Forward Thinking: Making Use Of The Quiet Times

Here I am, on a grey and quiet day with not a whole lot of work to do. And I’m working from home, so it’s the perfect chance for snuggling up in bed with a good 3DS game.

Yet, I’m not doing that. I’m making sure that I won’t be too busy later on.

I’ve written blog posts for the rest of the month. Scheduled Facebook posts, too.

I’ve emailed some contacts to arrange meet ups for a few weeks time, rather than scrabbling at the last minute to fit them in.

I’ve tidied and cleaned my workspace and surrounding areas.

I’m about to go make a salad I’ll eat today and tomorrow.

I’m not the best at this, by far, yet doing it is so beneficial and freeing.

Here’s why:

  1. End the cycle of free now, busy later
  2. Harness time and use it on your terms
  3. Be productive instead of bored

And as if to prove my point, as soon as I finished writing this article, three different clients contacted me, suddenly adding several new tasks to my schedule.

Thanks to my efforts today, I could happily say ‘yes’.

The three points above are really one big point, but let’s check them out in chunks, anyway:

1. End the cycle of free now, busy later

It can be awesome, being free. You’ve got some stuff coming up you’ll need to attend to, but nothing right now. So, you can kick back, relax and cruise on through, right?

Well… you could. But then, when you’re actually busy, you’ll be twice as busy.

You see, there are those in-between tasks. Organising your workspace. Writing and sending low-priority but-still-essential emails. And so on. We run ourselves so ragged in the busy times that we feel the need to use the quiet times to just chill.

Yet, why are we so busy when we’re busy?

A lot of it comes from those in-between tasks piling up under the high-priority high-importance tasks. If you know you’ll be busy in two weeks, and you’ve got in-between tasks that can probably wait three weeks… well, what’ the harm in putting it off? That’s what we often think, and sometimes we’re right. But doing it now is often better.

Here’s an example.

I was finally doing my tax and I had misplaced a receipt. I spent a while looking for it – I was busy, and because this receipt was missing I was busier still – then gave up and actually had wasted the time I had set aside for doing tax that day. So I had to put it off for a few days, making me even busier later on.

I managed to find a quiet patch, though, and in tidying up I found the receipt. I wasn’t even looking for it and had assumed it lost for good. If I had done this simple quiet-time task in the many free hours I had before doing my tax return, I would’ve had to receipt there and ready to go, making the most of my time and getting things done.

Even if I hadn’t found the receipt, I would’ve known it was definitely not on my desk, at a simple glance, rather wasting time than rummaging through papers.

It's a dirty job, but it's gotta be done sooner or later.
It’s a dirty job, but it’s gotta be done sooner or later.

So, my advice here is to end this cycle:

  • Ahh, so free, not a care in the world…
  • Ahh, finally free again; I deserve a long rest…

And work on changing it to this one:

  • Ahh, so free. Time for some simple tasks then a great break…
  • Whew, pretty busy, but I’m glad I did those simple tasks before :)
  • Ahh, that work’s done. Time to chill with a little housekeeping and TV.
  • Pretty busy again! Lucky the housekeeping is done. High-five, past self!

2. Harness time and use it on your terms

I love time travel, but my Delorean’s in the shop. So, instead we have to use our wits and mindfulness to harness time and use it on our own terms.

Life can feel like it's going past at 88 miles per hour. Let's take back control.
Life can feel like it’s going past at 88 miles per hour. Let’s take back control.

Time can be wasted on such things as clicking around the Internet for hours, lolling at cats. Or, you can take a portion of that time – not all, necessarily – and harness it for your own use. One average day, keep a list of what you do with your time, perhaps in 15 minute blocks, and I think you’ll be surprised at how long you spend on certain tasks.

Some, obviously, do take a long time. But when I see I’ve spent 4 hours reading articles, perhaps I could take at least 30 minutes of that time and spend it somewhere else.

When you do this, it feels like taking time from nowhere. It feels like you’ve made time. Literally conjured it up out of nothing. You still get three and a half hours of reading articles (which basically feels the same as four), but BAM! somehow you’ve also got time to clean your desk or do the dishes.

Checking out the future and jumping back to the present with your mind time machine is also a good tactic.

I’ve done that just this week, checking my calendar and imagining myself in the next few weeks. Future me seems a lot busier than present me. So, I’ll lend that guy a hand and clean up some stuff now that he really shouldn’t have to be worrying about later.

3. Be productive instead of bored

Sometimes at work, or at home, we’re bored. We have too much free time. Or, we feel like we need to be super stimulated all the time. When we’re bored, we’re not productive. We can spend so much longer on a single task, due to distraction and lack of motivation.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve clicked around my Steam library trying to find the perfect game for this moment in time out of hundreds .

Usually, by the time I pick something I’m vaguely satisfied with (usually a game I saw in the first five minutes, anyway) I’ve spent too long and don’t have enough time left to play.

Instead of wasting that time, being bored, I could have done something productive.

I’m not saying to “swap” games for chores, or anything. Just maybe swap the order?

Sometimes, you need to make your own excitement at work.
Sometimes, you need to make your own excitement at work.

I find that when I head away from my computer, do the vacuuming (or even just get some sun while checking the mail) I can be revitalised almost instantly. It just takes your mind off the boredom of whatever you were doing before and reboots it a little. It refocuses you. You might come back to your computer just a few minutes later, pick a game and play. If you hadn’t gotten up, you might’ve spent another half hour choosing the game.

Some say chores are boring, but being productive gives you a sense of achievement. If you’re achieving, and happy about it, it’s hard to be bored. And the effect rolls on into your other tasks.

So, try switching it up.

If you’re bored, look for something productive to do, no matter how small. See if that kicks your boredom, and if so, roll with it and keep being productive. If not, try a new task for a bit. Just switching tasks should reboot you a little, making you at least a little less bored and hopefully a bit more productive. Sometimes the new task is even more boring and you see the task you were trying to get done isn’t so bad, and maybe you’ll go do that instead.

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And there you have it. Just a few tips for making the most of your quiet times. As long as you’re not wasting your time, I think you’re doing things right. Just be sure to check in with your future self every so often to see if they need some specific help from present you.

What other advice do you have for being productive in the quiet times? What’s your favourite time-saving or productivity tip? When have you helped your future self?


When Jarrod's not writing about personal development through pop-culture, he's helping people like you reach their goals through fun, empowering coaching.

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