How to Maximize Small Pockets of Time

12/28/2017 10:40 am ET

People often complain about having too much to do, and too little time. And in our busy lives, that is frequently true.

But one of the reasons we feel this way is because we don’t make productive use of little pockets of time.

Of course there are major procrastinators among us, but in general I think people are pretty good at getting things done when they have at least an hour to focus on something.

Whereas I think we squander away a few minutes here and there, all day long, because we don’t believe anything substantial can be accomplished in such a short block of time.

But a few minutes here and there can add up to hours of missed opportunity.

Imagine if we could cross things off our to-do list, or take steps toward long-term goals, when these small windows present themselves.

It is possible. Productivity can be achieved in seconds and minutes, not only hours.

There are two primary keys to making this a reality.

The first, and arguably most important key, is identifying everyday triggers.

There are numerous things in our daily lives that cause us to wait for a few minutes. These are the regular triggers I’m talking about.

For example, it might take two minutes for the hot water to kick in when you turn on the shower, three minutes for your computer to boot up, or five minutes for your coffee to brew in the morning. All of these are everyday occurrences that can lead to short periods of wasted time.

Do you just stand there waiting for the water to heat up, or does turning the knob on the shower trigger you to do something productive?

I used to just stand there, periodically putting my hand under the water to see if it was suitably warm. Therefore I was wasting at least couple minutes every single day, just from this one occurrence.

Meanwhile, I was also complaining that I didn’t have enough time to go to the gym for strength training. I had just assumed that I needed at least 30 minutes to get in a workout.

But then, a few months ago, I decided that something is better than nothing, so I started doing pushups in the couple minutes between turning the shower on and the water warming up. This began with a set of 20 pushups (all I could do in one set, at the time), and now I am able to do 75 pushups in one set as the water warms. I notice the strength gains just from maximizing these two minutes, every single day. And it all works because turning on the shower acts as an automatic trigger.

The second key is determining what can be done in these little chunks of time.

Pushups are a great example, because they can be done anywhere and don’t require any setup or special equipment. And just one set of pushups to exhaustion, every single day, yields noticeable strength gains. But this could just as easily be situps, jumping jacks, yoga moves, burpees, or planking if you have similar fitness goals. All can be done in just a couple minutes, and add up to big gains over time.

Or if de-stressing is a goal, take the three minutes while your computer boots up to meditate. Close your eyes and just focus on your breathing for a few minutes. There are numerous studies that show this small amount of meditation can reduce stress. Your computer booting up is the perfect trigger for meditation, putting you into the right frame of mind before you start a work day (or check email, etc.).

Or maybe talking to your family is important to you, but often squeezed out of your daily life. In that case, the coffee brewing can be the trigger to call mom (or dad, brother, sister, etc.). Five minutes (or less) is all it takes to make the connection.

Did you ever think that these small bits of time could lead to better physical fitness, reduced stress, and improved family relationships?

It is all possible as long as you automate the triggers and corresponding activities. And by focusing on triggers that happen every single day, you will be building powerful (and enduring) habits. Research has shown that it takes just 21 days to form a new habit.

What else happens in your daily life that could be re-framed as a few minutes of new opportunity?

It’s time to think differently in order to maximize these little pockets of time.

Andrew Merle writes about living well, including good habits for happiness, health, productivity, and success. Subscribe to his e-mail list at andrewmerle.com and connect with him on Twitter.

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