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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

3 Surprising Times You Actually Shouldn't Coast at Work

person relaxed at desk
Chad Springer/Getty Images

Most of us would probably be lying if we said we’ve never taken it easy at work. That we’ve never gotten through all our “absolutely-must-dos,” checked out our “should-do” list and thought, “Nah, I’m going to head home early.” Even the hardest workers deserve those days.

But there are also a few circumstances in which you shouldn’t coast at work, even if nothing seems imminent. Because when you do kick up your feet in these instances, you run the risk of making everyone else’s lives harder. And that doesn’t make anyone think too fondly of you.

So, before you go into cruise control, here are some of the most common examples of deceivingly relaxing moments at the office.

1. When Your Deadline’s Months in The Future

If your project isn’t due as soon as you finish reading this article, I’m not telling you to cancel all your plans for today to get it done. But even though it feels like you have all the time in the world to complete the work, it’s also easy to get too comfortable with putting it off for another occasion. After all, you probably have more pressing tasks to get done right this second. (Such as a dinner or yoga.)

Be careful, though. Again, I’m not urging you to crank the project out now. But you should create a to-do list that lays out all the essential steps—and you should attach a timeline to each step. By doing that, you might discover that it’d be a huge benefit to yourself to get started now. Not only will this reduce your stress, but it will also show your boss and teammates that you won’t leave them in the lurch.

2. When Everyone Else Is Getting Ready to Head Out

When you see everyone around you packing up for the weekend, it’s easy to assume you can do the same. It’s even more common to think that even if something is due right this second, nobody’s going to read it today anyway. Of course, you might be right. But the truth is that your teammates could all walk out for the day right now knowing that they’re going to ask you about your deliverable first thing tomorrow morning.

I’m not going to lie. Co-workers have promised things to me on days when everyone around the office is taking a breather—and in many cases, I didn’t find it necessary to follow up until the next day. But there have been plenty of other instances in which I needed something on a Friday afternoon, only to be left out to dry.

So even if you have a feeling that the person you’re working with won’t respond to you immediately, if it’s due, it’s due. And the sight of your co-workers heading out for happy hour drinks isn’t a good reason not to stay productive.

3. When You’re Looking for a New Job

There are probably friends out there reading this and thinking, “Rich, you are Exhibit A of coasting when you wanted a new gig.” And for those of you who knew me when I was younger, I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong. In fact, I’m writing this now because of the mistakes I made when I was looking for a way out of previous companies.

Even if you feel like you’re going to quit the next time your boss sends you a passive-aggressive email, that doesn’t give you license to start loafing in your current position. That’s not to say you shouldn’t look for something new.

Quite the opposite, in fact. But take it from me—you’ll feel much prouder of yourself if you end this job on the highest note possible. There are many reasons to do that, but one big selfish one is that your co-workers could prove to be valuable connections down the road. And it’s dumb to burn a bridge just because you’re over your job.

There are occasions at work when it’s perfectly OK (and necessary) to take your foot off the pedal. But there are also situations in which they’re not quite as good of an idea as you think. Before you take a breather, see what you have going on. If nothing mission-critical is due and things around the office are a little bit lax, go ahead and join in. But if you have a commitment, follow through on it, even if it means working a little harder than you think you need to.