is it okay to work on personal projects during slow days at work?

A reader writes:

Is it okay to work on personal projects during slow days at work? The past few days, my supervisors have been on vacation and the only people in the office besides me (the research assistant) are the receptionist and the staff accountant. I’ve finished all of my work, including old back burner work that I’ve been setting aside for slow days, answered all my emails, organized my desk, wandered around the office looking for small tasks and now I’ve started to work on my personal website. I mean, what else can I do? I don’t want to take a nap and I don’t really want to surf Reddit or Facebook, so I feel like it’s fine if I do some personal stuff. I’m starting to feel sort of guilty though, like during company time I should only be doing work – but there is none! Short of going home (which I can’t), I’m not sure what to do with myself.

Do you think it’s okay to be doing this? In the same vein, I learned that I’ll again be the only person in the office during the week of Christmas because our Executive Director doesn’t want to shut down completely but EVERYBODY has already booked their vacations. Would it be bad for me to bring my personal laptops and play video games? Once my personal work is done, there will be nothing for me to do besides answer phones and email.

Well, you’re certainly in good company in doing this at this time of year. A lot of people’s work slows way down around the holidays, and so some people end up doing exactly what you describe.

I’d say that it’s okay if all of these factors are met:

* You have a job where the work is actually done at some point. In some jobs, the flow of work never really ends; there’s no point where there’s literally nothing left on your list that you could be working on. But the flow of work in some jobs is more finite — especially in jobs that depend on someone else to generate the work. It sounds like your job is one of those. (But if there are non-urgent things you could be working on but you just don’t want to because it’s a slow holiday period, that’s not okay. Again, it doesn’t sound like this is you.)

* You’ve checked to see if others in your office can use your help, and you’ve checked with your manager to see if there’s anything else she’d like you to work on. (And you’ve done this in a genuine way that would encourage people to take you up on the offer — not a perfunctory statement that you’re hoping will be ignored.)

* Your manager is okay with it or would be okay with it if she knew.

* You’re not occupying your time in a way that will look bad to visitors. For instance, if you’re the receptionist, you shouldn’t be painting your nails at your desk, no matter how little you have to do, because it sends the wrong message to visitors.

Anyone disagree?

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. CollegeAdmin*

    I wondered about this myself at my last job (temp gig). I was told from day 1 that I often would have nothing to do and I should absolutely feel free to bring a book…but I never felt right doing it, since everyone else was busy (even though they were doing things that I absolutely could not help with, like conference calls and medical device troubleshooting).

    1. Ethyl*

      I’ve had that happen on short-term temp receptionist jobs. I figure when I’m there for a day or three, I don’t have time to get up to speed on anything anyone could give me, so it’s really just phones and greeting people, and I don’t feel bad if I’m reading recipes or a book. I think a magazine would be kind of off, though, because stuff like Cosmo or whatever usually has super inappropriate headlines. But a book or a newspaper is fine.

      I had one long-term temp assignment as a front desk receptionist and even after I got up to speed on everything, I still had long periods of downtime and boredom. That sucked, but what can you do — nobody thought it was in the least bit unusual or that I wasn’t doing my job well, and I was practically begging for work, but that’s just how the job was.

      1. Chinook*

        Being a temp receptionist was what led me AAM. I was looking for work appropriate websites without videos that I could read while looking busy and could leave when interrupted.

        1. Liz in a library*

          Working the reference desk brought me here for the same reason. There were parts of my job I just couldn’t do on the desk (I would have loved to have my cataloging cart up there on slow days). AAM seemed like a great compromise as a form of professional development that I could easily drop if I had a patron.

    2. The IT Manager*

      This is just me, but if I was truely done with work (never going to happen in my current job) I would occupy myself on the web like news/magazine sites, AAM, last minute online shopping, not anything that’s likely to be NSFW. During the very slow holiday week, I might bring a book. I don’t think I’d ever bring my own computer and play videao games. That could be just because I am not a game player because I think I might bring in my laptop and watch a DVD or something during that slow week when I expect no one to walk into the office. I’m a reader, though, I’d love a day a work where I could read for most of it.

