Got 20 minutes? How about 5? Sitting in the car waiting to pick up the kids or head into the next appointment? When you’re going after the life you want, every minute counts. I'm always looking for ways to optimize even the smallest spaces of time to be more productive.
Maggie asked me about this very topic. I asked you on my Instagram what you wanted to learn more about and @blogstoriches wrote:
“Could you talk about [how] you get work done in little pockets of time (like at the airport, in between meetings)? I find myself with 20 mins here, 30 mins there that kind of just get lost in the ether. Would love tips for how to make the most out of little snippets of time.”
Maggie, girl, I hear you.
It’s totally natural for small time-frames of nothingness to sneak into your day. Even if you have the perfectly scheduled calendar. Life isn’t perfect. Things shift around. People drop their “emergencies” on you. Annoyingly small pockets of time open up and make you feel helpless.
Helpless while scrolling Instagram, that is.
Sometimes you’ll hear me say that I am so rigid about my schedule that it’s starting to be “to a fault.” The reason I say this is that I really start to see red when I feel my time is being wasted.
Whether it’s people not being respectful of others’ time or a flight delay that is completely out of my control. When there is unaccounted time and I feel I literally have nothing to do, I freak out a little because I know there is ALWAYS something to do.
Ask my husband. He can’t get me to sit down and watch television with him because as much as that sounds great (as much as I avoid it, I'm a total sucker for Real Housewives of anywhere you've ever heard of), it never sounds as good to me as knocking out the dishes, laundry, skincare routine and taking Lucy for a walk. Those are things that HAVE to happen. I FEEL better when I'm doing them.
But back to those small pockets of time.
Not only have I encountered these hiccups in the day, but I’ve talked a lot with coaching clients on working through the issue of doing what you can with the time you’re given.
Inspired by Maggie, these are the tips I have for you next time you're not sure what to do with yourself in a period of time that feels impossible to be productive within.
Every Minute Counts: How I Use Short Periods of Time to Get More Done
Calendar Blocking & Rescheduling
In my experience, the pro tip to making the most of small pockets of time is to plan for it. You know something is going to get messed up somewhere. Instead of ending up with the time randomly in your lap, schedule your tasks in advance for the day so you have an idea of what to do when plans suddenly change. Reviewing a blocked calendar will help you find the tasks you planned that fit in the new time frame you currently have.
For example, let's say you planned your Monday and one of your tasks at 3 pm is scheduled for calling your doctor to make an appointment. Then suddenly you're at lunch waiting for your friend and they text you to say they're running 15 minutes behind. You're just sitting there, alone, with nothing to do but continue to tell the server you're not ready. You review your calendar and see that you had planned to call the doctor at 3 pm and now you have at least 15 minutes to make that call while you wait. Make it happen! I also like to move up the appointment in the calendar to the actual time I did the task so I can keep track of it later.
You can get a more in-depth idea for how I schedule tasks with calendar blocking this by watching a video I created called How To Plan Your Day. When I’m planning I see everything from the 4-hour sections of time to the 20-minute pockets; I can find the tasks that need to happen and plan for them during an appropriate amount of time allotted.
Weekly Planning with my Bullet Journal
I try to carry my bullet journal with me everywhere. It’s great for being able to plan or write down ideas when I have them. It’s especially great for making the most of small pockets of time. There's always planning to do and even just a few minutes of preparation can make the difference for the future.
Let’s say I’m all ready to board a flight. I'm holding my roller bag in one hand and my boarding pass in the other. The attendant comes on the intercom to tell all passengers that the aircraft has landed but we’re going to be slightly delayed.
I now know this could be anywhere between 5-15 minutes of extra time on the ground. That may not sound like a lot of time to get things done. It is if you’re literally just standing there doing nothing and at the mercy of the airline's efficiency level.
At this point, I will take a step back from the gate and either find a seat or lean against a wall so I can pull out my bullet journal and start getting ahead on weekly planning.
When I pull up my calendar on my phone, I observe the appointments and scheduled tasks on deck for the next week and I'll write preparation tasks that need to be done in my daily log in the Bullet Journal. Am I doing a talk next week in Dallas? I'll write down that I need to schedule time to review my presentation and customize it for the audience I’ll be speaking to. Is Lucy overdue for shots? I'll write down that I need to call the vet.
Read a Book
I think one of my favorite things to do when a small pocket of time happens is to pop open the book I’m reading currently and get a few pages in. It’s something I love so much and yet it’s tough to find the time to read sometimes. If you actually want to read, you’ll stop making the excuse that you don’t have time and you’ll have that book on you whenever those little time slots happen.
Reading is the most amazing combination of enjoyment and getting stuff done. I feel so productive when I read because I know that the author had to go through a lot of life experience to be able to compact all their knowledge into the book I have in my hand. I get to enjoy that while I'm waiting for my color to activate at the hair salon, a perfect space of time to do something other than default to your phone.
Now, I’m not really good at meditating. But thank goodness there are apps for this. Lately, I’ve been trying to set aside just a few minutes a day to focus and I’m using the app Simple Habit to help me.
When it comes to 5 minutes of nothingness popping up in your day and trying to figure out what to do with it, a little mental clarity is a great idea.
As a productivity rule, I don’t check my email throughout the day. I schedule time to work on it. Because that’s what it is. Work. Rarely do I check my email anymore and have it be something I can just breeze through without tasks budding from it. So I have to be ready to check my email in order to filter and assign myself, and my team, tasks as they arise. Not really a passive activity.
When I have a 5-10 minute pocket of time open up, I will read and manage 3 emails. It can be a challenge sometimes. Other times, it’s not so bad and I can knock a few more out. But 3 is all I assign myself because it’s not the usual full amount of time that I get to check email and I have to be able to take next steps for whatever I encounter. Otherwise, it’s marked as unread and dealt with later.
A cluttered environment is a great way to feel cluttered with your work. I know I feel the impact of a messy space when I’m trying to focus and be as productive as possible. If someone is running late for a phone call or I’m waiting for a video to export, I will use the extra couple of minutes to tidy the space around me so I can feel the additional pressure lift.
Return Phone Calls
I do not take phone calls that are not scheduled. I don’t care if I know who you are, I just can’t pick up the phone when I’ve decided to spend my time on something else (sorry, Mom!) When I have a pocket of time open up, I will try to judge how much time I have and match it with the return phone calls I need to make.
Create Social Content
I love to create visual graphics for my Instagram stories and other social networks, especially because I can do it all inside a few apps of my phone. When I get an extra 15 minutes, I will usually create something to promote a video or a blog post with graphic design apps like WordSwag, Videorama and Snapseed.
Reply to The Socials on Instagram and Twitter
Probably one of my favorite things to do right now is read my Instagram DMs. There is just so much fun conversation that happens with The Social community (my people… YOU!) and I learn a lot about what videos and blog posts to do next. Fitting in some time to interact within the DM is an awesome bonus for a spare few minutes.
When you start to see the potential of making the most of every moment and you actually take ACTION on it, it's amazing what people will be saying to you.
“How do you get it all done?!”
That’s gotta be one of my favorite compliments of all time.