Amp Up Your Down TIme

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Use off-peak hours to increase productivity and stimulate creativity.

Most workdays are loaded with a packed agenda. But on less hectic days, what’s the best use of downtime? As tempting as it may be to ditch work altogether during slow periods, here’s how two successful, multitasking women use off-peak hours wisely to stay motivated, be productive and feel more creative at work.

Get inspired. Workday stress can cause mental blocks and impede your ability to function at your best. Taking a brief break away from work to clear your mind and do something you enjoy can improve focus and spark creativity. “We’re in a creative age and will be for some time,” says JinJa Birkenbeuel, president of Birkdesign, Inc., a full-service creative agency that specializes in branding, web development and digital publishing. Ms. Birkenbeuel keeps her creative juices flowing by weaving inspiring pursuits into her workday. “I spend free time doing things that give me a fresh view creatively like reading fiction/art journals or writing lyrics and music for my band, Utah Carol,” she says, noting the key is to indulge in short diversions that stimulate your mind and leave you refreshed when you need to “come back to earth.”

Be nimble. Being away from your work space doesn’t mean work is out of reach. In today’s 24-hour work/life cycle, Susan M. Burke, a partner in the Corporate and Business Counseling Practice Group of the law firm Pedersen & Houpt, relies on technology to take advantage of everyday opportunities to get things done. “Technology makes the mobile office a reality for me,” she says. Whether holding conference calls en route to and from the office or clearing emails while waiting for a flight, she seizes these moments to check things off her to-do list rather than being static.

Work your networks. Ms. Birkenbeuel believes one of the best uses of off-peak time is to cultivate new and existing business relationships. “Every hour of every day is on the table for my business,” she says. “When I’m not working on client projects, my time is devoted to staying in front of existing clients as well as discovering new networking opportunities.” Ms. Birkenbeuel takes a deliberate approach to networking and spends time researching new contacts to gain useful business information and look for shared connections. She also carefully prepares talking points and always closes with a plan to follow up in-person, by phone or however appropriate. She’s a big fan of asking to meet for tea or coffee because, “it’s not a big commitment of time but is enough to make a meaningful introduction, engage in interesting conversation and explore the potential for continuing the relationship.”

Learn something new online. From TED Talks to Khan Academy to many other educational and informational websites, there’s a free, online global classroom waiting at your fingertips. These sites offer a variety of educational programs and professional learning forums that make it easy to skill-build and enhance knowledge during spare time. As a lawyer, Ms. Burke is required to complete a set amount of hours of continuing legal education, but she’s still strategic about participating in programs that sharpen her corporate law practice. She keeps it entertaining by mixing in interesting topics like business development techniques, diversity in the workplace and elimination of bias in the profession. There are webinars and online presentations on almost any subject designed to fit into busy work schedules. As Ms. Burke attests, “I can bump up my intelligence quotient in just 30 minutes online.”

Collaborate with colleagues. Sometimes unplanned interoffice collaboration can lead to breakthroughs in creativity, strategy and planning. For Ms. Burke, the best time for an impromptu brainstorming session is right after completing a big project. She uses this time to huddle up with co-workers and other key players to strategize about future projects, improve processes or just decompress and share experiences. She believes that collaboration fosters “a respectful work environment and a spirit of camaraderie, which in turn inspires a unified sense of purpose in getting work done for clients.”

Sure winning the case, making the presentation or landing the account is exhilarating, but those epic work events don’t happen every day. It’s important to regard all aspects of your work, even the mundane, as meaningful and to treat every moment of your workday as valuable resource. Staying productive during off-peak times and maximizing your work power gives you the freedom to focus on your most important work when the time comes.

Lauren Blair

About Lauren Blair

Lauren Blair is a partner at Pedersen & Houpt. A member of the firm's Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice Group, Ms. Blair focuses her litigation practice in the areas of commercial, family law, employment law, and state environmental law. In every area of her practice, she thrives on working closely with clients to develop sound end-game strategies and is tenacious about delivering desired results. As a member of the firm's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group, Ms. Blair also counsels large and small corporate clients on employment law compliance, including on-site training for supervisors and non-supervisory employees and drafting/auditing employment policies, practices and handbooks. She also protects and defends employers against federal, state and local employment discrimination claims, and she's president of Goodman Theatre's Scenemakers Board, a group of young, diverse professionals whose mission is to support the Goodman in audience development, fundraising and membership. Her blog titled “Working It” offers a lawyer’s perspective on issues, trends and hot topics in the business community.