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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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