A few days ago, I talked about how I get my best creative thinking done when stuck in an airport terminal, doctor’s office, or boring lecture- time I would have previously defined as “wasted down time” before I realized what a gold mine of productivity it could be.
Today I want to talk about the other forms of “down time” that occur in my daily life that I’ve learned to reclaim as ultra-productive:
Time in Transit: The number one way I’ve eliminated this as down time is by walking everywhere humanly possible, turning it into my zero-carbon workout. But when I do need to drive (and when I run and walk, actually) I use it to clear my mind to make room for the random inspiration to hit. I write it down when I reach my destination (I even keep a notebook in the stroller). And if a child is with me, that is focused conversation time- no radio if the trip is under 10 minutes.
Waiting in a parked car (often for a child to get out of practice, etc.): This relatively short period of time is perfect for the 2-minute burst of kindness, organization, or friendship. By keeping a tote bag filled with greeting cards, my backlog of Cooking Light magazines, my day planner, and my file folder broadly labeled “to read”, I can give short but important tasks my full concentration, provided they are ones I can quickly put down.
That awkward 20 minutes before you need to be somewhere: If I am at home with this amount of time left, I know there’s no point in trying to concentrate on anything, so I clean. Very fast. I get tons done because I know there’s a definite end to it (I don’t particularly like cleaning), and it’s fun to race the clock. If I am away from home, I call my mom. She’s somehow always available to take my call, and 20 minutes is enough time to listen as well as just talk.
The line at the grocery store: I learned this one from “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson. Instead of getting annoyed by the length and perceived human causes of my waiting time here, I’ve started to use it to observe without and learn from the people around me. It’s fascinating. Carlson calls it being an “anthropologist” in your own home town. It’s wonderful training on becoming less judgmental, impatient, and self-absorbed.
When other people are wasting my time: The useless board meeting, the acquaintance who corners you in the store to talk, the repairman who leaves you waiting for hours. This is the hardest area for me- I am not known for my patience. But I am learning to play another mind trick on myself to not only make this time productive, but to keep myself from exploding from rising blood pressure. I imagine myself as a therapist or a consultant, and then try to analyze WHY this hold-up in efficiency is happening, and what I am supposed to do about it. If it’s because someone is feeling lonely or avoiding her next activity by spending time with me, then I believe I was meant to be there for that person at that time. If it’s because a process or institution is inherently flawed, then I can learn from its mistakes to avoid them in my own life. Either way, the time can provide some precious lessons.
Again, I keep seeming to come back to the issue of control – something I have a hard time letting go of. No time needs to be wasted, as long as we fit the activity to the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and give up the iron-clad “to do” list we composed that morning when we had a perfect vision of how every minute of the day would go.
Connect to your surroundings rather than fight against them, and you’ll find that every minute of your day can be filled with purpose, joy, and meaning.