I've just finished two different projects and got nothing to do. I'm still in training but my boss is sick and he didn't tell me anything else to do. I also don't want to keep annoying the my co workers by asking if I can help them since it's rather likely I can't. (still in training and don't know too much about our architecture etc + I've got diagnosed social anxiety which doesn't help either)

I really don't want to just sit around while waiting, not only because it's boring but also because I'm still in the first 4 months where they can decide to not keep me employed without having to say why so I don't want to seem unproductive.

  • 6
    Simply go to the most senior person other than the "sick" boss, and state clearly that you're ready and eager for your next project.
    – Fattie
    Oct 16, 2017 at 10:05
  • 14
    Especially in IT, there is always something worthwhile to do. Even just reading documentation. Or learning some other thing.
    – Polygnome
    Oct 16, 2017 at 10:55
  • Start working on a bug that no one is fixing, and if you can just inform the senior person that you fixed it.. Oct 16, 2017 at 12:23
  • Document something. No one ever cursed too much project / systems documentation. Oct 16, 2017 at 17:37

3 Answers 3


If nobody is able to delegate tasks to you currently, see if you can work on boosting your skills or getting accustomed to the ecosystem that you work in. Since you're concerned about the company's perception of your performance, you may want to do this with overt permission. For instance, you might send a (brief) email to a decision-maker which outlines the situation and explains what you plan to do. 2-4 sentences might work for this.

If you take this approach, you might not be "productive" in the sense of producing anything that the company will actually end up using, but the goal would be to increase your future value without needing to burden an already-busy coworker.

For instance, if this is a software developer position (my profession, hence the choice of example), you might glance at the bug tracker to make sure there's something on there. Then, send a brief email saying that if there's nothing in particular requiring your attention, you'll try reading through the documentation and familiarizing yourself with the system, and maybe try to fix some bugs. Then, learn! Read up on things, observe how the system works, change things on a local copy of the code, and so on.

For other professions, try to find a similar sort of task (if possible), and do that. e.g., if you deal with spreadsheets often, learning how to use various features of the spreadsheet software in use by your company might be a valuable way to spend idle time.

This does assume a degree of self-learning, however; if you're still in a stage where you need a mentor in order to learn productively, then this approach is likely not the best.


Is anyone deputising for your boss while they are sick? If so this is probably the person to ask. Explain that you've finished the work you had already been assigned and ask if there is anything they would like you to work on until your boss returns to allocate more to you.

If there isn't anyone who is obviously stepping in to provide that cover I'd suggest asking the same thing of the most senior person in your team, even if the in-team structure is essentially flat there will usually be someone who has been with the company longer than the others, if that's the case then you reframe your question slightly as more of a "what do you think I should be doing?" or "who do you think I should ask for more work?"

  • @DysphoricUnicorn you can also ask a direct colleague how they would handle this; maybe there is another way to get more tasks.
    – Erik
    Oct 16, 2017 at 11:14
  • 19
    Instead of plainly asking "what do I do?", take a moment and come up with a few options: "Shall I read some documentation, do foo or bar, or do you have something else?", which shows some independance
    – Martijn
    Oct 16, 2017 at 12:10
  • 3
    If you're an engineer you're not supposed to spend 100% of your work time on tasks that you've been given, except if the deadline is close and everything's on fire. It's totally OK to spend some time looking for improvements, documenting yourself, studying ways to modernize things, etc. Of course it should be a small part of your time and it's better if you keep a track of those extra activities, so it doesn't look as if you were just not doing your job. The time you spend today learning basics of technology X or Y will benefit your company tomorrow.
    – Tim
    Oct 16, 2017 at 13:13
  • @TimF "If you're an engineer you're not supposed to spend 100% of your work time on tasks that you've been given, except if the deadline is close and everything's on fire." Where is this dream job where deadlines aren't close? Oct 17, 2017 at 5:06

Other than asking other senior members of your team what to do, like others have answered here, I would suggested taking this time to read up on documentation. That could be documentation from past projects or ones that are currently ongoing. You could also ask other team members if you can look at their project documents to get a better idea of how your team works.

If all of that drys up, which isn't likely, then at last resort I would start reading up on any online training material that you can find. You didn't list your job, but if you are a programmer for example, read up on tutorials or training material for programming languages, etc.

  • As a trainee who is not yet familiar with the current applications, I would suggest spending the time looking at the code and the databases(s) to try to understand how everything works. Keep a running list of questions to ask your boss about when he returns. And try to learn more about the business domain as you do so.
    – HLGEM
    Oct 16, 2017 at 13:35

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