Short bursts of productivity
November 22, 2012 8:40 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for ways to be more productive with short blocks of time. What do you do when you have 5-10 minutes to kill while waiting on something?

I have developed a bad habit of randomly web surfing on my phone when I have a few minutes to kill. An occasional mindless surf is okay, but I would like to find a way to make these 5-10 minute blocks of time more productive, especially when a lot of the sites visited are sites I could care less about. What suggestions do you have for such a limited block of time? Assume the only resource I have available is an iPhone and that I can't just leave to do something else. Also, assume I have already taken care of any emails or phone calls and that my RSS feed is empty.

This doesn't have to be iPhone related. Anything goes.
posted by Silvertree to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Not far removed from web-surfing: Instapaper + saved Longreads or SF short stories.

Slightly more self-improvement oriented: Amazon Kindle app + non-fiction book organized into short nuggets.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:49 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clean. Do push-ups or other exercise. Practice a mental skill or memorization.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:53 PM on November 22, 2012

You can make to do lists of tiny, non-time sensitive tasks. When you find a free few minutes, just pick one and do it.
posted by gjc at 8:55 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Observe closely what is around you. Study the way light falls upon objects and the shadows that are thrown. Outside, watch clouds and people's faces. Inside, look for flaws in the building— cracks and peeled paint and speculate about the cause.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:56 PM on November 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

Learn to enjoy an occasional moment of quiet and inactivity. No one needs constant unceasing stimulation.
posted by Nomyte at 8:56 PM on November 22, 2012 [22 favorites]

I make lists of things I want to get done. One for work, one for home. I clear out old deleatable emails, read work articles saved on Instapaper, do the first read-through on letters I'm supposed to be editing (saved in my dropbox). Check my bank account and pay bills on my bank's mobile app. Do some small exercises like toe raises or something. Think deep thoughts about life. Deliberately just sit/stand there - it's good for the soul to slow down every now and then.
posted by gemmy at 9:00 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm learning Spanish. I play with language apps, vocab flash cards, etc.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:09 PM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I keep index cards on which I write scenes or ideas for scenes for plays I'm writing or want to write. Eventually, they all connect into a full plot outline.
posted by xingcat at 9:26 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the days before mobile internet, I used two things up in this way - which was predominantly whilst waiting for public transport, but not wanting or able to pull a book out:

1. I had a pocket quote dictionary I would read. For years, I knew a lot of great quotes!

2. I taught myself to walk a coin across my fingers.

Both of these were good because I could do it for anywhere between 30 seconds and 20 minutes.
posted by smoke at 9:27 PM on November 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

You've probably already thought of this, but I sneak in an awful lot of reading time in those five or ten minute dead periods. Maybe you could pick a classic you've always meant to read and just sneak in a few pages here or there reading it on your iPhone? Obviously not comfortable to read on your phone for super long stretches, but just here and there, it's really not bad!

In that vein, there's always DailyLit-- they'll send you a book a little a day by email or RSS feed, and you can really chip away at some intimidating seeming books that way!
posted by itsamermaid at 9:36 PM on November 22, 2012

Think about how you define "productive," and hypothesize different definitions. If gazing into space letting the moment wash over you doesn't fit your definition of productivity, think about whether it's possible to have too much productivity.

To put it another way, thinking, without benefit of pragmatic direction, is possibly the most productive thing you could do.
posted by bricoleur at 9:38 PM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Meditate. Even just 10 good breaths whenever you think about it is a good use of time.
posted by feidr2 at 10:08 PM on November 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

How about Khan Academy's mobile app to get your learn on?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:13 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

My 'what to do in 5 - 10 minutes for killing time' is open my current book (whichever it is I'm reading, there's always at least one) and flip through a few more pages.
posted by Rash at 10:32 PM on November 22, 2012

Coffeebreak French podcasts.
posted by rongorongo at 10:44 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've started using two great apps that fit this bil: one is Duolingo - you can learn a new language for free in short little bursts on your phone.

The other is Headspace, a really friendly meditation app that does guided meditation sessions in 10-minute chunks. It's the most accessible and non-woo mindfulness practice that I've tried, and you can do it anywhere.
posted by ukdanae at 11:50 PM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I bring my mail with me in my bag. I hate coming home to a pile of mail but if I'm out and have a few minutes to spare I can easily go through a few items.
posted by manicure12 at 1:31 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you tried Memrise?

It is a site (I think there is also an app) which allows you to learn a language (or anything, really) by logging in for a few minutes a day. I've been working my way through the conversational German and it's been very effective so far.
posted by drunkonthemoon at 1:35 AM on November 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Stretch! Dedicate one block of time per day to upper body stretches and another to lower body. You might feel so good that you'll add another little block for back and neck.
posted by FeralHat at 1:48 AM on November 23, 2012

Use that time to call, text, email a good word to someone you like, love, or care for. The productivity is tremendous when measured by effort and positive, lasting effects on the recipient.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:11 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anki flashcards are brilliant. I use them on my phone for language study. The app is expensive, but worth every penny. The Mac, windows, and linux versions are all few and I've used them for years. They work on spaced repetition and are perfect for doing while standing in line or waiting on something. If you don't want to make your own set of cards, you can download tons of shared decks for free. You can add audio and pictures to the cards very easily.
posted by thelastcamel at 7:26 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

- Memrise
- Floss
- Walk a thing from where it is to where it should be
- Write a postcard
- Write an email to a family member
- Get my body into basically any other position that isn't sitting - if I can I lie flat on the floor
- Stretches for my back and shoulders, toe flexes
- Make a list of longer range things I need to do
- Practice wiggling my ears
posted by jessamyn at 7:46 AM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Write. Keep a small notepad and pen with you, and when you have these small breaks, just start writing, even if writing has not ever appealed to you. Whether it's just some random thoughts, a short burst of fiction, observations on what's going on around you, just write something.
posted by Timmoy Daen at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2012

I read whatever ebook I'm currently reading on my phone's kindle app.
posted by Silly Ashles at 2:03 PM on November 23, 2012

Unfuck Your Habitat has an iPhone/iPad app. It has random cleaning challenges For 5, 10, and 20 minute intervals.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:06 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

All good answers so far. Thank you.
posted by Silvertree at 4:31 PM on November 24, 2012

I came across this thread recently while looking for something else, but I wanted to second thelastcamel's recommendation of Anki. I've been using it every day for months now—in my case, just to learn various trivia (world capitals, Best Picture Oscar winners, etc.) but it can be used for many more "useful" things, such as language study, too.

I didn't realize until just now the iOS version cost so much (I have an Android phone, and the Android app is free; the difference apparently because the iOS app is produced by the Anki developer himself, and the Android app by a third party) but I would gladly pay the $25 if I had an iPhone. In fact, I think I'll make a donation now.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:15 AM on February 26, 2013

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