How to Make Good Use of Time Pockets

By Ali Luke

April 12, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

They occur when we’ve got some necessary gap between two tasks. For example:

  • Those ten minutes at work before a meeting, when it’s not worth starting anything new
  • Waiting for a kettle or a pan of water to come to the boil
  • Waiting for a bus or train
  • Getting stuck in traffic for twenty minutes
  • Standing in line at the post office

All too often, we end up simply drumming our heels. But you can put these pockets of time to good use – even when they’re as short as five minutes. Here’s how.

At Work
Even if your job is hectically busy most of the time, you’ll probably have the occasional few minutes when there’s really nothing you can get on with. Perhaps your aging computer has crashed and you have to wait for it to reboot, or maybe you’re waiting for a conference call and can’t start anything involved.

Instead of filing your nails, doodling on post-it notes or making a giant paper-clip chain, here are a few ways to salvage some of those time pockets – in order to make sure the rest of your day goes more smoothly.

Five minutes:

  • Write a quick to-do list or check-list for a project which is weighing on your mind – it’ll instantly seem more manageable 
  • Clear the spam from your inbox – you don’t even need to open it, just delete it without a second thought 

Ten minutes:

    • Tidy off your desk – file papers, put items away in drawers, throw away any trash 
  • Knock out a few quick emails 

Twenty minutes:

    • Write an outline for the report you’re working on, and check a few facts 
  • Make that phone call you’ve been putting off 

At Home
Time pockets often arise at home when you’re waiting for someone or something. Perhaps dinner is over, and there’s twenty minutes until your favourite show is on TV. Maybe you’re ready to leave the house, but your partner is taking a shower. Perhaps a friend has called to say he’s running late.

Rather than mooching around looking bored, or flicking through a magazine, use your pocket of time to sort out something that’s bugging you. Here are some examples:

Five minutes:

    • Check all lights are turned off and that electrical equipment is off rather than on standby (saves you on your electric bill) 
  • Write a quick shopping list 

Ten minutes:

    • Write that check which you meant to post a few days ago 
  • Fold the laundry and pair the socks 

Twenty minutes:

    • Whip the vacuum cleaner around a few rooms 
  • Tidy and clean the kitchen 

(If you’ve got a really tiny time pocket, try these life-changing 30-second ideas.)

Out and About

I find that a lot of time pockets arise when I’m out for the day – whether I’m doing something fun, or just running errands. There’s always some time spent waiting in line, or hanging around for a bus or train.

Instead of tapping your feet and glaring at your watch, snatch this bonus time to do something interesting. When you go out for the day, slip a few extras into your purse or bag:

    • A small notebook and pen 
  • A book that you’re reading (or that you want to get around to reading…) 
  • An MP3 player and headphones, with podcasts or audio books 

Almost any time you’re waiting around, you can sit or stand quietly and read. If you’re walking or if you get travel sick when reading on a bus or train, then try listening to audio content instead.

Notebooks are great for capturing ideas, for planning, and for making lists. If you’re waiting for ages at the post office, and you’re hitting the grocery store next, use that time to plan out the next week’s meals and make yourself a shopping list. You’ll almost certainly end up saving some cash, because you won’t buy food that doesn’t get used, and you won’t buy on impulse.

What time pockets do you have in your life? How can you use them effectively?

Written on 4/12/2010 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: TheGiantVermin
Ali Luke

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