Getting things done while you're getting things done
August 26, 2010 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in hearing about "short burst" productivity enhancements I could make to my life. (Don't use the "L" word!)

There are times during the day when there are very short periods of downtime - waiting in line, brushing teeth, waiting for the computer to boot up - and I'm interested in learning how I could be filling those seconds and minutes, especially with chores and routine work tasks that I otherwise don't want to spend my free time on. I'm thinking that if I could devote many hyper-short blocks of time to a task, I could get something done during the day and it would feel like getting it done "for free".

It could be mundane like throwing out junk papers while waiting for your computer to boot, or maybe you have something more extreme - folding clothes while on the john? Doing your taxes in line at the grocery store? Maybe drag the broom behind you every time you cross the house? Hit me with everything!
posted by backseatpilot to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Memorization is a big one. I used to carry 3x5 cards in a plastic slipcover (anti-sweat, grime, etc.) with vocabulary lists for foreign languages, quotes I was trying to memorize, and techniques I learned in specific sports that I didn't want to forget.

I know for sure that this made me a more productive, optimistic person -- it was like having a constant way to get back to the important things instead of staring at the wall or the sidewalk or whatever.

I think having an iTouch has made this harder, actually.
posted by circular at 12:31 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I brush my teeth in the mornings while I'm in the shower. This is super helpful not only because it seems quicker but also because I'm a messy toothbrusher.
posted by saveyoursanity at 12:51 PM on August 26, 2010

Two things I do in those gaps:
1. Make a list.
2. Set myself up for a task later that day. For example, if I need to call somebody later, I might go into my iPhone contact list and email myself the phone number. That way, later, when I am checking my email, I have a reminder as well as something handy to help motivate me to get it done. And then after I've made the call...I get to delete the email! This works great for googling directions to some event you have to go to later. Find it, review the map, email yourself, and later you will be very pleased with your ingenuity and forethought (and the map will be something you're looking at for the second time, which is helpful).

You do these two things enough and the cycle feeds on build a baseline habit of being able to count on yourself to take care of things. It feels really good to always be looking out for future you!
posted by iamkimiam at 12:53 PM on August 26, 2010

Oh, one more thing...sometimes you have an idea, but you find yourself in a place where you can't do anything about it. can still set yourself up to remember. For example, if I am in the shower and it occurs to me that I need to make a list of what to buy at the store...I grab something that belongs in the shower (let's say, a big bottle of shampoo) and I throw it into the hall or something. Then I go about my business. Later, when I'm getting ready, I see big bottle of shampoo in the reminds me that I need to do something. Even if I can't remember what that something is, I usually remember by the time I pick up the bottle, stare at it, and trek back to the shower to put it back.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:56 PM on August 26, 2010 [14 favorites]

Along the lines of your last example, I'm using the "every time you go somewhere, take something with you" approach to tidying. So if I'm watching TV and I want to go to the kitchen for something to drink, I'll see if there's anything in the living room that belongs in the kitchen and take it with me when I go.

Even just moving stuff closer to where it needs to be works. If there is stuff in the kitchen that belongs in the basement, but I don't need to go down there right now, I can at least move it to the top of the stairs so it's easy to grab next time I'm going to the basement.

It sounds simple but it's taking a conscious effort to do it every time. Eventually it should become a habit.
posted by FishBike at 12:58 PM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

This isn't what you're asking for, but during those short periods of downtime I personally try to think of my breath, listen and watch my mind. It sounds simple and it's not 'productive' at all, but it also has made me happier and more aware of the little things that I used to miss. I don't think time can be wasted if you're present for it.
posted by mike_bling at 1:06 PM on August 26, 2010 [10 favorites]

I'm not a phone chatter, but everybody needs to make those "checking in" phone calls with various friends and relatives, to maintain the relationship and keep in touch. I make those kinds of phone calls during short periods of downtime. It gives me an excuse to get off the phone - "oh, my class is starting in a minute, got to go, great talking to you!" This also works with my mother, who doesn't understand the words "I've got to go now, Mom", unless I add something like "or I will be fired for missing class" or "I just drove into a construction zone and will get a ticket."

When I watch regular TV, I try to clean during commercials, because that's about how long my attention span is. It's surprising how much you can get done during the commercials of one show if you force yourself to get up each time.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:10 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

"When I watch regular TV, I try to clean during commercials, because that's about how long my attention span is. It's surprising how much you can get done during the commercials of one show if you force yourself to get up each time."

This. I rarely empty the dishwasher except during commercials. Also, I listen to audiobooks (bonus points if they're for a class) while driving or cleaning, pick up the house while I'm on the phone, utilize FishBike's "take something with you" approach, do small chores (pick up trash or dishes around the house, feed the dogs, etc.) while brushing my teeth, make my lunch for the next day while I'm making that evening's dinner (saving some clean-up), and wash or put away anything I've finished using while food is cooking. I also spend 15 minutes tidying up before getting ready for bed, which isn't as much multi-tasking as it is an attempt to do SOMETHING each day to make the house look better, but hey, it might help.
posted by alpha_betty at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

I try to stack or nest things to do, even if the stacking is "do one thing, think about another" So a few examples.

