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Making the Best Use of Project Downtime

written by: Nan Nan Liu • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 10/16/2014

When a project is on hold, what used to be busy days become long and boring with nothing to do. However, you don't have to sit at your desk and surf the web all day. There are many productive activities to engage in that can help you through project downtime.

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    business man 

    Unfortunately, most projects do not go as smoothly as planned. Many things, including sudden changes in funding, personnel, deadlines or specifications, make a project from going full throttle and completing on time, to standing still and finishing late. Downtime, therefore, is a common occurrence for project managers.

    As mundane as downtime may seem, can you really surf the web for eight hours straight? You can find activities at work to keep you both busy and productive. Just because the project at hand has met a little setback doesn’t mean your personal goals have to be put on hold.

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    Get Training

    Despite a coveted education and years of experience, you can always learn something new. No matter which field you work in, the industry changes all the time and new skills periodically come into demand. For example, new technologies and methodologies are always being introduced in the software industry, requiring employees to continually update themselves with the latest knowledge and expertise.

    Besides technical skills, there are other skill sets pertaining to the job that you can pick up. Developing project manager soft skills, such as interpersonal and leadership skills are always good ones to hone.

    If your workplace offers in-house training, take this opportunity to expand your knowledge. Or you can learn on your own by reading educational sites, blogs and industry newsletters. You can also sign up for classes, seminars or workshops to get a hands on learning experience.

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    Re-Evaluate the Current Project

    Even if your current project is going well, you can make it better. There are always areas for improvement and what better time to look for them than during project downtime?

    Is something missing in the specification? Are all the loose ends tied? Can another round of testing take place to ensure superior quality?

    When you have extra time on your hands, take it as a lucky break and give yourself the opportunity to make improvements and polish the existing product. You might find loopholes and mistakes that were easily missed before, but might surface later and cause inconvenience.

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    Get Organized

    In the middle of a project, you often multitask and let things get messy. Files get saved under the wrong directory, meetings overlap each other and conversations become more confusing. Because things happen so fast, you don’t have the time to get organized.

    During downtime, when your days are less chaotic, you have the time and ability to arrange everything systematically. From organizing files – both electronic and physical – to rescheduling meetings to de-cluttering your workspace, you can now put everything that was once in disarray into order.

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    Request or Find Better Tools

    When managing a project, did you ever feel that the project team could use better tracking and management tools? For example, the linear timeline that did not clearly display everyone’s deadline can break up into multiple lines or the online task manager without a specific description for each task can use more text boxes?

    In project management, tools and devices are used to help manage the project more efficiently. However, many of them need improvement.

    Downtime gives you the perfect chance to ask for more helpful and efficient tools. Whether you request new features on existing tools or search for something else, your willingness to better the project makes you a thoughtful manager.

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    Prepare for the Next Project

    If you have another project lined up, use downtime to get ready for it. Read the project outline, study the requirements, know who the project team is and get a feel for estimations. Even though the next project has not solidified and the documentation looks vague, any background knowledge or details you gain will help you in the future and give you leverage. Plus, if the project needs particular technical skills, you can start early on the learning process.

    When a project kicks off, it usually goes full steam ahead, leaving little or no time to prepare for the next one. If you have time now, maximize the time by getting ready for the next opportunity.

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    Help Others

    Is another project struggling for help? Do junior-level co-workers need mentors? Does your company want someone to facilitate training? By extending your services to others, you not only contribute to your organization, but also receive exposure. Helping other teams and departments gives you a chance to both assist those in need and advertise your knowledge, work ethic and expertise.

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    Project downtime does not mean you need to stop working. If you don’t have project-related tasks that needs immediate attention, then keep yourself productive with other things. Whether you choose to learn new skills, get organized or offer help to others, there are always ways to develop yourself career-wise.


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