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


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.)


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More


During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

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Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

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Prices subject to change.

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Why Can’t You Smell Your Own Breath? There Are a Few Theories

Hands are built-in tools for detecting bad breath.
Hands are built-in tools for detecting bad breath.
SIphotography/iStock via Getty Images

The fact that we rarely catch a whiff of our own breath seems fishy. For one, our noses are only a philtrum’s length away from our mouths. We also don’t have any trouble inhaling other people’s stale carbon dioxide, even with a solid few feet between us.

Though we don’t yet have a decisive scientific explanation for this olfactory phenomenon, there’s no shortage of promising theories. According to BreathMD, it could be that we became so accustomed to smelling our own breath that we simply don’t notice its odor anymore—similar to the way we can’t detect our own "house smell." This kind of habituation doesn’t just inure us to unpleasant aromas, it also leaves our noses free to focus on unfamiliar odors in our environment that could alert us to danger.

As HowStuffWorks reports, another hypothesis suggests that we’re more conscious of other people’s halitosis because breath released when speaking is different than breath released when exhaling regularly. All the tongue movement that happens when someone talks could push odors from the back of their mouth out into the air.

But if that’s true, it seems like you’d be able to smell your own breath—at least when you’re the one doing the talking. Which brings us to the next and final theory: That your bad breath dissipates before you get a chance to inhale it. When someone else exhales, you’re inhaling their air almost simultaneously. When you exhale, on the other hand, you have to wait until you’ve reached the very end of your expiration before breathing back in again. By that time, the malodorous particles may have already dispersed.

Even if you’re blissfully unaware of how your own breath smells, it could be a little nose-wrinkling for others—here are some tips for getting rid of halitosis.