How to spend a minute of free time?
July 17, 2008 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I work at a call center, and have very short breaks in between calls, but it's frequent enough to get a little boring. What kind of productive ideas do you all have for something I could do?

I've tried reading a book, but unless it's very simple with not too many words on the page, it's easy to lose my place.
I'm not a good artist. I can't really think of anything to write about.
I can't do homework that's very technical (i.e. math/science) since I get interrupted by the calls halfway into the problem.

Any ideas?
posted by macsigler to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Crossword puzzle seems like a natural fit. Just cross off the clues you've already solved and you won't lose your place in any meaningful sense.
posted by lampoil at 11:30 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Read the featured article on the homepage of wikipedia each day, or keep hitting the Random Article link. It's on the left sidebar of the main page, or it's if you want to add a bookmark. (Note that bookmarking whatever page appears when you hit the link will just bookmark that specific page, so you'll have to manually paste the URL into a bookmark.)

You could also try writing short poetry. Limericks or haikus about whatever's on your mind can be entertaining.

Crossword puzzles are easy to drop and return to as work appears and disappears.

These are all only marginally "productive" but they should at least keep your brain occupied enough that you don't go bonkers.
posted by vytae at 11:34 AM on July 17, 2008

I agree with crosswords, but I love them anyway. If you haven't done many before, you will need to find your sweet spot of puzzles that are challenging enough to be interesting, but not too easy as to be boring, and not so hard as to be frustrating.

Also, if you have an iPod, maybe some podcasts that can be absorbed in small chunks, or download a few games for it. There's now a good sized library of games available.

I also play Tetris and Galaga on my phone when I have to wait around for a few minutes and have nothing better to do.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:36 AM on July 17, 2008

posted by rokusan at 11:37 AM on July 17, 2008

seconding crosswords. I worked at a call center during college breaks, and crossword puzzles saved my sanity.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:45 AM on July 17, 2008

Are you allowed internet use? I just kind of assumed you weren't, but if you are and you want to do something productive, go through all your old emails or texts or otherwise clean up a set of files. I guess if you got really creative, you could dump your "my documents' folder on a flash drive then open it at work* and delete files cluttering up your home computer.

*this assumes you don't have pr0n and your job isn't staffed by nosy i.t. people who will get all up in your jump drive/business.
posted by cashman at 11:51 AM on July 17, 2008

I would say reading in spite of you eliminating it before. I occasionally have to weigh hundreds of items on a microbalance. It takes the balance a few minutes to settle down but not long enough to go do something else. At first, I thought that reading with such short intervals wouldn't allow me to focus or progress much. Boy, how I was wrong.

I read the most (and the best) when I read like this. I think of it like millions of small bacteria doing a job rather than one big giant thing doing the same job. It doesn't seem like you can do as much but that's not necessarily true.

Your concerns of marking your place was my concern as well. I use my haircut appointment card (size: business card) and put the top of it right on the sentence I last read. It allows me to quickly find my place AND remember when to get a haircut.
posted by danep at 11:55 AM on July 17, 2008

reading comics is better than books, i find.

brain age for the ds

cranium has a desk set game
posted by nadawi at 12:00 PM on July 17, 2008

Try some books on poetry, like Charles Simic's work. At worst, you enjoy his eccentric imagery; at best you're inspired to write some of your own.

On preview, nadawi's idea for games is also a good one. Something like Set or solitaire might fit the bill.
posted by spiderskull at 12:03 PM on July 17, 2008

When I had a show on the campus radio station I would read comics and do Sodoku puzzles.
posted by theichibun at 12:04 PM on July 17, 2008

I waste so much time playing solitaire on my iPod. It's not really that fun and the interface kinda sucks, but it's available and it beats just sitting doing nothing.
posted by Science! at 12:06 PM on July 17, 2008

I used to have a similar job at a call center where you couldn't bring in paper from outside the call floor (we handled personal financial data, and no paper went in or out), so crossword puzzles and even newspapers weren't allowed. So I would play chess with the guy in the next cubicle. Also, Minesweeper. Hours and hours and hours of Minesweeper.

That's hardly productive, though.

I also used the time to kinda sorta hone my VBA skillz by taking the attendance and tracking Excel spreadsheets, copying them, and futzing around with macros and stuff.

