Eight Ways to Make Good Use of Your Spare Minutes Online

I bet you have a few spare minutes (or a fair bit more) online every day. Perhaps you end up surfing webcomics while you’re waiting for a big file to download, or maybe you’re browsing online in between phone calls, or during a lull in an instant messaging conversation. Whatever it is, you have a few minutes going spare … and you’re not doing anything productive during them.

Instead, how about finding some way to harvest those spare minutes and use them for something a bit more useful than looking at amusingly-captioned pictures of cats? Here are eight different ideas:

  1. Set Up RSS Feeds for Blogs in Your Industry
    Whatever your field of work or study, it’s a safe bet that there’s going to be blogs relating to it.
    These might be the work of enthusiasts, practitioners or academics. You’ll also find newspaper pieces and journal articles which relate to you.

    If you’re not already using RSS, get started with it. I like Google Reader, but there are plenty of RSS readers about. You can “subscribe” (it’s free) to the content from many regularly-updated sites, like blogs. The new posts then come straight to your RSS reader – saving you checking lots of different websites.

    When you get a few spare minutes, you can simply flick over to your RSS reader and read what’s new. You’ll have instant, relevant content – rather than distractions which have no meaning to you.

  2. Check Your Bank Balance
    If you have access to online banking, it takes less than a minute to log in and check your bank balance – but it can be a great way to stay on top of your finances, and to get an early alert about potential problems.

    Maybe you forgot about that check you wrote a couple of weeks ago – the one which is set to bounce unless you take quick action. Maybe you signed up for a cheap magazine subscription, meaning to cancel your direct debit once the pricier rate kicked in – but you never got round to it.

  3. Use Mechanical Turk to Earn a Few Extra Dollars
    If you’ve got a shortish but not insignificant chunk of time to spare online – perhaps you’re babysitting for friends, or hanging around waiting at an airport – how about getting some extra cash?

    Head over to Mechanical Turk and you’ll find all sorts of jobs waiting. Many take just a few minutes to carry out. They don’t pay much per hour, but it’s time you’d otherwise have wasted.

  4. Check the Weather for Tomorrow
    I live in the UK, so I’m pretty obsessed with the weather. ;-)

    If you’re in an area which tends to have variable weather – perhaps blue skies one day and grey clouds and biting winds the next – then it’s always worth spending a few seconds checking what weather is forecast for tomorrow. I’ve often been saved by this, taking an umbrella (on a morning which looked lovely) and being rescued from a sudden downpour later on.

  5. Look for Cheap Offers
    Thinking of going out to eat one night this week, or at the weekend? Find a site which collects together restaurants’ various deals and vouchers (MoneySavingExpert is a great UK one – if you’re from the US or another country, perhaps you can share your own favorite with us in the comments?)

    You may well find that you can get two meals for the price of one, or 50% percentage off your bill, with just a couple of minutes’ browsing and a quick printed voucher.

    A note of caution: only do this when you’re already planning on going out to eat. It’s very easy to see a good offer and decide to go out just to take advantage of it … and the cost of this soon mounts up.

  6. Bookmark Pages to Read Later
    Have you ever come across a great, but long, article online? If you didn’t have time to read it there and then, maybe you decided to come back later. And chances are, you ended up forgetting all about it.

    I use Delicious to save pages which I want to come back to, tagging them “to-read”. Although you might not have time to read long pages when you have a few spare minutes online, it’s a great opportunity to “stock up” your reading list.

  7. Track Your Habits
    There are various sites that let you keep track of particular habits which you’re trying to build on a regular basis. Joe’s Goals is a simple one; Habit Mix is another (which lets you link habits to your personal goals and values). It takes a minute or two each day to go through and tick which habits you’ve stuck to – but this simple practice can make a huge difference to your motivation.

    If you’re trying to lose weight, you can do something similar by tracking your food intake with a food diary (either using an online tool or a spreadsheet in an online office suite like Google Docs).

  8. Reconnect With an Old Friend
    Hop into your Facebook or email account and pick someone who you’ve not been in touch with for a while. Spend a couple of minutes writing a quick message to them – perhaps asking how they’re doing, giving them some brief snippets of news about your life, and mentioning how you’d love to stay in touch.

    Modern life moves fast. You might have lived in several different cities – or even several countries. You may have left behind friends from high school, college, or previous workplaces. Taking a few minutes to reconnect can be really rewarding.

What do you do with your spare minutes online? Got any productive ideas to add to this list?

Written on 6/22/2010 by Ali Hale. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: drewsaunders

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