65 (productive) things to do when you’re bored at work

You could harness that boredom to do something actually productive—like an activity that will dramatically improve your professional standing and career.

Look, feeling burnt out at the office sometimes is reality.

And often, feeling bored at work is OK, actually. But then there are the days when you’re looking at the clock, and 2:42 PM is staring back at you. 2:42 PM and you’re already finished your to-do list and you’re staring at your chipped nail polish, considering whether to spend the next 12 minutes picking it off.

You could spend the afternoon doing that. Or you could harness that boredom to do something actually productive—like an activity that will dramatically improve your professional standing and career. Something challenging. Something maybe (dare we say it?) a little fun. You with us? Great. Here are 65 options that will fill your time and improve your career.

What to do when you’re bored at work: Email edition

1. Go through your spam folder.

Seriously, when was the last time you did that?

2. Unsubscribe from 10 newsletters.

You’ve gotten used to ignoring them, right? Well, now’s the time.

3. Subscribe to a new industry-focused and/or women-focused newsletter.

You know when you clean out your closet to sell your clothes, and you get to treat yourself to a new item with the money you make? Do the same here. Pick a newsletter that you’ll actually open, either specific to your industry or women-focused. We love Ann Friedman’s newsletter and the New York Times’ Gender Letter.

4. Try a new email productivity method.

If you haven’t deep-dived into inbox zero before, well, now’s the time. You’ve clearly got time to kill. There’s also David Allen’s “two-minute” rule. Last but not least, there’s our personal favorite, Inbox by Gmail, which turns your inbox into one big, magical to-do list.

5. Write to a professional contact to suggest a coffee.

Maybe it’s your old boss or one of your current colleagues who you’d like to get to know more. Regardless, shoot them an email and ask if they want to grab lunch or a coffee next week.

6. Update your email signature.

No, really—when was the last time you looked at it? Is it even accurate? Could it be more pleasing?

7. Check in with your network.

Shoot a quick email to a few old colleagues you haven’t spoken a while a while. Just ask them how everything’s going. The point is: small hellos keep your network from getting cold.

8. Make a “to read” folder in your inbox.

You know those newsletters in your inbox that you want to read, but they’re too long to read right now? Set up this folder now to throw them all into. The next time you’re bored at work, you can open them up.

9. Make a “to do someday” folder in your inbox.

You know those tasks you have that are constantly on the back burner? Put those in their own folder as well, so you can refer back to them for inspiration down the line. Think: email courses on content marketing or SEO.

10. Write an email to your boss letting her know you want to discuss some new responsibilities.

Look, if you’re this bored, is there something new you could be learning or doing? Spend some time thinking today about what new projects you’d like to tackle at work to grow your career, then write to your boss to get on her calendar to discuss.

What to do when you’re bored at work: The great laptop cleanup

11. Clean. Up. Your. Desktop.

You know, the place where screenshots go to die. Make it sparkle.

12. Run all those updates.

Yep, the ones you’ve been clicking “remind me tomorrow” on for two years.

13. Organize your files.

The way your folders are set up right now probably leave something to be desired. Come up with a logical structure and clean it alllll up.

14. Or consider moving your files to Dropbox.

Or whatever cloud service you prefer (although we really, really like Dropbox). It will save your computer bandwidth, and it makes it easier to access your stuff from anywhere, including your phone when you’re stuck in traffic and realize that your boss needs that Excel file, like, right now. (…Speaking for a friend.)

15. Delete anything personal from your work computer.

Look, these things happen, but it’s just good manners. Delete any downloaded photos, notes, or emails.

16. Update your passwords.

Yep, the ones you’ve had since high school.

17. Actually clean your laptop.

Keyboard, screen, the whole shebang. We’ll wait.

18. Then give it a hard reboot.

If you somehow miraculously didn’t have to restart your computer when updating your programs, give it a restart now. We all deserve a little downtime.

What to do when you’re bored at work: The office makeover

19. Clean off your desk.

Don’t just shuffle everything around. Take everything off of it, pull out the spray cleaner and give the whole thing a nice wipe down. Looks nice, right? Which brings us to our next point:

20. Commit to a new habit: cleaning up your desk every night before you leave.

Seriously, it changes everything when you get to arrive to a perfectly organized desk each morning.

21. Organize your desk drawers.

Yes, all of them. And throw all those rogue Post-It note wrappers and half-used utensil packs away.

22. Now that you know what’s in there, make a list of what you need.

How long have you been using that crappy pen because it’s the only one you have? How often have you been starving at your desk and made bad vending machine choices? Make a list of office supplies, snacks, whatever that you’d like to have. Then go shopping for them this weekend.

23. And a list of what you want.

A desk plant? (Fun fact: they make you more productive.) Maybe a vision board on your wall? A calendar, planner, or whiteboard? What are some ways you could make this space more useful? You’re less likely to feel bored at work if you have plenty of stuff to inspire.

What to do when you’re bored at work: Self-improvement tactics

24. Find some great books to inspire your career.

We’ve beyond got you on this. Consider our lists of the best self-help books for people who hate self-help books, the best books by women of color, the best leadership books for women, the best workplace fiction, and last but not least, books to help you get your finances in order(finally).

25. Watch some career-inspiring TED talks.

26. Better yet, subscribe to some career-inspiring YouTube channels.

The best ones are updated every week, which means the next time you’re bored at the office, you can head straight there. First up: Career Contessa’s YouTube, duh. Then try our list of binge-worthy channels.

27. Write some SMART goals for your career and life.

We love SMART goals because they help you break down the big picture into smaller, more manageable parts—the ideal way to make the most of a slow period at work.

28. And then, write an intimidation list.

Sometimes, facing your fears starts with actually acknowledging them. Hence why you should try your own intimidation list.

29. Subscribe to a new podcast.

When was the last time you tried a new one? Because we’ve got the perfect career advice podcast for you. These women-run podcasts are great, too. And here’s a list of our readers’ favorites, just in case you haven’t had enough.

30. Download a professional networking app.

Networking is hard, especially if you’re an introvert. The beauty of technology is that there are now tons of networking apps out there. We like Bumble Bizz and Vina.

31. Or research a networking opportunity.

It’s one of the best things you can do to meet new professional contacts, but it will also help you get better at delivering your personal pitch and speaking to strangers. All good things for self-improvement. Try Meetup or read this article on the five types of networking events you need (there’s a list of where to find them at the end, too). Or throw your own networking party.

What to do when you’re bored at work: Skills-building

32. Do some research into conferences or professional development opportunities.

If your office offers support for conferences or courses, now’s a good time to research what your next choice will be. If not, it’s still worth researching and maybe even pitching a great opportunity to your boss.

33. Take an online class or course.

These range from the expensive, but exhaustive to the totally free (ahem, YouTube). Here’s a comprehensive guide to all of our favorite continuing education options.

34. Research a new technique or approach you can use for your work.

Make plans for how you can improve your public speaking skills. Or your productivity via the Rule of 3. Or research new techniques in your industry (scrum meetings, the latest marketing trends, new platforms to use for project management, etc.)

35. Download one (or several) of our resources.

They’re free. We think they’re brilliant. There’s probably a good one for you in our library.

36. Email a colleague or mentor to ask what skills they think you should acquire.

Your boss qualifies, too. Find someone who has an aspirational career and ask them what they think you should work on in your own career to climb the ladder.

37. Make a list of all the hobbies you’d be curious to try.

Yes, hobbies. Just hobbies. Sometimes, the best skills-based learning is the type that has nothing to do with your work. (You’d be surprised how often a work idea pops into your head while you’re, say, watercoloring.)

38. Learn a new program / learn some new shortcuts in a program.

Fact: 99.7325% of the population hates working in Excel. OK, maybe we can’t cite our sources on this, but you know what we mean. The point is: almost every career uses Excel at one point or another. Why don’t you spend an hour learning how to use it better? Same goes for things like learning Photoshop keyboard shortcuts, watching tutorials on how to design in Keynote, etc.

What to do when you’re bored at work: Leadership strategy

39. Download an audiobook to listen to later on your commute home.

It can be hard to motivate to read leadership books after a long day at the office, but your commute is a great time to tackle them. We have a list of our favorites leadership books here, but you can also find all sorts of options on Audible.

40. Build a presentation for an idea you have to show in your next team meeting or one-on-one with your boss.

Sometimes the best way to gain leadership skills is to create the opportunities. Think of a new responsibility or project you want to tackle, then create a pitch to deliver. It’s a great way to practice your presentation skills, get over your fear of public speaking, and of course, the art of the sell. All leadership musts.

41. Start a recycling program at your office.

If you’re feeling like there aren’t a lot of opportunities to expand your leadership skills in your current role, consider taking a lateral approach. Starting a do-good program at your office is a great way to show you have management potential even if you’re a manager—yet.

42. Or start a women’s group!

Starting a women’s committee is a great way to make sure more women’s voices are heard in your office and the workforce in general.

