Ask IAAP: What to Do When There's Not Much to Do at Work

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Q. Please help….At my current job, I have basically nothing to do for approximately half the work day. My talents and skills are being vastly underutilized. I’m bored! What can I do?

A. Try to make the best of it. Here are some positive things you can do in the new job:

  • Talk to your boss and let her know that you can be of so much more help to her. Perhaps she hasn’t ever worked with an administrative assistant or partner before and doesn’t know what you are capable of or what admins are trained to do.
  • Give your boss examples of projects or tasks that you could be doing and how that will save her time/energy. Don’t appear as if you are usurping your boss’s position, but rather helping her accomplish her tasks/goals. Bring in samples of things that you could be doing – for example, show sample spreadsheets of information that would help your manager track information or projects.
  • Sit down with your exec at least once a week to go over what’s coming up so you can be ready for it.
  • Ask for more responsibility – especially things that require you to apply management skills. Examples: overseeing the leasing/purchase/maintenance of office equipment like the photocopy machines and phone system.
  • Look for tasks your boss doesn’t particularly like and ask if these tasks could be delegated to you.
  • Create jobs for yourself. Go through the files and clean/arrange them. Come up with a record retention schedule, get approval, and then cull through old records.
  • Prepare a workstation or desktop/office manualfor your position or department.
  • Create a system for dealing with mail, files, items to be signed, calls to return, etc. Don’t interrupt your boss every few minutes with details. Lump tasks together and deal with them once a day or so.
  • Think of some things you could do for the whole office – like sorting through professional publications and clipping out or highlighting articles of of interest for managers or coworkers, or maybe you could take over the travel planning/booking for the office, or use your spreadsheet skills to organize data and information for the group.
  • Talk with admins in other departments. Ask how they handle downtime. Find out what they are doing and suggest that your department might benefit from doing the same.
  • Are there any long-range projects you can work on? How about creating a brand new process or system? (First, get buy-in from your manager).
  • Focus on streamlining the routine aspects of your present job so that you can spend more time doing higher-level things.
  • Try to anticipate needs whenever possible: note where your manager needs help (handling details, meeting deadlines, etc.), then pick up the slack.
  • Use the “free” time to hone your computer skills. Get a tutorial on various Office Suite software and learn more functions. Get up to speed on time-saving short cuts.
  • Take advantage of every learning opportunity while still in your present job. You never know how long you’ll be there until you find something new.
  • Volunteer to troubleshoot hardware/software problems or train others on software.
  • Develop a list of beneficial Web sites for yourself and the execs.
  • Read more. Make it a part of your job to scan newspapers, business publications, magazines, and Web sites every day. Get a wider point of view of business.
  • Offer to read or peruse materials for your exec and then clip items of interest or abstract them. This will take you up a notch and further hone your business skills.
  • Get a copy of the annual report and strategic plan for your company/department. See what you could be doing that you are not now doing to meet these larger goals.
  • Read some books that will help you be a better admin. Some suggestions: 1001 Ways To Take Initiative At Work by Bob Nelson; Think Like A Manager by Roger Fitz; 108 Skills Of Natural Born Leaders by Warren Blank; How To Be The Person Successful Companies Fight To Keep by Connie Podesta and Jean Gatz.
  • Do all you can to try to stay busy – usually a job can grow to fill a person’s skills.
  • Try to figure out what is stopping you from enhancing your current position. Are you holding back or is your manager holding back from giving you more responsibility? Find out why. Use this time to assess your career path and future career development plans. Try to determine if the “downtime” in your current position is only temporary, or if there is potential down the road for greater responsibility, future career growth and job satisfaction. Always remember that no job is a life sentence. Don’t, however, use your current employer’s resources in your job search or search for jobs on company time.
  • Giving more advanced responsibilities to administrative assistants is only possible when they have the skills and educational level to handle higher-level roles. Do an honest self-evaluation and inventory of your communications skills (writing ability, language usage skills, in particular), business knowledge, and technical skills; always be on the look-out for ways to increase your knowledge and skills, and, in turn, become more valuable to an employer.

Good luck!