Have you ever felt underutilized at work?

Like you can add more value if only someone would recognize your capabilities and put you into a more fitting opportunity?

Maybe you’re bored by tasks that aren’t interesting to you and don’t use your best skills. Perhaps there’s not enough work or you’re in between jobs.

When you’re feeling underutilized, pigeon-holed or stalled in your career, it’s demoralizing and frustrating.

Which is exactly the time to harness your dissatisfaction and turn it into an opportunity.

Specifically, it’s time to look for ways to use your strengths and create a role you would enjoy and where you can contribute.

Think of this as “creating your own work”

Creating your own work means being able to find productive and energizing ways to spend your time without needing or waiting for someone else to tell you what to do.

It’s being able to think strategically and creatively about what you can do to add value during times when things are slow, when you’re bored by doing more of the things you already know how to do or when you’ve outgrown your job but a new one isn’t yet ready and waiting.

Being able to create your own work is vital for your career

The more senior you get, the more you’re expected to lead yourself. To take initiative, to know where you add the most value and to build a team around you to do the rest.

Being able to create your own work is the type of skill that makes you more visible to decision-makers and shows that you’re working at the next level.

It’s also an essential skill should you find yourself no longer working in an organization but working for yourself, whether that’s by choice or circumstance. You don’t want your only option to be having someone else create a job for you. You at least need to be able to bridge that time between jobs.

The same applies for those times in between jobs because these days, no one can count on continuous employment.

When you feel underutilized, here are five ways to create your own work and expand your sphere of influence:

  • Be curious
  • Follow your passion
  • Take on a challenge
  • Adopt a senior leader’s initiative
  • Publish your ideas

Be curious

As a lawyer in the litigation department of a Fortune 100 company, Wendy noticed that the number of lawsuits was increasing. While some might have seen the trend as providing job security and a reason to grow their team, Wendy became curious about why they were getting sued more and more.

Through conversations with her business unit colleagues, Wendy learned that there were warning signs during the sales process that, if addressed, could prevent many of those lawsuits. While this wasn’t part of her day job, Wendy felt something had to be done. 

With her boss’s support, Wendy spearheaded the development of an “Early Warning System” that ultimately saved the company millions of dollars in litigation settlements while also protecting their reputation in the market.

For Wendy, creating this project led to winning the CEO’s award for innovation and being promoted to head of litigation 18 months later.

What could you become curious about and explore in your organization?

Follow your passion

As a Vice President in the IT department, Nina was interested in helping her female colleagues advance and mentored several in her unit. When she heard that the company wanted to establish a Women’s Network, she jumped at the chance to make a bigger impact.

While her “day job” kept her busy, it was her role as head of the new Women’s Network that fed her soul.

It also was a golden opportunity to broaden her network across the firm and develop relationships with the senior managers who spoke at events and participated in the mentoring program she developed. And became a recognized leader thanks to the value the Women’s Network created for organization.

What interests do you have that could be a good fit with your organization or beyond?

Take on a challenge

When I was a junior associate supporting senior client relationship officers, the opportunity came up to expand our prospecting efforts into a new geographical region. The senior officers were all working at capacity, so they asked the three of us in the associate pool whether one of us wanted to step up and start calling on those prospects.

Since this was completely new territory, they figured someone junior couldn’t do any harm and it would be a great opportunity to learn how to “cold call”. Maybe we’d even get lucky and bring in some business.

As the more experienced of the three associates, I decided to put my hand up and take on this challenge. Armed with a suitcase full of “pitch books”, I hopped on a flight, rented a car and met with treasurers at 10 companies in the region.

While I didn’t bring in any deals, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn to cold call prospects and I got kudos from the senior bankers for having the courage to take on this challenge. Plus, I got a kick out of meeting with people twice my age and having them interested in what I had to say!

What challenge might you want to take on that adds value to your organization and your career?

Adopt a senior leader’s initiative

Our company’s president invited all the female client relationship officers to a Women’s Golf Outing where we could learn to play golf. Since so much business was done over a round of golf, he wanted us to be able to take out clients out just as our male colleagues did (most of whom were golfers).

The outing showed me that golf truly was a great bonding opportunity, whether with colleagues or clients. That’s when it dawned on me that we could run a Women’s Golf Outing to help our female clients learn to play golf too.

My skip level boss loved the idea when I proposed it, and he set up a meeting for me to present the idea to our president, who was thrilled I was emulating his initiative. We ran the event for 7 years and our president joined us to make the welcoming speech each time.

Are there initiatives your senior management have started that would be energizing for you to adopt in your own sphere of influence?

Publish your ideas

When I was transferred to London to start the corporate bond origination business, we had little infrastructure to support this brand-new effort. While no one asked for it, I decided to start a weekly update for our relationship bankers that could be used as a script when talking to their clients. 

Taking the initiative to publish this update helped us stay visible to our bankers while also making it easier for them to talk to clients about our products.

What might you publish that would serve your clients and help your colleagues make a bigger impact?

So, when you feel underutilized, it’s time to take initiative

Don’t wait for your boss or anyone else to give you a more interesting assignment. Your boss is busy and potentially distracted by a multitude of responsibilities and challenges. She can’t think of everything and you’re more aware of what interests you than anyone else can ever be.

Look for what’s valued and needs to be done that you could do using your unique strengths and skills. What do you see? How can things be improved?

This could lead to an expansion of your role or become a bridge to a new role altogether. The key is to take action and set things in motion. Not everything you try will stick, but it’s important to be actively pursuing avenues. Motion breeds confidence.

Remember you still need to bring people along with your ideas

This isn’t an opportunity to “go rogue” and start a new line of business that’s counter to the mission of the company, like launching a crypto currency trading project in the marketing department!

But if it’s aligned with the mission, vision and values of the organization and fills a need, you should be in good shape. And of course, nothing is stopping you from doing that totally different project as a side gig.

When you can create your own work, you’ll have greater freedom to enjoy what you do

When you’re in the flow and finding joy in your work, it shows and your positive energy will attract others to you. Positive energy attracts. Negative energy repels.

So when you feel underutilized, tap into these options for creating your own work and finding joy in what you do:

  • Be curious
  • Follow your passion
  • Take on a challenge
  • Adopt a senior leader’s initiative
  • Publish your ideas

What’s the step you can take now to begin creating work you enjoy?

Leave a comment and let me know.