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10 Ways To Be Productive in 10 Minutes

10 Ways To Be Productive in 10 Minutes

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    Most of my free time, except when I’m doing it on purpose, tends to come in short blocks. I rarely have 2 hours free, but might, over the course of a work day, have those same two hours in twelve ten-minute bursts.

    I realized recently that, for the most part, I waste all of this free time. Since it’s such a short period of time, it seems to not strike me as worth using productively. I spend those ten minute periods doing things like staring aimlessly at the computer screen, picking my nose, or trying to remember what on Earth I have to do in ten minutes. I’m a big fan of periodically doing this (zoning out for a while’s my favorite way to launch back into productive work), but I started to notice that, over the course of a day or week, that time really does add up.

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    So I developed a list of ten things to do with ten minutes. Now, when I’ve got a few minutes to spare or kill, I run down this list, and do one or two of them – it makes my time more productive, and tends to give me longer blocks of free time later, because I’ve already finished all the quick tasks that tend to pile up at the end of my task list.

    Make a Phone Call

    Since most of us seem to be near a phone just about 24 hours a day, and always seem to have someone we should or have to call, free moments are the natural time to make a few phone calls. Only having ten minutes is a nice bonus – it makes sure you’re not going to get into some long, drawn-out conversation you’d rather not have. Whether you need to follow up on something, make a plan, or just catch up with a friend, phone calls can be done quickly, and anywhere.

    Cook

    If you’ve got a few minutes, make yourself some food, either for now or for later. Sometimes I’ll make lunch for the next day, or just throw together a snack for when I inevitably get hungry (usually a point when I don’t have ten seconds to spare, much less ten minutes). Having something around to munch on, or having the cooking process started, makes it all go faster when I need it to.

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    Nap

    I’m a huge proponent of cat-naps, and anyone who says they don’t work is a dirty liar. Put your head down, close your eyes, and go to sleep. Sure, you’ve only got ten minutes, but who cares? The simple act of closing your eyes, clearing your head and relaxing (more akin to meditation) is hugely beneficial, as is even a few minutes of sleep. You’ll come back rejuvenated, in a better place to do more later.

    Read Something

    Keep a reading list somewhere accessible. I used to have a bookmarks file on my computer called “Read Later”; now I use Instapaper. Wherever you keep it, keep a list of things you want to read of watch, and plow through a few of them in spare moments. Applications like Instapaper are great because they have mobile versions, but any list you can come up with works.

    Write Emails

    This is much the same as phone calls – we’ve all got emails we could write, even if they’re not absolutely essential this very second. For me, at least, I hate writing emails longer than about six sentences, so I tend to leave them off as long as possible. I realize, though, that in ten minutes I can write a number of emails, and get through a good chunk of my “Reply To” list. Makes other people happy, and makes me feel more productive. Win-win.

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    Strike Up a Conversation

    If you’ve got nothing to do, why not go build up a relationship? Maybe it’s the person in your neighbor cubicle, or maybe it’s the girl behind the counter at the coffee shop – whoever it is, strike up a conversation. Time flies, and who knows? You might just meet someone fascinating.

    Clean Up

    The single most productive thing I do in these in-between times is organize. In ten minutes, it’s ridiculous how much filing I can get done, or how much email purging and sorting I can get through. Pick one area or one task, and plow through it. I try to clear my desk in ten minutes, and almost always find I can. Usually I just throw everything away, but that’s beside the point. Ten minutes is more than enough time to make a huge dent in even the biggest piles of junk.

    Brainstorm

    Brainstorming and mind mapping are great ways to spend a few spare minutes, and are great because you can do either with almost anything: a computer, paper, a napkin, or whatever you might find at hand. Just start writing stuff – what do you have to do? What cool ideas do you have? You’ll be amazed how much comes out, and how quickly, when you just sit there and start writing. Or, try making a list of 100, a list centered around a particular topic (say, Ideas for Making Millions) that’s exactly 100: no more, no less. Only having ten minutes makes the ideas fly out, and you’ll be amazed how good they are.

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    Stumble

    StumbleUpon, a website/toolbar that takes you to random webpage after random webpage, is frequently single-handedly credited with the downfall of Western Civilization. You know what? I’m cool with that. Stumbling is a great way to learn new things, expose yourself to interesting Web tidbits you’d never find otherwise, and broaden your horizons of all things Web. Spend a few minutes with StumbleUpon, and I guarantee you’ll learn something.

    Journal

    I kept a journal for a long time, and then stopped once I discovered I’m not interesting in the least. Now I wish I hadn’t stopped – who knows who might one day find it interesting, or when I’ll want to look back? Instead of a long-form journal (though I highly recommend keeping one if it works for you), just take a few minutes and write down a few high- and low-lights of the day. Usually, just jot down the first few things that come to mind about your life since you wrote last. In a year, ten years, or a hundred, you’ll be glad you did.

    What do you do to fill in the blanks, and make use of these short bursts of free time?

    Photo: Vahid Rahmanian

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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