    3. Turanga Leela*

      I read the news online or find interesting articles on I generally figure that doesn’t look unprofessional, and it’s important for me to be up on current events for my job (or at least, that’s what I tell myself).

      1. cwes1492*

        Agree with this – LOVE, and it’s easier for me to justify getting up to speed on current events than playing games at work.

  2. Chocolate Teapot*

    From experience, the pre-holiday team meeting might throw up some things to be working on during the Christmas break, and of course, there’s always the distance crisis which, all of a sudden, becomes urgent!

  3. AnonEMoose*

    I probably wouldn’t do the video games, just because I think it does send the wrong message if someone comes in. But I think it would be fine to bring your laptop and work on your personal website, do some personal writing if you’re into that, read ebooks, that sort of thing. So long as you’re not ignoring work that needs to be done, you’ve got to occupy yourself somehow!

    1. Jen in RO*

      Depends on the office, I guess. It’s pretty common in software companies – my boyfriend still talks about his epic Age of Empires wins – but you still have to be careful. I played half an hour of Q3A in my old job (another software company)… but it was definitely the kind of place where management would not have been happy about it, so it was only that once.

      Also, as long as the laptop is facing towards you, you can simply alt-tab out of the game if someone comes in.

      1. Jen in RO*

        Oh, and similar to what Laura points out downthread, the game should be something that can be put aside or at least paused easily. That means no raiding during work! (A friend of mine did get most of The Insane achievement (World of Warcraft) at work… mostly because it was very repetitive and easy to stop at any time.)

    2. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, this is when I write book reviews, for example. Unless you’re right over my shoulder, it’s just another Word document.

    3. Yup*

      One thing I did in the past was professional/personal development stuff. I took a free online class everyday ( or similar, 2-4 hours each on Excel & InDesign & whatnot) and watched past recorded webinars from an industry think tank (which I’d be meaning to do all year but never had uninterrupted time to watch).

      1. Z*

        Professional development seems like a pretty worthwhile use of time –– and it’s hard to find quarrel with that if you’re a manager.

        During my slow times as a communications specialist, I usually work on my web dev skills or read web-oriented blogs to get ideas on things to do with my professional work.

        1. Elysian*

          You could always start an online course in something remotely related to your job. Coursera, for instance, has classes in lots of different and potentially work-related topics.

          Not that I would necessarily do that – I would probably read back posts from AAM. But it seems like a totally legitimate use of time to find something, and learn about it, in your downtime at work.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        My company has tons of online learning–it’s a good way to both kill that downtime and get up to speed on this and that at the same time.

        At Exjob, due to the stupid supplies issue, I ended up with a lot of downtime but wasn’t allowed to surf. So I would write, or make random PowerPoints.

    4. anon*

      It’s better to do something inconspicuous that won’t immediately alert everyone around you to the fact that you’re not really working. They may be okay with it, but it will still hit home the fact that you’re not engaged. It’s better not to stick out. During slow times, I’ve listened to audiobooks and podcasts, browsed the web, done some personal writing, etc.

  4. Diet Coke Addict*

    I feel like video games, even on a laptop, might be a leeeeeetle bit out of line, but once all of AaM’s caveats are met, I don’t think people would look askance at a book/magazine/newspaper/crossword puzzle tournament/in-depth analysis of the Harry Potter canon/etc. If it’s really just a case of “someone needs to be in the office in case something comes up,” that is.

  5. ali*

    as a web developer, I will often work on volunteer sites and my own personal site during my work day if I don’t have anything in my queue that I can do at that moment (I spend a lot of time waiting on customers to get back to me). I look at it as growing my skills, because those are the sites where I’m trying the newest technologies and learning them that I can then turn around and apply to my work.

