Filling in the Gaps: Making the Best of Unexpected Downtime

“There’s no such thing as downtime for your brain.” — Jeffrey Kluger, American writer.

Filling in the Gaps:  Making the Best of Unexpected Downtime by Laura Stack #productivity

As a survivor of the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession, you’ve probably developed a kind of “go-go-go” attitude about business and work. Agility, flexibility, and speed are the name of the game for those of us who want to maximize our productivity and success. But I admit I do sometimes get frustrated when other people or circumstances affect my productivity, and there’s seemingly nothing I can do about it.
Going to my doctor’s office is a prime example. Because I know the value of time and respect her time, I arrive before my scheduled appointment and sign in. And then I wait. And wait. Then the nurse will eventually take me to a little room in the back, where she’ll leave me after taking my basic vitals. Then I wait again for the actual doctor to come and do her thing. In some cases, I haven’t actually seen the doctor until an hour past my appointment. Ditto at the nail salon. Ditto at my son’s baseball practice. Unfortunately, not everyone respects your time as much as you respect his or hers.

But what can you do? Sometimes the day grows out of control for family doctors, because they have emergencies and slow patients. Some just see you as another face and don’t care that much, frankly. You can’t send them a bill for wasting your time (I’ve heard of people who tried, and it didn’t work).

But what you can do is be ready for unexpected downtime. Whether you’re at the doctor’s, flying, stuck in a line unexpectedly, or caught in a traffic jam, I’ve learned to be prepared for inconveniences and stay ahead anyway. Here’s how:

1. Bring your computer. Laptops are so light these days that I often bring mine along. There’s a lot to be done without WiFi while cooling your heels in a waiting room. So pull it out and get to work on your next report, analyze the previous week’s numbers, or write an article. Or connect to the HotSpot on your smartphone and do some internet research or catch up on reading.

2. Use a tablet or smartphone. Using a Kindle or iPad is a better option if you’re caught standing in line, where you can’t juggle a computer. I downloaded an app called Touchdown to my Kindle, so I can read and respond to email real time and review task lists and appointments. Or you can review reports, read thick documents, or Skype your family. I use the TripIt app to review upcoming trips and double-check all details.

3. Bring reading material. I always keep reading material with me, either on my Kindle or a couple hardcopy magazines. This is especially handy when stuck in traffic, waiting on an appointment, or being shuttled to and from the airport. My reading material is usually business related, whether that means perusing industry reports, the HBR, or business books.

4. Bring your ear buds. A good way to fill otherwise wasted downtime is to listen to podcasts, motivational or educational audio products, audiobooks to help you get ahead, or even conference calls you weren’t able to attend personally. Evernote on my phone allows me to review conference calls with clients for upcoming speaking engagements, recorded by my pen and uploaded via WiFi to Evernote.

5. Bring some work. Perhaps you pay bills manually or still like to handwrite thank-you cards. Perhaps you write a personal sentiment in holiday cards. Whatever the paperwork, bring it along when you know you can expect some downtime (like that doctor’s office scenario; it’s guaranteed).

Staying ahead of the pack

We all hate wasting time (or you wouldn’t be subscribing to this productivity bulletin). So whenever you have unavoidable downtime when you could be working, use one of these methods to stay ahead and fill in the gaps rather than waste time. I’d rather get as much work done as possible, so I can spend more time with the ones I love when I return. Or as a last option: decide not to work at all. Use your downtime to even out your work/life balance and watch a movie on your next flight.

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.



  1. Jack Delivuk says:

    Since my wife cannot drive and has several health problems, we often see doctors. A few ideas we use to save time are: Calling ahead to see if they are running on time. Making the first appoint after lunch. If you doctor does not do early morning rounds at the hospital, you can ask for an early morning appointment. These ideas can work for other appointments as well. – See more at:


  1. […] Read this article by Laura Stack aka The Productivity Pro from her blog of the same name. She shares ways to help you manage your time while waiting on others. Click here […]