17. ellus (1 comments) November 14, 2010 9:22 am

    letting things get too messy can cause less production. nice points

  18. Nimo (2 comments) January 11, 2011 9:59 am

    I would ususally find some site providing word/exce/powerpoint training and tips and try them .. my company has online trainings and I recently found out they have a few for Admins too 🙂
    or I would browse our office intranet and see whats new… fortunately I work in a big firm and each day we have lots of updates on intranet.

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