    1. CKL116*

      That’s a great point — if you can do something that’s “fun” but in some small way contributes to your professional development during down time, you’re more than fine. So maybe if this person is a research assistant, read articles from Scientific American instead of Cosmopolitan.

    2. Liz*

      A colleague and I did the same, learning a lot about the intricacies of CSS and PHP by working on the volunteer site (with full knowledge of our manager, who supported the cause in question anyway!). We both used the skills learned there for work projects for the next 2 years.

      Added bonus: you don’t feel guilty when your paid job will benefit from whatever else you’re doing.

  6. Laura*

    I think the general guideline, as others have alluded to, when you run out of work is to occupy yourself with something unobtrusive that can easily be put aside if work does come up, like a book.

    Personally, I get stuck being one of the two people in the office during Christmas breaks every year, and if I’m not at the front desk, I bring my knitting or a good biography (my job depends entirely on someone else generating my work). I may be doing either of those things were I sitting at home, so it evens things out for me. Reading webpages like AAM is also great time filler, and is inconspicuous, too :)

  7. Anon*

    I have a job where a lot of the work is to be here in case someone needs something. I do have things to be completed hourly but they do not take long. As long as all training and everything has been completed, working on homework or other personal projects is allowed as long as it isn’t intrusive or in a way that will discourage people from approaching me.

  8. VictoriaHR*

    My job is extremely slow during this time of year. My supervisor gave me a project to work on during the downtime, and I completed it within 2 hours. I’ve constantly asked if anyone has anything they need help with, so I feel like I’ve got that base covered. So yeah, I do personal paperwork or work on my soapmaking website when I don’t have anything else to do.

  9. Sascha*

    I think a good rule for doing non-work things at the office is to do something that can be easily interrupted, especially since you are going to be answering phones or clients may come in. I’d be okay with a video game that is quiet and easily paused – like no Call of Duty or something like that. As long as the screen is not visible to clients and you make sure to immediately stop what you are doing to assist them, I don’t see a problem.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Yeah, something like solitaire or Bejeweled, maybe, where the sound component isn’t a huge deal and it’s easy to pause if you need to. I think that would be ok, but probably not something where it’s too easy to get sucked in or something that isn’t so easy to pause.

  10. AB*

    I worked for an office that had cyclical down time. The office had to be open, but work was stagnant. The manager used the time to write romance novels.

      1. AB*

        Yes, exactly like that. It was hilarious when she would stop by my desk (it was a small office) to have me read over what she’d written, or bounce ideas off me.

  11. Chloe*

    When all else fails – look at the kind of books/sites you’re perusing. If they’re still business-oriented, like taking a free Webinar on your skillset or borrowing a couple management books, I still considering that expanding on your skillset and within the line of “work.”

    1. Jaimie*

      I agree with this– if it’s possible, use the time for reading that will help you to do your job better. You can find materials that are directly related to your industry, or focus on more general topics, like time management.

    2. Mallorie, the recruiter*

      Agreed – I occasionally have time to surf the internet, but I feel less guilty and more productive if the things I am surfing make sense – like AAM, CNN, business sites, HR and recruiting blogs… then I at least feel like I am getting knowledge! I will also work on homework (if I am in school) but only when I am slow and only because my job pays my tuition – so I feel like its in their best interest I do well too!

    3. Ethyl*

      Plus depending on your field, it may be useful to keep an eye on the big journal publishers — sometimes they’ll have promos where their online articles are free for a week — print out a couple and keep them on file to read during downtime. It also looks a bit better if you’re reading something with a pen or highlighter in your hand!

  12. AJ*

    My general rule has always been that if someone walks in, will it look immediately obvious that I was doing something other than work. I work in an academic setting, so once winter vacation starts, everything slows way down, plus my supervisors start taking their vacation and stop generating work for me to do.

    I tend to work on short stories or upload digital copies of novels to dropbox that I can read on my computer, the idea being that if a student or professor or anyone should happen to drop by, they wouldn’t look at me and think, “Damn, she must be bored.”

