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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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