As I discussed previously, there is a lot of down time in my job, attributable to both my clients and my novice in the industry. This down time requires me to find ways to occupy myself. I spend a significant amount of time reading business publications, but a great deal of time is also spent chatting with my coworkers. While clearly non-billable, I am weary of labeling this time non-productive. Conversation topics range widely, but we generally gripe about bosses, coworkers, and clients. I have learned a great deal about the people in my office from these regular “water-cooler moments.” The quirks and frustrations of the partners are well known to my coworkers, and passing on that knowledge is critical to workplace success. Much frustration in my early days could have been avoided with this knowledge. I’ve learned, for instance, that our elder partner has a penchant for scrambling Excel spreadsheets. Knowing that, I now retain printed copies of documents I send to him. On multiple occasions now, the partner has assigned me a project, I’ve completed it, and he’s then scrambled the spreadsheet; having a copy of my work has saved me from looking completely incompetent. These water-cooler moments have also provided insight into the strengths and weaknesses of different partners. This knowledge allows me to target my questions more effectively to the appropriate partner. In both instances, the down time is clearly productive, even if I can’t charge a client for it.
Clearly, this situation depends on the employees involved. There are individuals in my office who don’t use their down time effectively, preferring instead to waste time checking email and booking vacations. It takes a conscious effort to focus and utilize the free time that is inherent in many offices. Stay focused on the workplace in such instances and you’d be surprised what you might learn about the people around you.