  13. JCDC*

    I was an executive assistant years ago and that’s one of those jobs where the work is finite. If my boss was traveling and unreachable, and I’d gone through everything that she’d left behind? There wasn’t a whole lot to do at that point. I ended up maintaining a list of rainy day organizational projects and once that was exhausted, I felt free to mess around on the internet. My self-enforced rules were not to do anything that was visible to passers-by and that couldn’t be dropped instantly if the phone were to ring/email were to pop up/etc.

    1. AdminAnon*

      That’s exactly the position that I’m in right now. My boss was just out for a week for the holiday and then got an emergency call the second she was back in the office on Monday, so we didn’t even have time to go over the work I’d done when she was away. So far today, I have watched 2 webinars, re-organized my files (digital and hard copy), updated our mailing list, asked everyone in the office if they need assistance with any of their projects, and caught up on all of the AAM posts/comments. Luckily, she’ll be back in the office tomorrow–I get really antsy and vaguely guilty when I have nothing left to do.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      +1 to the rainy day organizational project list. My current company keeps one of these, and it’s mostly a wish list of nonessential or low priority tasks.

  14. Lisa*

    I was once told to not read at my desk in the deans office. I was so bored, I answered phone calls and wasn’t near the door at all. My work was done, major projects that were supposed to be summer-long were done in early July. I had already finished major projects that the other deans had that were not part of my job. No one had anything to give me, I was offered to to the other depts on the floor. Nothing. They expected more projects to come, but I was so fast that I would be done by Tuesday of each week, I was reading and answering phone calls and emails the rest of the time. The main dean saw me reading a book, and literally told me to fake working after I explained above. So I couldn’t read a book, I read online instead. The dean was happy and I looked busy. I asked if they really needed me all summer, I was in college, and didn’t need the job, but it was nice to have. They preferred to pay me, since I was getting so much done for them that would otherwise never get finished once the fall semester started.

    1. Anonymous*

      Pretending to look busy is the worst. One place I worked, I literally cleaned the same spot of counter for three hours because the supervisor wanted me to look busy. It wore away the finish on the counter which was funny.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I so wish this had happened at one of my old jobs, but alas, the finish was too durable to make the point.

    2. LizNYC*

      At OldJob, I had to look busy a lot. It’s the worst! Especially when you feel like you could be doing something productive otherwise.

    3. Sascha*

      I really hate it when people do that. At my last job, we had work study students to answer phones and do some basic clerical work. About 70% they had nothing do to but sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Our director wouldn’t let them do anything non-work related, including school work. So they sat and stared into space, or chatted with the employees. And how is that better???

    4. MaryMary*

      I used to do temp work over the summer while in college, and I had two receptionist positions where I was not allowed to do anything but answer the phone and greet visitors. One had no computer at the front desk, and the other had one, but it wasn’t connected to the internet. I wasn’t allowed to read books or magazines, and this was before I had a cell phone. At the one job, the staff could I tell I was bored and found little make-work projects for me (I sorted the returned mail by letters with a forwarding address and the letters without one). At the other, though, I wrote long handwritten letters to my friends and stared into space a lot.

    5. anon*

      Yeah, I think this is the case in many places. You should look busy. People don’t want to have the awkward conversation about all your reasons for not working (and you probably don’t want to either).

  15. Mike C.*

    One small worry of mine – some workplaces do not allow you to work on other businesses while on the clock.

    So if you’re working on a website for a side business of yours, things could be really complicated when you’re using company resources (including paid time) to make money on the side.

    Other than that, go hog wild. I’ve been in that spot several times where I’m there to warm up a seat and answer a phone that maybe rings once or twice. I don’t see any issues with responsibly passing the time while you wait for something to do.

    1. ali*

      sure, always review your non-compete/conflict-of-interest agreement with your employer before you do such things. In my case, I have a side-project that happens to be for one of my clients at my regular job. That is the only one I’m not allowed to work on while still on the clock at the company because they don’t want me to be paid by both the client and the company at the same time. All the other side web stuff I do is completely volunteer and not for any of the company’s clients.