Oh, and using the old text-only input screens to make ASCII porn and then emailing screenshots of them around the call floor.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:07 PM on July 17, 2008

Knit or crochet. I once crocheted an entire afghan on the night shift at a call center once - it was a coworker there who taught me how to crochet during breaks, and I was able to keep going when on the phone once I got good enough to get into a rhythm. Knitting socks would have been more discreet, and at least as much fun.
posted by hazyjane at 12:13 PM on July 17, 2008

Memorize something long, one sentence at a time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:28 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

learn a language
learn electronics
learn to program computers or websites
memorize things
paint and sell dollhouse furniture like Lester on the Wire
logic puzzles
posted by metajc at 12:36 PM on July 17, 2008

Learn a language! You are in the perfect situation to utilize spaced repetition (e.g., flashcards)\ to do so.
posted by googly at 12:41 PM on July 17, 2008

I read books online when I worked in a call center - the Baen Free Library is good if you like sci-fi-esque stuff, although there are plenty other options these days. The convenient thing about e-reading is that you can scroll/highlight/whatever as you need to to keep your place.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2008


I worked in a call center for a summer. After two and a half months, I had a full zoo of little creatures stashed in my cube. Lots of cranes, of course, but then moving on to other variations: flamingos, raptors, hawks. It's the perfect activity for 40 seconds of free time while being put on hold.
posted by nemoorange at 1:08 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Post answers to AskMeta.... (I'm in a call center now.)

Also, and this depends on your organization, and how "loose" they are with departmental structures, but if your company has a data entry department and are receptive, you can try taking some work load off of them. It's kind of a kiss ass thing to do, but it could ingratiate you with the powers that be, while provding some room for upward (lateral?) mobility. I moonlight from time to time doing this when things are particularly slow (like now.)
posted by Debaser626 at 1:42 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Knitting is a natural fit as long as you are keeping to a single stitch or simple pattern. Toques, slippers, scarves, and pot holders are all small projects that don't take up much room and are simple.
posted by Mitheral at 1:55 PM on July 17, 2008

I had friends that practiced making chainmail. I took up drawing celtic knotwork on graphpaper.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 3:50 PM on July 17, 2008

Assuming you're allowed to use your cell in between calls, I recommend subscribing to a few RSS feeds for short bursts of reading. Picking up and dropping off the same materiel over and over again can get tedious.

Not sure if it's available in print where you are, but a brief stint in a call center in college was made bearable only by The Onion.

Seconding crosswords and answering Ask MeTa queries.
posted by willie11 at 3:51 PM on July 17, 2008

During my summers at call centers, the hobby of choice was playing cards. When I got really bored, I made some paper clip sculptures, but that was when things were really slow.
posted by mcroft at 4:46 PM on July 17, 2008

I would recommend and both are said to help with carpal tunnel.
posted by Rolandkorn at 6:56 PM on July 17, 2008

Former call center worker here.

Second-plus-ing crosswords and poetry. You can also write your own in dribs and drabs. I did a lot of Sudoku between calls, myself. Had a series of little books in my desk.

If you can't bring paper in, you could try emailing one to yourself from various websites while at home and then printing them out, say, six to a page.

Oh, mcroft reminds me of something else I used to do. I'd get variously colored pushpins and do pixel art on my cube wall. I had a little 1up mushroom I liked to look at.
posted by codswallop at 8:10 PM on July 17, 2008

Make yourself flash cards for your classes (definitions, Q&A etc.) or for that foreign language you've always wanted to study.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:34 AM on July 18, 2008

Oh, I should mention that I don't have access to the internet. But it's *possible* I might be able to sneak a flash drive or a Nintendo DS or something in without anyone caring.
Love all the suggestions, please keep it coming!
posted by macsigler at 5:11 PM on July 18, 2008

You could go all old-fashioned by creating honest-to-goodness antiquated handwritten letters.

Bring some letter writing stuff to work. Nice stationary, the smooth pen that you swear turns your penmanship into love, some stamps and an address or two. Use your between-call time to jot a line or two. Mail at the end of your shift. Your family and friends will get to know you better and might even return your volley.

Knitting - mostly agreed. I brought one of those instructional 'how to knit, taught to 3rd graders' style book I'd checked out from the library along with a couple of needles and gave it a shot. Fairly quickly I decided to learn how to knit outside of work then bring the projects to work once I know what I'm doing. Such a newbie, I started to get frustrated working on the same step over and over over due to the between-call blip of a break time.

Check out library books about photography for call breaks. Coffee table books suck to tote around but they're terrific time and brain occupiers between calls. National Geographic's '100 Best Portraits' was enormous and fantastic.

A lot of it probably depends on what you are and are not allowed to have on the call floor. Cell phones, for instance, are a nono at my workplace (potential modem interference), nor are noisy personal devices (nothing with a headset since we have to have the mic headset on through the shift, no DVD players, etc) and no internet, but there's a pretty good employee-stocked library and game area on site. There's an extensive periodical collection and newspapers. I've seen other CAs bring in electronic pocket poker and other PS-type games with the volume off and one guy works desk-sized jigsaw puzzles.
posted by mcbeth at 12:06 AM on July 19, 2008

Draw! Doodle, sketch, pick up a workbook and get visual. Hours of fun and a good skill to develop.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:48 PM on November 17, 2008

Also, if you happen to be one of those exceptionally rare guys (I'm not) that likes knitting or cross-stitch that would be the type of thing you're looking for.
posted by Autarky at 12:33 PM on July 3, 2009

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