43. If you don’t have one, find a mentor.

Great leaders learn from great leaders. If you don’t have a mentor currently, spend some time finding one. Think about who you admire in your company or field and shoot them an email to get the ball rolling. Or try reaching out to someone you don’t know via an informational interview. Or head to our Hire a Mentor service to book a session with a woman who’s been there and successfully done that.

44. Take the time to be a mentor to another woman.

Think about someone who’s younger in your office and send them an email about having coffee. Mentoring other women is both essential and a great way to build skills as a leader.

45. Read some articles on leadership tactics.

Like how to run a great meeting. Or how to combat an innate hiring bias. Or deliver a great annual review.

46. Research your salary.

Make sure you know what you should be making, so you’re staying on top of your own professional and financial growth. Start by joining The Salary Project, then try these salary toolsthat help you research trends in your industry.

47. Start preparing your ask for a raise.

If you’ve wanted to ask for a raise for a while (and you’ve confirmed a new target number via tip #43), now’s the time to start thinking about how and when you’ll ask. Think through your strategy—Is your work anniversary coming up? Are you turning in a large project soon?—and start preparing your pitch via our GIMME raise template.

48. Read about how to build a more inclusive team, company, and workforce.

Inclusivity is a blind spot for many leaders, but not you. Start by reading about what it’s like to navigate white workplaces as a black woman and what it’s like to job search as a black woman, and the dramatic difference between Equal Pay Day for white women versus women of color. Learn how to combat mansplaining and other casual sexism in meetings. Take into account that women are more likely to bully women professionally than they are men and make it a point to do the opposite as an ally. Think about ageism, too. It’s a big, complicated, problematic world out there and the best leaders are willing to face that, every day.

What to do when you’re bored at work: LinkedIn

49. Edit your LinkedIn profile based on a recruiter’s advice.

We wrote about how to optimize your LinkedIn in detail. We also have a LinkedIn-centric coursethat you might want to sign up for.

50. Swap out your LinkedIn headshot and cover image.

When was the last time you did that? Years ago? If you have a new great photo of yourself on hand, go ahead an upload it.

51. Max out your skills list.

It can increase your LinkedIn profile views by 300%. Download the skills sheet from this article to add 50 of them to your profile ASAP.

52. Request recommendations (and give some in return!)

You’re bored at work—could there ever be a better time?

53. Connect with professionals you admire.

Look for women and men working at companies you love or in the roles you aspire to, then request to connect. Make sure to send a personalized message explaining why you’re reaching out.

54. And then request some informational interviews.

Informational interviews take 30 minutes or less, and they really are the best thing for your career. Reach out to some of those new contacts on LinkedIn about setting up a time. Then prepare with 15 of the best questions to ask in an informational interview.

55. Make your LinkedIn summary more creative.

We’ve rounded up creative LinkedIn summaries from the women who do it best. Follow their example, why don’t ya?

What to do when you’re bored at work: Social media strategy

56. Follow some positive Instagram accounts.

You’re going to want to follow all 25 of these women. And then there are the accounts that have incredible Instagram stories.

57. Get more strategic about your social accounts.

Did you know you can use social media to find a job? Even if you’re not interested in going that route (because hey, being bored at work doesn’t mean you want to leave), now’s a great time to follow thought leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter. But the trick is to also get strategic about engaging, commenting, and liking as well. So get chatting.

58. Share some of the career-inspiring articles you read today on your LinkedIn.

There’s no better way to show how much you care about the work you’re doing.

59. Make some quick profile updates that will improve your career.

The Muse wrote about 13 ways to tweak your social accounts to make them more useful professionally-speaking. And here’s a fun article from the New York Times divided by social channel.

60. Reach out to someone you admire on social.

We talk about informational interviews and LinkedIn a lot, but think about whether there’s someone you admire on Instagram or Twitter. Chances are they don’t get asked often to have a coffee or phone chat, so why not give it a go by sliding into their DMs?

What to do when you’re bored at work: Productivity tactics

61. Upgrade your to-do lists.

Not all to-do lists are created equal. Why not take advantage of this downtime to try a new to-do method?

62. Or just try this subtle to-do list tweak.

It was a total productivity a-ha moment for us.

63. Plan to master at least one new time management techniques.

Here are 15 that you should have mastered by 30 (don’t worry—they’re still good to learn even if you’re 83 years old.)

64. Stop saying you don’t have enough time.

Clearly, you have time now. But did you know that you actually have 50+ hours a week to work on new projects or side hustles? Start thinking about how much time you have differently, and you’ll be more prepared to use it productively.

65. Or maybe…you should just do nothing.

Because sometimes, embracing your downtime is actually the best thing you can do to find new inspiration. And on that note—over and out.
This article was originally published on CareerContessa.com.