Maximizing Empty Time

One of the biggest reasons people start a Time Diet is because they claim to not have enough hours in the day to finish everything they need to do. Of course, there is no magical way to add time to your day, but you can make better use of those scattered extra minutes that would otherwise be wasted. I’m taking about making use of little bits of empty time.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Emily, I don’t have a ton of empty time. If I did, I wouldn’t be so stressed!” I don’t mean to imply that you will all of a sudden find a 3-hour chunk of time in your afternoon that had been sitting there unused. I am talking about when you find yourself ready for work 5 minutes early, or you end up waiting for a bus a few minutes longer than expected, or you’re waiting for your boss to get off of a long phone call so your meeting can start. These little bits of empty time may not seem like much, but in the spirit of The Time Diet, let’s look at it like snacking.

Often times, when people write down everything they eat during the day as part of a diet plan, they are surprised to see how many calories they consume mindlessly between meals. These tiny snacks don’t seem like much – a few chips here, a cracker or two there – but they can quickly add up. The same is true for empty time. Those little extra minutes here and there may not seem like much, but if you add them all up, you may surprised how much time you actually have available to you.

The key is to be prepared for this empty time so you know immediately what to do with it. One of the reasons we waste little bits of empty time is because we don’t have a list of things we could do in a small bit of time like 5 minutes. So, here you go!
Things to Do in Under 5 Minutes

At Work:
1) Start a Vegetable Task: When we have a few extra minutes at work, we are sometimes hesitant to start a task because we think we won’t have time to finish it. Easier “Vegetable” tasks often take less time than you think. Keep a list of easy Vegetable tasks on your choose-to list and knock them out when you have a spare minute. Don’t worry about how long you think it will take. Just put your head down and “start grazing.”
2) Send a thank you note: When was the last time you thanked someone for a job well done? Next time you have a few extra minutes, jot a thank you note to someone you work with and let them know that you appreciate what they do. Gratitude doesn’t take a lot of time but it goes a long way in building positive relationships.
3) Relax: “Not working” is not the same as relaxing. If you are stressed and have a few extra minutes, don’t just putter around. Look away from your computer (even if that means having to walk outside,) close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.  Taking a quick break to just breathe is a “Dessert” we overlook too often.

At Home:
I found this list to be very helpful: 25 Things to Do in 5 Minutes or Less
This blog was written by a mom, but most of the things on this list are applicable to people without kids as well. My favorite one is “put in a load of laundry.” It seems so simple, and yet I never think of laundry as being something I can do in 5 minutes. Laundry is something I usually set aside a whole morning for, but why? I don’t have to do it all at once.

On the road:
Sometimes empty time occurs when we least expect it, like while we are waiting in line for something. To make use of this empty time, you need to be a little more creative.
1) Clean out your car: Arrive early to your destination? Clean out the clutter in your car or take it through the car wash.
2) Carry a notebook: I always carry a small blank notebook around with me so if I find myself with a few minutes to spare, I can sketch out a project or paper for grad school.
3) Run an errand: Did your outing take less time than expected? Run another quick errand on your way home so you don’t have to make a separate trip.
4) Keep a book in your car: It seems like no one has time to read just for fun anymore. Reward yourself with the Dessert of a good book when you’re held up unexpectedly. A book (or even an E-Reader) can be bulky to carry with you but throwing one in your car means you’ll have it more available to you than it would be sitting at home on your night-stand.

Making better use of empty time is not meant to keep you working constantly. Rather, it’s meant to make more efficient use of time you’ve already dedicated to work so you can have more time to enjoy your Desserts later. Enjoy your newly found time!

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Silencing Your Inner Time Waster

In our Time Diets, we all have to learn to combat that little voice in our heads that is just a bit too unrealistically optimistic. It’s that voice that creeps out when you’re just about to start some work that says, “Why work now? Look at that big wonderful television! You know you want to watch that new reality show. Just watch it! When you’re done you’re bound to feel much more like getting your work done!”  In a regular diet you might recognize this as the same voice who tells you it’s ok to grab that second piece of chocolate cake because you’ve “earned” it, or to grab a Big Mac for lunch instead of making a sandwich because it’s easier.

This voice is your Inner Time-Waster and it is your goal to make it as soft as possible. Your Inner Time-Waster can be very convincing. It is very good at finding any possible reason to put off doing your work. Sometimes it’ll try to tell you that you’ll feel more like doing work later, or that you work all the time and deserve a break. It’s particularly good at convincing you to put off easy tasks that should only take a few minutes until the infamous “later.” Do not be fooled. Do you really think you’ll feel more like working later? No. This rarely happens. Get started so you have less to do when “later” gets here. For short tasks, remember the 5-minutes rule. If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now or else you’re likely to forget about.

Your Inner Time-Waster is right about one thing though- you do work all the time and you do need a break, but if you’re following your Time Diet correctly, you’re already scheduling in those Desserts for yourself.  So, when you catch your Inner Time-Waster trying to convince you to do anything but work, tell it to shut up and get lost! You have complete control of your workday and are planning to get your work done first so you can enjoy your Desserts worry-free. Take that Inner Time-Waster. I’m done with you.

Visualizing Your Success

I’ve talked recently about using visualization as a tool to find the motivation to finish something, and that technique really saved me this week! This was one of those “crunch time” weeks with both work and school. Concerts to direct, grades to fill out, papers to write, etc… Now, unfortunately, this is also December- my absolute favorite time of year- and I wasn’t going to give up some of my favorite holiday traditions to sit and write a paper all day. Last Sunday, I had a marathon Christmas cookie baking session with a few friends. We had so much fun and ended up baking about 12-dozen cookies. What a blast! But, I had a 15-page paper due the next week and as soon as they left, I knew I had to get to work. The problem was, after a whole afternoon of baking, I wanted to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate, not my laptop.

It was very tempting to tell myself that I could just finish the paper later. I started to think through my week and figured that if I worked through all of my lunches and skipped out on my husband’s work party I could still get the paper done and not have to work on it right then. When we don’t want to do something, we do a pretty job convincing ourselves that we’ll somehow feel more inspired to do our work later. I knew there was no way I was going to feel any more like writing the paper on my lunch breaks than I did right now. I visualized how great it would feel to climb into bed that night knowing my paper was done- to be able to go to work in the morning and not worry about finding any spare moment I could to keep writing. Armed with that delightful vision of a completed paper, I sat down and got to work.

After about 5 pages though, the urge to flop down on the couch and watch TV was creeping up again. I could hear my inner voice say, “Good for you! You got 5 pages done! You’ll do the rest later.” No. I didn’t want a partially done paper. I wanted a finished paper. How often have you started something, decided you’d do the rest later, and then wished so badly you had just finished it while you were on a roll? Every time I wanted to stop, I visualized starting my workweek completely free from the pressures of this paper, and kept going.

I got it done. All of it. It took about 5 hours, but crawling into bed that night knowing it was done and that I wouldn’t have to worry about it was even better than I’d imagined.