If you work a desk job like I do, it’s only a matter of time before you’re going to be tempted to surf the web and relax during your less pressing times. Maybe things are slow, you’re so overwhelmed you don’t know where to begin, or you look around you to see that your co-workers are taking it easy, so you don’t feel you should bother. But, I would argue your productivity and the long-term success of your career are dependent on how you use your so-called “down time” at work.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take periodic breaks between blocks of work. I’m a firm believer in taking some time throughout the day to get up from your desk, walk around, and enjoy some time to yourself between tasks (if the nature of your work allows it). I think this helps improve productivity, as our brains need rest from mental exertion just as much as our bodies do from physical stress.
However, be careful that your breaks aren’t crowding out your best time, because in the end, you’re not gypping your employer, you’re gypping yourself of increased competency and skill, which translates to money. You won’t enjoy that time you’re wasting because it will catch up with you in the form of mediocre performance reviews or stagnation in your current role.
What if you spent the last hour of your work day studying a skill at which you’re less proficient than you’d like to be? Maybe you spend an hour organizing your plans for the week or brainstorming ideas for improving your day-to-day workflow, making you more efficient at what you do. Personally, I like to spend the slower times in my work day studying a new programming language or reading up on a technical concept I’m not familiar with.
The reality is that wasting time at work is extremely unsatisfying. You’ll feel guilty for doing it, you’ll stress about trying to hide what you’re doing or worry about finding excuses for not being as productive as you know you could be. Why put yourself through all this when you could benefit yourself so much more by improving yourself professionally? You’ll feel better about yourself as you work with integrity. More than likely, you’ll also find yourself naturally progressing in your career as a byproduct, since your boss and co-workers will notice. That’s a win-win!