You've been working hard most of the day, but now there's a lull in the action.
Maybe you're waiting for a call in five minutes or a presentation in a half hour. The bottom line: You've got nothing to do.
So. . . what do you do?
First off: Remember that it's okay you have nothing to do. Obviously you can't be working for eight hours straight—and, in fact, maybe you shouldn't even try.
Of course, your first instinct is to while away the time on the Internet looking at pictures of cats and silly videos, but there are better things to do and you know it.
Here's a handy set of productive suggestions to spend your time wisely, no matter how much downtime you have.
True, it's isn't that much time. So you're going to do something simple. Take the opportunity to unplug, take that stationery out of your desk (if you don't have it now, you will after this article), and compose a handwritten letter to a family member or write an entry in your journal.
Or, of course, if you can't find that stationery because you work in a pile of papers, take five minutes (let's hope it's enough) to organize your desk and get your workspace in tip-top shape. Because clutter cramps productivity.
Now we're getting somewhere. Fifteen minutes doesn't sound like a lot of time, but it is—you're just not thinking about it the right way. So start a good habit, and clear out your calendar and send some emails.
Or, if you've already done that, go for a walk around the block (it doesn't have to be a meeting). Get some fresh air, recharge your batteries, and realize that, yes, there is life outside the office.
Learn a fresh perspective by watching a TED talk. Each video is just 18 minutes long (that means you have even more time for activities). At a minimum, you'll have an interesting conversation topic for the rest of the day. At a maximum, you'll have a career-changing epiphany.
As John Coates notes in The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, the amount of exercise you get predicts the amount of emotional discomfort you can handle. So that's another reason we all need to work out—luckily it only takes seven minutes.
An hour is a good chunk of time, so you're going to put it to excellent use. You're going to do something constructive, and learn. Start a free course at MIT, Harvard or Stanford on anything from literature to engineering; or head over to Duolingo and learn a new language. Khan Academy also offers free courses on just about everything in one easy-to-use portal.
If that seems like a bit too much, take the opportunity to make your office more fun! It might not be work in the conventional sense, but a self-led effort to boost office culture will make you the most popular person in the workplace and (you guessed it) will be really fun.
Two quick suggestions:
Decorate the office.
What's that, not everybody like white walls, white ceilings, and soulless lighting?
Just because it's an office doesn't mean it has to be an office. When you spend such a significant amount of time in one space, it's important that it reflects not only the culture of the company, but the people who make it run.
At Fast Company all of our conference rooms are Monopoly themed ("Meet me at Jail for a meeting!"), and the rest of our office features murals to keep us inspired. Whatever you choose to do, don't be afraid to have a laugh!
After all, humor inspires creativity.
Play a game!
Obviously, you need to be respectful with this one. But if the time is right, bring out that karaoke machine that you've been hiding under your desk for months and blow off some steam with your coworkers.
Or, if quieter is better (which it often is), keep a pack of cards in your desk, or whip up your own fun version of Jeopardy.
If nothing else, this will force you to talk with your colleagues—and that's actually a good thing.
[Image: Flickr user Suzanne LaGasa]