Killing time. We’ve all been there.
You’re waiting for a friend. For the barista to bring you coffee. For your kids soccer practice to finish. You have a matter of mere minutes to fill. So what do you do?
If you’re like most of us, you pull out your phone and start scrolling. Research from GWI reveals that the typical internet user now spends almost seven hours per day – 418 minutes to be precise – using the internet across all devices. For context, if we assume the average person spends roughly eight hours per day sleeping, the typical netizen now spends more than 40 percent of their waking life online. Collectively we spent more than 12.5 trillion hours online last year alone.
And as most of us are only too aware, the advent of the infinite scroll makes it easier than ever to disappear down a cat meme rabbit hole or find yourself in listicle purgatory.
But just because that’s what we do, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way. So with time more precious than ever before, how do we make better use of those small moments – the tiny time gaps between other, more important tasks?
It starts with a list…
At a recent IBM Accelerate event hosted by GDS Group, time management expert Laura Vanderkam had some interesting thoughts on this topic.
“Email always expands to fill the available space in your inbox, and you’ll never get to the end of the internet,” she told our audience of senior business leaders. “So wouldn’t it be better to use these little bits of time for something more meaningful? Could we actually turn those bits of time into bits of joy?”
The first thing to do, she suggests, is to make a list of things that might bring joy or meaning to your life.
“The trick is to have your list ready to go at all times, because in the moment you won’t necessarily remember what you want to do,” she says. “If you have it prepared, then when those moments do open up, you’ll perhaps be able to choose those slightly more effortful options rather than the effortless option of clearing out your email or scrolling.”
Embracing the classics
With your list in hand (on your phone, no doubt), you can then begin to spin your precious time into moments of gold.
“One of the best things you can do is to read,” suggests Vanderkam. “A couple of years ago I put the Kindle app on my phone. And it is fascinating (if not maybe a little embarrassing) how much literature I started getting through once I started using those little bits of time to read instead of just scrolling. I actually read the whole of War and Peace on my phone. Tolstoy’s chapters are very short, and you can read a chapter in five minutes or so.”
But it doesn’t have to be that ambitious. “You could read poetry, professional journals, self-help books – you name it. All those things you keep putting off because you don’t have the time, you could maybe do if you’re able to re-purpose those five-minute chunks.”
It sounds obvious, but Vanderkam also recommends using your phone to communicate. “You could send a text to a friend or family member. Tell your kids you’re thinking about them. Or make plans with a friend for the weekend. Now you have something you’re looking forward to, rather than just using the time to waste on the internet.”
Alternatively you could also start to embrace what Vanderkam refers to as a micro hobby. “Use those little bits of time to supplement the time you are already devoting to your interests,” she says. “Maybe you’re learning Spanish, and could use the time to practice via Duolingo. Or if you’re learning an instrument, maybe you could listen to examples of certain pieces of music or pick up tips and tricks on technique.”
And of course, you don’t have to be on your phone at all. You could use that time to exercise, or go outside and get some fresh air – both of which will add to your energy levels rather than subtract from them.
The key thing, says Vanderkam, is to do something. “These small moments do add up,” she says. “And if you are able to spend those moments texting a friend, reading War and Peace, or even just staring at the clouds and taking time to reflect, you will find your time filled with much more joy and meaning.”
And if you’re really struggling to manage your time, Vanderkam recommends keeping an activity log for a week. “After all, if you don’t know where the time is going now, how do you know if you’re changing the right thing?” she says. “Maybe something you thought was a problem really isn’t. Maybe something you haven’t considered is taking more time than you imagined. You want to be sure you are working from good data. The best way to get that data is to keep track of your time.”
Because the nature of modern work is pretty relentless. As per a recent HBR study, the average CEO works 9.7 hours each weekday. They also conduct business on 79% of weekend days, putting in an average of 3.9 hours daily, and on 70% of vacation days, averaging 2.4 hours daily. Altogether, the CEOs in the HBR study worked an average of 62.5 hours a week.
And it’s a similar story further down the org chart. The modern business leader is always on, and there is always more to be done. Rising rates of burnout amongst leaders, managers and frontline workers suggest this is a challenge that is only getting worse. So making the most of those tiny moments of downtime – for self-improvement, for relaxation, for connecting, for switching off, even – will be more important than ever as we head into 2023.
GDS Group hosts over 100 hours of conversation with senior business leaders every single week. To hear more insights or learn about how to attend one of our virtual or physical events, please visit: gdsgroup.com