Lately my work day has been filling up with meeting after meeting. My time at home is completely booked with the kids. Even after everyone is asleep, I’m usually too exhausted to do anything really productive. Most people are in a similar situation, where their time is already maxed out but they need to do more in order to advance in their career or speciality. This is where squeezing everything out of your idle time is critical. You’ll find that you have a lot of it, but it’s usually unrealized and underutilized.
Where to look for idle time blocks
Blocks of idle can be found throughout your day. Whether it be between meetings, during parts of your commute, or even, I dare say, while using the restroom. In today’s world, we fill these empty blocks by checking our phones, flipping through instagram and other social meeting, or even just zoning out. We’ve lost the value of these precious opportunities because it’s so easy to fill idle time with activities that don’t have real benefit.
Take a moment to think about your day and see where you have a block of 5-10 minutes. Ask yourself whether you’ve ever filled that time with something meaningful that helps enhance your knowledge or expertise. If you haven’t, then you can start there. Here are some ideas of 10 minute blocks of idle time from my own day to help you get started:
- The car ride from my house to the train station (10-15 minutes)
- The walk from the train station to the office (10-15 minutes)
- The walk to lunch if I eat outside (5-10 minutes)
- Miscellaneous meetings that start late or end early (5 minutes x 2)
- The walk back to the train station at the end of the day (10-15 minutes)
- The time waiting for my (delayed) train to leave (15+ minutes these days… thanks NJTransit!)
- The walk to my car and drive home (15 minutes)
So just in my day I’ve counted up at least 70 minutes of idle time that I could be utilizing more efficiently. On the upper scale, it’s 110 minutes. That’s a huge amount of time that I could be utilizing for my career development or staying updated on industry news.
How to productively fill these blocks of time
So hopefully you’ve found at least a few blocks of time that you could be using. Even if you’ve only found 20 minutes total, that’s plenty of time to really squeeze a lot of benefit out of. Now, you might say that a 5 minute block of time isn’t enough to get started on anything. The ramp up time with whatever you’re trying to do would eat up most of the time. While that’s true if you’re trying to do a large task, there are plenty of activities that are a great fit.
Here are some ideas that I do to fill my 10 minute blocks of time:
- Listening to audio podcasts
- Reading article that I’ve saved
- Watching short videos that I’ve saved
- Brainstorming ideas for blog topics 🙂
The common theme of all these activities is that the ramp-up time is relatively quick. For my podcasts, I already have them downloaded on my phone. As long as I have my headphones, it takes a few seconds to begin listening. Even if I only have 5 minutes, that’s usually 1/4 of a podcast finished. This is my primary recommendation for utilizing your time. You can find tons of useful podcasts related specifically to your field or more generally on the topics of management and leadership. If you’re not already doing this, then I highly recommend you start today.
Reading articles and watching video is also great because you can usually finish within a single idle time block. Make sure you already have a list of what you want to read. Having to decide what to read or watch will eat up your time, so plan ahead.
I’m half-joking about brainstorming ideas for my blog but it’s true. Sometimes it’s worth opening up your notes program (Evernote is my choice), and jotting down ideas you have. 5 minutes of brainstorming really goes a long way towards whatever you’re trying to plan. I use it sometimes to help me plan my day or to find more content to read up on.
Remind me again, what’s the purpose?
The goal of all of this is not to overwhelm you but to actually help you feel more balanced in your day. The constant pressure to keep learning and growing is difficult, but you don’t have to radically change your life in order to do it. I’ll tell you from personal experience that filling these time blocks was one of the most career enhancing things I’ve done. I’ve actually come to enjoy these precious times, because I know I’ll have a chance to learn something new when otherwise I would have done absolutely nothing.
Try this out for a week and see how it goes. Subscribe to one or two podcasts that align with what you’re trying to learn and achieve. Bookmark a few articles that you’ve been wanting to read. Download or add to your watch list those videos everyone has been recommending. Give it a shot and see how much more you’ve learned without sacrificing any of your time.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik