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Bored at work? Then take initiative

Posted on September 7, 2022
Rainbow colored words stating "Make Things Happen" with a set of cogs behind the words and a silhouette of a person as if they are talking.

While many employees are feeling a bit overwhelmed managing their position and responsibilities of other positions that have not been filled for either budget reasons or the inability to hire a qualified candidate, that is not the case for some. Over the past few months, I have heard more and more folks, especially those new to the workforce, comment about being bored or not having enough work to do. I don’t want to sound like my mother here, but…that’s kind of on you. If you do not have enough work to fill your time, you have an amazing opportunity knocking on your door – don’t waste it.

Initiative is an important skill for your toolbox. Initiative demonstrates your ability to see a problem or an issue, think critically about it, and then find a potential solution. Managers and leaders take note of those who show initiative and keep an eye on them as they grow in their careers. In other words, initiative gets you promoted.

So, how can you take initiative, especially if you are new or relatively new to the workforce?

  1. Be observant, notice processes, policies, and practices around you and take note of any of these that are not efficient.
  2. Choose something that is of interest to you or will benefit your team or your manager.
  3. Choose something that will give you the opportunity to expand your skills and experience.
  4. Think through whether you can find a solution that will work and is feasible. You don’t want to take on a project that has no chance of success.

Once you have identified something of interest, think through the various elements. This does not need to be fully fleshed out, but you want to be able to discuss the following:

  1. The general scope – what is the issue, why is it an issue, and what are the benefits of addressing it?
  2. Who are the stakeholders – who does this issue impact and who needs to be involved in resolving it. For example, if the issue revolves around a computer system or software, then someone from IT needs to be involved.
  3. Timeline – how long would it reasonably take to examine the issue in depth and find a solution?

Once you have this information, you can begin talking with a few folks to determine if there is any appetite for moving forward. This could involve conversations with trusted fellow colleagues, a mentor, or if you have a good working relationship with your manager, you can solicit their opinion. If your idea is being met with enthusiasm, then it’s time to formalize your idea into a proposal. At this point, you need to engage your manager because without their support, you likely have little chance of moving forward.

In developing a written proposal, begin by determining if your company or department has a specific proposal template. If not, there are plenty of sites on the internet to help you draft a proposal. This part of the process is critical. Your proposal needs to be brief while outlining the issue. You need to provide your recommended solution with benefits, a timeline, and include data around impact to the budget from both a cost and revenue perspective.

Before you submit your proposal to your manager for review, take a step back and ensure you have the bandwidth to move forward because if your idea is met with enthusiasm, there is a good chance you will be heavily involved. I do want to add that there is also a chance, especially the more junior you are, the complexity of the issue, as well as who is impacted that someone more senior may be asked the lead the initiative. While this will feel disappointing, you need to see this as a positive. In other words, the company is 100% behind your idea and wants the right people in place to ensure it succeeds and that may involve putting a more senior person at the helm to garner company-wide buy in. However, you do want to advocate for yourself to be involved because you are a critical player since it was your idea.

Once your project starts to move forward, whether you are a one-person show, a member of a larger committee, or leading the effort, give it your all because leadership will be watching and taking note of your successes, how you manage challenges or setbacks, how you communicate, and whether this initiative has any impact on your primary role. This is a time to shine. But you won’t be noticed if you don’t allow yourself to be noticed. So, be positive and communicative as you move forward and find the right people to support you through the process. Keep up with deadlines for both the project and your primary role.

I understand this may sound a little daunting – don’t let it! Take this one step at a time – this is where a good, realistic timeline is essential. Then follow basic project management tenants by laying out the project from start to finish, who is responsible for what, etc. If this is a larger project, if your company does not have project management software, there are a number of platforms available, and some are even free. This will help you track progress, etc. Speaking of tracking progress – make sure you track your personal progress, so you can speak to the skill and experience gaps you are filling. For example, if you have not used project management software prior to overseeing this project, using is building on a skill and an experience and once the project is completed, update your resume!

When you take the initiative to tackle something that is not part of your regular role, management takes note. They watch those who step up without being asked. Taking initiative brings about more opportunities, so don’t be surprised when your manager or leadership asks you to take on more responsibility! Go for it!


Anne Converse Willkomm
Associate Dean, Graduate College
Associate Teaching Professor, Dept. of Communication, College of Arts & Sciences
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips, leadership-management-skills, innovation-workplace