      1. The OP*

        I’m doing something similar (and asked the same question below before I saw some of the comments), so I should probably refrain from working on paid projects while at work. I would like to ask my manager if this is okay, but I’m a little nervous to do that for some reason… probably because I know the answer might be “no.’

        1. ali*

          Yeah, best just to ask. That’s a sketchy area if you’ve signed any sort of employment agreement that might prohibit it. Even if you haven’t, it could be an ethical question. I wouldn’t do it without my boss’ specific okay first.

  16. The Clerk*

    I feel kind of jealous because I wish I had a job with some downtime. My two jobs are usually quite frantically paced, and they’re not even prestigious or well paying. :/

  17. Anonymous*

    How do you guys not go crazy when work slows down? i sit at a front desk and i go crazy when i have exhausted all my tasks. this past week i have been playing games and reading an ebook.

    also how do i react when coworkers tell me they are really busy? i personally cannot help them with my job. and i try to look busy but i really arent.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Hmmm. This is why I would only bring a book or play games during a down week during the holiday. If I was free during normal work days, I would surf the web including educational, training, professional type web sites which don’t make it obvious I am killing time while my co-workers are busy.

      Can you pitch in and help your co-workers? (even outside your normal duties) I once worked at a place where a woman brought a book to read at work. She got told to stop and this was viewed as very unprofessional by everyone else because everyone else was working hard. This reader did her assigned work, but never offered to help anyone else (which would not have been considered outside of her duties).

      1. the gold digger*

        I was almost fired after my boss caught me reading a book at work.

        I was a lifeguard, so maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, but there was nobody in the pool. I was up in the chair and I was so bored I couldn’t stand it.

  18. Bunny Manders*

    For me, the line with personal projects is profit. I might write a story or a blog post for my own amusement when it’s slow in the office, but I would never use my employer’s time to do freelance work.

    Video games would not be a good idea for me since I work at the front desk, but the office manager encourages me to bring books when I’ll be in the office alone. There are times when business is so slow that I have hours of free time, but someone needs to be available on the off chance that a client might call.

  19. The OP*

    Thank you for answering and posting my question! This makes me feel a little bit better about working on my own projects during office hours. I have multiple responsibilities/projects going around the office and most of the work is finite or dependent on other people. In the past, I would create research projects for myself or write little programs to make menial tasks easier but recently, I’ve been more invested in my personal side projects. I have definitely nixed the video games idea, though!

    On a related note – would it be inappropriate to work on side projects that I’m getting paid for? Part of my responsibilities is web maintenance and design for the organization website and through my job, I’ve been introduced to several other people and organizations that liked my work and would like to pay me to design their websites. Is this something that I can work on during down time at my current company?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s sketchier, I think. The only way I’d do that is if you’re the only one in the office, and even then I’m not sure I would. I realize that if you’re not working, there’s no practical difference between reading a book or working on a project for a different client, but there’s a whole different feel to the second one.

      1. The OP*

        Yeah, I agree. I am going to shoot my manager an email to see if this is okay, since he does have a relationship with these other organizations. I’ve worked on similar projects in the past during company time (at his request), but it was considered volunteer work.

        1. Joey*

          Why not spend the time doing something relevant to your job like professional development? That’s what I do on the rare occasion I have absolutely nothing to do- I might check out a book at the library on say management or peruse the internet for a free webinar related to my job. I think this would be a much better use of your time and much easier to explain if say the CEO, another manager, or a client walks in.

          1. JCDC*

            +1. I once had a job where approximately a zillion people had a clear view of my computer screen. So if I truly had nothing to do, I would limit myself to industry-related websites/books. I actually learned a lot that way!