- I get up, set the coffee making and brush teeth and etc. When coffee is done, tooth brushing is also done.
- when I'm eating alone at home I usually use food time to catch up on TV or read the local newspaper. It helps me eat more slowly and reflectively which I'd never think would be true.
- When I'm downloading massive things that clog up my internet [software updates, music] I go recycling paper and generally cleaning up
- I do dishes during downtime while cooking [most often boiling water or baking things] and of course do the clean-as-you-go thing at the same time
- I keep a stack of stamps right my my computer so when I'm thinking "oh gee I should really mail that person..." I just do it. More importantly that "Oh I should really ...." thought process I try to follow-up with DOING the thing more than putting it off. You can spend hours not filling the bird feeder but it only takes two minutes to actually do it.
- Cut toenails waiting for shower water to heat up.
- Most things I need to do outside are prompted by things on a table near the door [go to post office, go running, go drop off recycling, whatever]

So it's a combination of reminders, nesting things, and setting up patterns so that things naturally flow into one another for one block of time that you can sort of bracket. You can take this to an annoying extreme, of course, but being able to get the thigns done that you seem to never make time for is a useful think to be able to make yourself do.
posted by jessamyn at 2:15 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't watch much TV unless there's something I need to finish, like organizing paperwork or working on a handcraft project.

If you make coffee in the morning, it's fun to see how much you can get done while it's brewing. I do coldbrew coffee so I try to finish things in the 90 seconds that the mug's in the microwave - who knew? I can empty the dishwasher or fold a load of towels or clean the catboxes in a minute and a half. (This one helps if you're highly self-competitive.)
posted by catlet at 2:16 PM on August 26, 2010

This is and isn't an answer to your question, but lately what I've been trying to do in these interstitial moments is to consciously deny my brain the gratification of switching to something new. I've noticed that my attention span is too short these days and I blame my habit of always having "something in the background"--the radio, or a movie playing on the computer, or whatever. Complementing this is the constant availability of fresh stimulus online, whether it's facebook or metafilter or any of the others; the result is that I've trained my brain to flail around for a fresh distraction whenever I get bored or have a few seconds of downtime. My focus and my follow-through suffer as a result, and I miss the comfortable relationship I used to have with silence.

So, when I'm mindful enough to be aware of it, what I try to do in (at least some of) these moments of downtime is one of the following: take a few deep, slow breaths; stand up and stretch; reflect on the events of the day or think about what's ahead; and if I'm not at home, just pay attention to my environment and the people around me.
posted by kprincehouse at 4:45 PM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

I floss my teeth in my car when I'm waiting at stoplights.
posted by qsysopr at 6:38 AM on August 27, 2010

I do a lot of these already, especially the rule about never walking around empty-handed. I also use the chore list so that I don't even have to make my own list (I mean, I add to the list there, but 90% of what I need to do is on that list -- which costs only 8 bucks for a full year and is half price now that we have less than half the year to go.) I LOVE this list and tell everyone about it since it's a huge huge timesaver for me, and I've gotten some others hooked on it. Anyway, the list is full of small tasks that I can check off. So rather than "clean bathroom" it will have "wipe out sinks" every day, and "clean mirror" every other day. So not only do I get to cross little things off, they're easy to keep up with and my house looks much much better. Plus, I don't waste time sitting down, getting pen and paper, thinking (gah), and writing down a list. I have 3 small kids, so that time is practically the only time I get all day. I'd rather be doing something than thinking about what I have to do.

Dorky domestic stuff I do:
- drag a baby wipe along the chair rail as I walk down the hall to do a little quick dusting
- vacuum "the middles" -- just run a vacuum around without moving a chair or anything
- toss off a quick note to my grandmother, or call her to say I'm thinking of her
- empty one rack of the dishwasher, or the silverware basket
- get cups/bottles of milk ready for the kids, lay out their toothbrush/toothpaste, and lay out their PJs and tomorrow's clothes
- spray cleaner or bleach in the toilet and swish it
- Gather up stuff by kind: all the books lying around, for example
- spend 3 minutes going through one pile of paper/clutter
- laundry: put into basket, or fold, or switch from washer to dryer
- I'm a writer, so sometimes I can send off a quick query or pitch letter, or invoice someone
- I read my Bible and pray a little while coffee is brewing
- Throw ingredients into a crockpot, or mix up dry ingredients for something to bake, or stir up a marinade for later
- Get out dishes for dinner (my kids can set the table)
- I check my garden and weed it or water it when I'm on the phone
posted by mdiskin at 10:24 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess I read or check e-mail in those moments

But I could...
Write a haiku.
Wipe a counter or desk.
do some push ups
put things away (I'm bad at that!)
send a text/FB message to a friend to let them know I remember that they exist.
posted by jander03 at 1:09 PM on August 27, 2010

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