The Quiet Times

About two years into working at BuzzFeed, I reached a moment one summer when I looked around and realized I had very little to do. I'd been working hard for the past two years stabilizing and growing the design team, hiring and training great managers, as well as building up core design infrastructure like critiques, role documentation, et al. And it had worked! Everything was going well, people were handling what they were supposed to, and I was coincidentally left with a lot more free time than I was accustomed to.

After about a week of things being quiet, I started to feel uncomfortable. What was I supposed to be doing? What if I'd done it all? What if I no longer had anything valuable to contribute? What if my boss realized I was no longer necessary? As these discomforting thoughts crept in, I started looking for things to do, and began creating new projects for myself. At this point, I honestly can't even remember what they were, but I do know they were large and involved. For the next two weeks, I steeped myself in these self-directed initiatives, building momentum, meeting with folks around the company and getting buy-in on what I was doing.

Then I had my one-on-one with my manager.

"So, I have a big project I'd love you to work on."


Suddenly, I found myself on the back foot. I'd started all these initiatives on my own, which in a vacuum I could presumably spin down. But I'd spent two weeks socializing my projects, wading into the weeds and setting expectations with myself and others that I'd work on them. I spent the following month frantically juggling my priorities and feeling more stressed than I'd been in my entire time at BuzzFeed, until I was finally able to clear them off my plate and focus on what the business needed me to do.

Since that experience, I've come to appreciate the quiet times at work. At Primary, there were definitely many moments when the work ebbed and it was hard to resist inventing things for myself to work on. It's also something I'm paying close attention to in my new job at Lattice as I onboard and find pockets of free time as I get spun up. It's so easy to feel anxious about not filling every moment with work. It can lead to situations like the one I was in where you take on far too much by accident, or in worse cases can lead to leaders inserting themselves into conversations and projects where they're more randomizing than helpful (at Etsy we called this the Swoop and Poop).

Now, when things are quiet at work, I take that time to think and reflect, knock a few items off my spring cleaning list (organizing and archiving files, cleaning up my email, etc.), or just grab time with folks I haven't chatted with in awhile to catch up and get a fresh sense for how folks are doing. I've learned there will always be more big projects and deep work around the bend, and to appreciate those quiet moments while they last. So that whenever the next thing does show up, I'm fully recharged and ready to take it on.