      2. Joey*

        No question about it. If someone is making money elsewhere while I’m paying them its really becomes hard to believe they couldn’t find anything at all to do that benefits my company. I would tend to assume they were looking for an excuse to do the other work. Sorry, it just looks really bad and that’s enough reason not to do it.

  20. KarmaKicks*

    I did front desk work for a while and was able to keep busy with patients, filing, phones, etc, but when I started working at the corporate office I ended up an admin behind the scenes. I literally found out what bored to tears means. I’ve done everything from writing grocery lists, games on the phone/computer, work on websites (I learned HTML that way), heck I even wrote short stories for a while – all in order to “look busy”. I’m very thankful my computer faces away from the door. To me, it comes down to what you and your boss are comfortable with. As long as you’ve looked for something to do and your boss is okay with it, by all means, fill your time with something personal, but easy to put down in case you suddenly find yourself with work.

  21. holly*

    i’d say if you are truly out of actual work, go for it, as long as it is clear to your manager/coworkers that you are available to take any projects that come up.

    if your manager would not be okay with you doing this, then i’m not sure what to suggest… just sitting there?


    Yes, but we are forgetting one little thing. Perception is Reality. How I truly dislike that phrase, but most adults are not ‘adult’ enough to either not judge you and only worry about what they or their team is doing or they will not ask you the ‘why’. So if someone small office or large sees someone reading a book, even if it is an educational one, they will assume plenty of things and perhaps start to gossip about how you are not participating and working, then the chatter may get out of hand.

    1. anon*

      That’s why you should read ebooks on the computer or listen to audiobooks through your headphones. That way it won’t be obvious. I agree. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself and broadcast to everyone that you are not working.

  23. BCW*

    So you don’t want to do facebook or reddit, but think video games are ok? I couldn’t tell if you thought FB and reddit were not ok, or not, but those are much more accepted workplace things than video games. Now, I’d be lying if I said I never played some flash type games at work, but that wouldn’t be my first thing I’d go to.

    Aside from that, if they are making you come in with nothing to do, then I see no problem with doing personal stuff at work. I know tons of people who shop online while they do have things to do, so I don’t think any of what you said is out of line.

    1. The OP*

      I meant that I didn’t want to surf FB or Reddit because I just didn’t feel like it, not that playing video games would be more acceptable. I would also feel weird if people saw my Reddit history. I mean, I don’t read anything NSFW at work, but I do get drawn in by the weirdest topics.

  24. Eric*

    One summer in college I worked in a call center, and our supervisor told us that it was okay to read as long as you a) weren’t on a call and b) knew all the procedures and facts (this was a private student loan company and we needed to be knowledgeable about all the rules and regulations).

    One day, about half into my shift, I’m reading a book while waiting for a call to come through, and one of the VPs wanders by, sees me reading, and says, “Why are you reading? Do you know all the information in the manual?” and proceeds to quiz me. Of course, I get all the questions right, and he said something like, “Well, okay then, carry on.” and wandered off.

  25. Wilton Businessman*

    Oy vey. I find it hard to believe that there is nothing to learn on any job. Sure, it may be slow, but read up on what other people are doing. Read up on what other companies are doing in your space. Make a plan to make your work more efficient.

    Double dipping by working on side projects while I’m paying you is a no-no IMHO and you will get fired on the spot if I find out.

    *I know I’m in the minority.

  26. JC*

    I work as a tutor for first-generation college students in a grant-funded position. Basically, I’m busy when students are busy (I am the writing tutor, though I do much more than just correct writing….) and I’m slow when they’re not working. There have been days this semester where I saw maybe one student in my five-hour shift, but they have to have someone available to help students when the center is open. I read e-books, pore over AAM, grade papers for the classes I teach, write lesson plans, write fiction, took a course on Coursera….it does make me feel guilty sometimes because I think I *should* be doing something, but I don’t have files to organize and I there isn’t extra work lying around to do. I’ll help students do things that are outside of just writing – helped a student pull together pieces for a small business plan today, yesterday helped a different student create a powerpoint presentation – but the reality is, sometimes there isn’t something to do.

