10 things to do when you have 10 minutes to spare

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

I tend to work best in big chunks of time. Three uninterrupted hours to focus on one single big task? That's my idea of workday bliss. Of course, it's not always reality. As much as I like to group my calls and meetings as closely together as possible to keep big blocks of time free, my day is often broken up around appointments and other necessary breaks (a girl's gotta eat, after all. And drink coffee.)

By making the most of those little bits of time in between big tasks, I've found I can actually get a lot done. We like to assume everything takes 15 minutes or half an hour or longer, but you can be surprisingly efficient in 10 or five or even one minute! Next time you find yourself with 10 minutes to spare at the office, here are some good ways to make use of that time. 

1. Read an article related to your industry. I work in digital marketing, which is a world that's constantly evolving, and it's important for me to keep up! Whenever I have a chance, I like to pop online and read a content marketing blog post, look at online user behaviour infographics, or review marketing trends. If it's a good article, I'll share it with my team. I also like reading about general workplace best practices, productivity hacks, easy lunches you can bring to work...you get the idea. Anything that makes my day a little more efficient, boosts my productivity, or helps me do a better job at work is a good use of free time. 

2. Do a quick email cleanup. I tend to subscribe (knowingly or unknowingly) to a lot of shit so every couple of months I use unroll.me to get rid of some of the emails that aren't applicable to me anymore. Or I'll do a quick scan of my inbox and delete a bunch of old, unnecessary emails. I have long since given up on the dream of Inbox Zero but keeping the situation in check from time to time makes me feel a lot better about the whole hot mess. 

3. Clean your desk and refresh your supplies. At work, I have a white desk and it gets FILTHY. Crumbs everywhere, dust bunnies, and just grime. I don't think of myself as a dirty person until I look at my desk. Sometimes at the end of the week I'll grab the Lysol wipes and give my desk a good little cleaning so that when I come in Monday morning, everything's spic and span. It's also a great chance to hit up the supply cupboard for a fresh notebook or new pens to replace the ones I keep losing. 

4. Chat to a coworker. My team has a lot of interaction but there are people at our company I might see once a month, or even less! Once in a while it's nice to get up, wander around and chat to a colleague about nothing work related, just shooting the breeze for a few minutes. You never know when you might come up with an idea for a new project or be able to help one another with a work-related issue. Plus it just creates a better, happier work environment. 

5. Change your desktop background. I like to put motivational messages on my desktop to remind myself to work harder, focus, stretch more...it changes. This is also a good opportunity to clear away all the messy thumbnails that tend to accumulate on your desktop and file stuff away properly. 

6. Make an appointment. 
For whatever reason, I put off making appointments for EVERYTHING. Doctor, dentist, massage, you name it, even though a) it takes 30 seconds and b) I always feel better after I've had the stupid appointment. Whatever appointment you're currently putting off, force yourself to call and make it today. 

7. Make tomorrow's to-do list. 
I generally do this at the end of every day before I leave the office, so when I arrive in the morning I don't spend the first 20 minutes floundering around and wondering where to begin. It's especially important on Friday afternoon! I write all my next week's appointments and meetings in my calendar as well as priorities for the week, so I know as soon as I arrive Monday morning what needs immediate attention. Obviously those priorities can shift as the week goes on, but it gives me a starting point and helps me get going faster in the morning. 

8. Go outside. 
Walk around the block or do a quick errand. This morning, I took five minutes to drop a letter in the mailbox down the street that I've been carrying around in my bag waiting to mail for, like, three weeks. Sometimes I'll run to the drugstore or pick up ingredients for dinner, or if it's a really nice day I'll just walk up the street for a few minutes. I used to feel guilty about taking a midmorning or midafternoon jaunt outside, but then I realized that people who smoke take breaks ALL THE DAMN TIME so why should I feel bad about getting a little fresh air and vitamin D? Plus, I always feel more focused when I come back in. 

9. Break your most annoying big task into manageable chunks. 
We all have a gross, gargantuan task coming up that we don't even want to think about doing. AM I WRONG? Obviously 10 minutes isn't going to take a chunk out of that mofo, but what you can do is break it up into smaller, more manageable steps. I have a writing deadline later this week that I couldn't be less enthused about so I've broken it up into research tomorrow morning, writing a first draft Wednesday morning, and adding links and proofing it on Wednesday after lunch. If I don't do this, I'll put it off until Thursday and then spend my whole day miserably scrambling to get it done. 

10. Create an outline for your passion project. 
Bear with me, because I know "passion project" is the ultimate cheesy jargon and I'm sorry for even using this term. From time to time I like to work on something that falls slightly outside my everyday responsibilities at work, whether it's pitching a new client, brainstorming a new project for an existing client, or even just taking a class or attending a seminar about something I'm interested in that could expand my skill set at work. I like having something fun and exciting  to work on in addition to the day-to-day duties. If you have a few minutes, make a list of ideas for "passion projects" you could take on or start jotting down an outline of how to make yours happen. Showing a little extra initiative at work is never, ever a bad thing!

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  1. I like this a lot! Especially with writing, and how much of a self-editor I am, I like your idea of breaking it up. To this day, I still look at a big task and want to take a nap. This makes it much less scary! Thanks for spelling it out!

    I also like the idea of the passion project (haha yes, it is a corny term, but I get it!). Although I hate the word webinar, I've been signing up for them, and also going to Lunch and Learns.

  2. Sitting at my computer, a bit too early to break for lunch - read this, changed my screensaver and currently on hold as I reschedule the massage I had to cancel a few weeks ago. WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG? Thanks for the push!

    1. Wooo! Now you have a massage to look forward to!