Advertising
Advertising

20 Productive Ways to Use Your Free Time

20 Productive Ways to Use Your Free Time

If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

Advertising

Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

Advertising

  • Reading file. Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File. Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).
  • Clear out inbox. Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty. If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done, but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.
  • Phone calls. Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere. Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.
  • Make money. This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick. If you get 5-10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can free-lance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.
  • File. No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up. But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around. Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.
  • Network. Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.
  • Clear out feeds. If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.
  • Goal time. Take 10 minutes to think about your goals, personal and professional. If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them. Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.
  • Update finances. Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget. Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10-15 minutes every now and then.
  • Brainstorm ideas. Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.
  • Clear off desk. Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk. Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.
  • Exercise. Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2-3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.
  • Take a walk. This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere — but even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long, and it gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.
  • Follow up. Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list. When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.
  • Meditate. You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5-10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.
  • Research. This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts. If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!
  • Outline. Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.
  • Get prepped. Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list. You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.
  • Be early. Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early. Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).
  • Log. If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log. Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

Got some productive spare-time tips of your own? Share them in the comments.

Advertising

Advertising

More by this author

Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

The Gentle Art of Saying No How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips

Trending in Featured

1 How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck 2 15 Ways to Cultivate Lifelong Learning for a Sharper Brain 3 How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position 4 Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion 5 7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

Advertising

3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

Advertising

6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

Advertising

9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

Advertising

Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

Read Next