7 Things to Do at Work When Everyone Is Out of the Office

iStock
iStock

You could celebrate the solitude with long lunches and Facebook marathons at your desk. Or you could do a few of these things instead. (Your career will thank you.)

1. CLEAN UP YOUR INBOX.

“If you’re like most people, all of those emails that you promise to respond to at some point get de-prioritized during the year,” says Alexandra Douwes, cofounder of millennial strategy firm Purpose Generation. “The holiday lull is a great time to go through everything.” To keep your stamina at its peak, alternate writing emails that require thoughtful responses with mindless tasks, like unsubscribing from newsletters you never open or responding to corporate surveys. Then think about what system you could set up now to prevent (or lessen) the email pile-up in the new year. If you live in Gmail, Douwes is a fan of this online Udemy course for Gmail productivity hacks.

2. INVITE A COWORKER TO LUNCH.

A skeleton crew at the office can be a good excuse to mix up your usual routine and socialize with someone new at the office. “Aim to make a new work friend with one of the other people there,” says Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert and author of I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. “Building tighter work relationships is associated with being more happy over the long run,” she says. And it can come in handy the next time you’re in a work crunch and need more people to pitch in.

3. UPDATE YOUR MENTORS.

Just because you don’t have a formal mentor doesn’t mean you should skip this step. “I don’t have any formal mentors,” Douwes points out. “But there are several people who have a vested interest in my professional pursuits and who have mentored or sponsored me at some point throughout my career.” The relative calm at the office this time of year is a great opportunity to follow through on sending them a quick life update: what you’ve been working on, what you’ve learned, what challenges you’ve faced. The holiday season is such a flurry of cards and family newsletters that an email or handwritten note won’t seem out of the blue.

4. WORK IN AIRPLANE MODE.

With coworkers and industry contacts out of the office, you’re probably getting far fewer emails each day. That can be a huge boon to your focus—so use it to your advantage by staying out of your inbox for large chunks of time, says Vanderkam. “See if you can be off for 90 minutes before checking your inbox,” she says. “You’ll likely make headway on projects you’ve been putting off for months.” And seeing how much more productive you are when you don’t toggle over to your inbox every two seconds might convince you to carry the habit of time-blocking into the New Year.

5. SET CAREER GOALS.

We’re all promising to lose five pounds and exercise more in our personal lives. But what about setting some work resolutions for 2018? “The holiday lull is a great time to reflect on the year ahead,” says Douwes. Think about what skills you want to gain or milestones you want to achieve in the next 12 months, then brainstorm a few concrete steps you’ll take to make them happen. Don’t just make this a mental exercise—jot it down. A study at Dominican University found that people who wrote out goals were significantly more likely to achieve them than participants who merely thought about their goals. Telling a friend increased follow-through even more, as did sharing regular updates with their pal.

If thinking of a career resolution makes you draw a blank, check out these five questions Douwes recommends everyone ask themselves at the beginning of each year.

6. DUST OFF YOUR RESUME.

Even if you’re not desperately seeking a new gig, the December lull can be a good time to freshen up your application materials so you’re ready to pounce if the right position opens up (or work hits a rough patch in the new year). Update and proofread your resume, then revamp your LinkedIn profile. In October, LinkedIn rolled out a new feature, called Open Candidates, that lets you signal to recruiters that you’re open to a new position—without broadcasting that news to your boss. (Just go to the Preferences tab and turn the Open Candidates feature on.) “The slow time over the holidays can also give you a chance to do some informational interviews,” says Vanderkam. Remember, HR teams that are in the office probably have more open calendars, too.

7. TAKE ON A STRETCH OPPORTUNITY.

Last year, Douwes used the December slow period to finally write a white paper that she’d been trying to write for months. “I’d never had enough time to sit down and finish it, because the day-to-day hustle and client requests got in the way,” she says. Your to-do list likely has similar stretch projects or things you’ve thought of doing throughout the year—and now you might have the focus and quiet to tackle them. Even covering for a different coworker than usual can help you stretch, says Vanderkam. “It’s easy to cover for a colleague who does similar work as you do, but cross-training on a different type of job lets you learn new skills and see what you might be interested in trying over the long haul.”

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

7 Online Tech Course Programs That Will Help You Build New Career Skills

dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus
dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's always a good time to build new career skills, and with these tech-related courses, you can learn anything from the basics of Python to the ins and outs of G Suite. These courses will boost your knowledge of the digital world and help you put some valuable new bullet points on your resume. Many of these courses allow you to read through the materials for free, but if you want to take advantage of graded coursework and earn a certificate of completion to include on your LinkedIn profile or resume at the end, there will be a fee of anywhere from $39 to $49.

1. UI/UX Design Specialization

In this four-class specialization on UI/UX design, you’ll discover how to design digital experiences that users can navigate with ease. Over about four months, you’ll learn the basics of visual communication and you’ll be able to practice gathering user feedback to build intuitive, attractive websites and interfaces.

Sign up on Coursera to take all four courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

2. Python for Everybody

Python is quickly gaining ground as one of the most in-demand programming languages for employers. Plus, its fans say it’s highly readable and approachable for new programmers just starting to learn a coding language. If you want to understand the basics of Python, from 101 principles to more advanced database design, these courses will get you started.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

3. Data Science Professional Certificate

Data science is one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this nine-course professional certificate program, you’ll start by learning basic data science methodology before moving into how to use Python and SQL to analyze and visualize data to forecast future trends. IBM estimates that you’ll complete the entire certificate in about 10 months if you commit four hours per week, but the timing is flexible enough to suit any schedule.

Sign up on Coursera to take all nine courses in this specialization for $39 a month.

4. Computer Architecture

This course, taught by an electrical engineering professor at Princeton, teaches students how to design computer hardware that supports powerful software. But be forewarned: This is an advanced class intended for students with extensive knowledge in computer science. If you’re looking for a beginner-level course, this class—also from Princeton—may be a better fit.

Sign up on Coursera for free.

5. AI for Everyone

If you’re worried that artificial intelligence will drive you out of the workforce, this course will help. Over the course of four weeks, you’ll learn the basics of what is and isn’t possible through AI—and you may even gain some ideas for how to use AI to augment your own career.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

6. G Suite Administration Specialization

Become a Google Cloud expert with this series of courses put together by Google itself. Over about two months, you’ll learn management tactics and security guidelines for using Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Calendar. This specialization prepares participants to become G Suite administrators at their respective companies and organizations.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

7. Introduction to Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is near the top of the list of skills employers are looking for, according to LinkedIn. In this introductory course, you’ll gain a basic understanding of cloud-based networks and get some practice working with IBM Cloud.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.