No matter who you are, you’ve got 24 hours in a day to maintain, or even improve, your work, home, body, spirit and relationships. Considering that a third of that is given over to sleep, we’ve each got about 16 hours to do everything we want and need to each day. More than ever in our culture of constant interruptions and distractions, making good use of hidden little pockets of time — what productivity expert David Allen calls “weird time windows” — is crucial to maintaining sanity.
In order to use weird time windows well, being prepared is key. That means never being without pen and paper or a device into which you can dictate. It means always having your personal reading material with you. It might mean carrying an extra set of workout clothes in your car in case you can get to the gym or go for a hike on the spur of the moment when a meeting is cancelled.
You also need to be prepared with a thorough “next action” list, aka a “to do” list. If you don’t have a list of the calls you need to make, errands you need to run and projects you need to work on, you won’t be able to effectively use those extra 10 to 30 minutes that pop up here and there.
Make a list of small tasks you can do when some of these time windows open up at home or in the office. Things that might be on the list: fill up water bottle, clean out the junk drawer, plug in the iPad or phone, clean out hand bag, clear old food out of the fridge, water the plants, etc. When you are working on something intense and need a break, get up, stretch and do one of these little no-brainer tasks.
It’s fun to figure out ways to use these pockets of time. It makes delays and setbacks less frustrating. Change your perspective from the stressed out — “I hate waiting” — to “Oh goody, I have half an hour here in the quiet reception area to get some reading done!” If you have to wait anyway, make it work for you.
If you commute, and learning a second language or listening to some Great Courses on CD has been a goal, be sure to keep the CDs in your car and use commute time to accomplish a goal rather than zone out to the radio. Of course, if you are exhausted from work, zoning out to the radio might be time well spent to decompress.
If you commute and you know you will just be sitting in traffic if you get on the road at 5 p m , why not pull into a café and get some reading or writing done and get back on the road at a time when your commute will be much faster? When I work in San Francisco or Marin, I know there is no point in joining the other commuters on Highway 101 at 5 o’clock, so I plan errands or dinner with a friend or time alone in a café to catch up on reading and paper work. If I’m really thinking ahead, I will schedule a massage, yoga class or other treat to use the hours before I get on the road doing something beneficial. I usually end up getting home only slightly later than I would have had I sat in traffic.
Waiting in line at the car wash is a great time to return phone calls and emails, clean out the car, clean out the hand bag, or read the newspaper.
Airports and airplane flights are time window goldmines. It’s a shame that airlines have WiFi and will probably be allowing phone calls on planes any time now. It will take discipline to turn everything off and use the time to read, plan and write. I’ve done some of my best project planning and creative thinking on airplanes, and always take a notebook and non-leaky pen or my laptop in my carry on. To me, those hours in the air are sacred space.