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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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