There you are. Alone. Or at least it feels like it.

Walter from accounting is working away in his pod but you’ve never been able to get more than a few words out of him. Almost everyone is on vacation. Everyone, that is, but you.

We’ve put together 5 things you can do – besides sulking – to make the most of the time when you’re holding down the fort. You’d be surprised at how much you can accomplish when the weather is warm and the livin’ is easy. It’s the time to do those things you promised yourself you’d get to when you weren’t distracted by other people and countless meetings, inundated with emails and phone messages (if they still do that in your office), or overwhelmed by work piling up in your inbox.

Think of vacation season as the time to take stock, breathe deeply and be in the moment. A few minutes taken several times a day where you close your eyes, correct your posture, and do some light stretching and breathing add up to significant reduction of stress and anxiety. That’s a good recipe any time of the year but it’s particularly during vacation season that we seem to give ourselves permission to take a breather.

Here are five more things you can do to stay productive and make the most of the freedom vacation time represents in the workplace, even if it’s other people’s.

1. organize your workspace

Empty your drawers, clean off your shelves, go through your filing cabinet (if you’re a hard-copy person), and organize your online and hard copy files. Wipe everything down, including the drawers. Then replace only those things you absolutely need. This is a great time to purge – clutter slows you down and inhibits your ability to respond quickly and creatively. How many elastic bands and paper clips do you really need? Enter that stack of business cards into your online contact list, and then get rid of them. Decide whether that plant on your desk is ever going to come back or if you’re going to replace it with something fresh and new. Maybe something seasonal to bring a whiff of summer into your workspace.

2. clean out your email

Unless you’re one of those people who deletes their emails as soon as you read them, you’ve probably accumulated a few – or a few thousand - many of which you may have tagged for future action. The future is now. Act on what you need to and delete the rest.

3. build your network

Use the time when your supervisor is at the cottage to make some calls or send some emails to people you’ve been meaning to connect with (we’re not implying you should, in any way, behave irresponsibly). The rhythm of summer is different than other times of the year; these people may indeed be more inclined to meet with you or speak over the phone if their business or responsibilities slow down over the summer too. Meeting new people is good for you socially, emotionally and professionally. It impacts your productivity in positive ways, so think of it as an investment in you and your career.

4. take a lunch break

Canadians are more and more inclined to work through their lunch hour, and have trained their superiors to expect that kind of commitment. If your workload and deadlines allow, take advantage of this time to reinstate the lunch hour. Eat leisurely, preferably on a bench near some green space, or try the lunch menu at the café you’ve been meaning to explore. Invite Walter to join you. You may find his bee-keeping hobby fascinating. Keep your running shoes under your desk and walk for 30 minutes. You’ll return to your desk refreshed and invigorated, if a little sweaty. Do it because it’s good for you. And you may develop a good habit you can keep through the changing seasons.

5. learn something new

Schedule some online courses or webinars specific to your job. That way, when your boss comes back from vacation, you’ll impress her with recently acquired knowledge. Take this opportunity to research, plan and organize initiatives you know are coming when everyone gets back, or further in the future. You’ll be ready to hit the ground running when things start to rev up in your workplace.

In case these suggestions almost make you wish you could work right through the summer, think again. Canadians are working longer and harder and, remarkably, many are leaving vacation days unclaimed. What looks like dedication and an incredible work ethic can leave you depleted, susceptible to illness and unable to function at home or work.

Remember, no-one is indispensable. You may think you’re doing yourself and your employer a favor, but ultimately, you’re not. Vacation time is not only an important component of your compensation, it’s critical to your mental and functional well-being. And it makes you nicer to be around and easier to work with.

So stash the guilt and enjoy the time your coworkers are away. You’ll be in good shape to enjoy your vacation time when it’s your turn!

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