  27. MissDisplaced*

    I would generally say you should NOT work on personal projects unless you’ve cleared it with your bosses first. Generally it is bad practice to use their equipment to work on your own things.

    If you’re looking for things to do on slow days you should be doing something in the way of training that makes you more productive. “Making a website” could be included in this if it were a learning exercise (as in I’m learning how to code HTML and Java), but again, I would clear it first.

    There are tons of things out there from software training to open courseware. Make a list of your training interests and submit it to your supervisors.

  28. Brett*

    And don’t forget… if you work on your personal project at work, your personal project might become -their- personal project (which really sucks down the road if you are thinking of turning your personal project into your startup company).

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes – this is much more important than most people realize. Generally companies have requirements in place (onboarding documents, login screens, etc.) that specify that anything created using company assets (computer systems, your time on the clock, etc.) belongs to the company.

      If you don’t care that your employer can claim ownership of your blog posts, that’s fine. If you’re working on anything where this could be an issue – work you plan to sell to another company, your future best-seller – just don’t do it at work or with company computers. I actually carry a personal laptop on business travel for just this reason, even though my company explicitly permits “incidental personal use.”

      Your company can also monitor the use of its assets – so when you transmit your account number and password to login to check your balance, this is fair game for your employer. I’m not saying this is what most companies care about (they’re usually more worried about side projects, revelation of company secrets, or porn) but it can and does happen.

      Read anything you have to sign for your company, any applicable policies or handbooks, and anything that pops up during the login process and take it seriously.

  29. Employment Lawyer*

    No, no, no.

    If I found one of my employees collecting an hourly wage while working on their own personal website, and they hadn’t come to me FIRST and said ‘I have free time; is there anything you need done?” or the equivalent, then they would be in trouble.

    When the OP says “Once my personal work is done, there will be nothing for me to do besides answer phones and email.” that is a question for management, not the OP.

    1. The OP*

      If it makes any difference, I’m salaried, not hourly. When there is work to be done, I end up doing a lot of overtime that I don’t get paid for which I really don’t mind doing. It’s the nature of the job to stay as long as the Executive Director needs me to.

      On the rare occasion that I have free time (it’s really not as often as it sounds), I do ask my manager if there is anything she needs me to work on. A lot of times, she just says “no,” which is why I don’t really know what to do with myself when I’m the only person there. She has literally told me that the only reason she wants me in the office during the holidays is because they just need someone to answer phone calls in case something comes up.

      Thanks to the helpful comments in this thread, I think I will just explicitly ask her if it is okay for me to work on XYZ during the holidays when everybody else is on vacation.

  30. Cath@VWXYNot?*

    If you’re allowed to have headphones on while you work, try looking for podcasts relevant to your field. If you need to look busy, you can type some notes while listening to them. I’ve done this on slow times around Christmas before, and even had enough time to make the notes comprehensible to others rather than full of my own personal shorthand and typos – they’re now on our “training” drive as a resource for others.

  31. Jazzy Red*

    I once taught my co-worker how to play cribbage at work. I was the Office Manager, and he was the boss’s assistant in the shop. Neither of us had any work to do, but our boss was traveling and wanted us in the office anyway. We didn’t have internet at that time, so I finally brought in a board and cards, so we’d have something to do (we were very different and didn’t have anything in common, so the days were very long).

    If the OP isn’t breaking any internet-usage rules or annoying other people, I don’t see anything wrong in doing some personal work.

  32. Checking in*

    As mentioned above, I keep a list of “someday maybe” projects (also referred to as “rainy day” projects). These are the things that often come up in meetings or when you are knee deep in a project and someone says, “Wouldn’t it be great to have XYZ?”. Usually these items only take a few hours of time but are so low priority that they are on that list indefinitely.

    Unfortunately I’m not bored a lot these days, but it feels great when I get to take one of those items off my list as DONE!

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