Sometimes we think to be productive takes a lot of time, but we don’t always have big chunks of time to devote to particular tasks or projects. Let’s look at some ways to be productive when we only have a few minutes.
Quick productive things–making good use of the short pockets of time
I have come up with 15 very productive things we can do in 15 minutes or less to help us be more efficient with our time. I broke these down into 3 categories: some about our home, some regarding general organization, and some for our self-care.
Five productive things we can do around the home
Whether we live alone, with roommates, or with a spouse and houseful of kids, keeping our home in order is a never-ending task. It matters because if we want to make a home rather than just live in a house, make it a place where we, our families, and our guests feel welcome, relaxed, at peace, or able to work on our creative pursuits, we need to tend to certain tasks.
- Make the bed. It’s a way to establish a bit of control over your space. As the biggest item in the room, getting it in order immediately makes the room look better and you’ll rest better at night getting into a made bed.
- Empty the dishwasher. If it’s empty, the things you need are where they belong, and it’s easy to put dishes in there as they get used rather than piling them on the counter or in the sink. The kitchen is more pleasant to work in when it’s tidy and definitely more efficient; you’re not having to work around a full sink or messy countertops, and the items you need are where you need them. If your house is like mine where the kitchen is open to the living area, having the kitchen tidy makes the rest of the house look better. If it’s already empty, you can use your few minutes to load it or to wash a load of dishes by hand.
- Declutter and tidy a drawer or cabinet or shelf. The less we own, the less we have to clean, store, maintain, etc., and the easier it is to find and use the things we actually like and need. If we make a point of using a few minutes each day to declutter one drawer or cabinet, we can painlessly reduce the number of unnecessary possessions. If we rotate through the house, we can get through all the spaces this way in a few weeks.
- Find 15 (or more) things to donate or discard. Grab a bag or basket and speed through the house pulling items off shelves, counters, drawers, etc., to either donate or discard. Moving quickly helps prevent second-guessing; just go with your gut: Do I use this? Do I love it?
- Reset the main living areas of the house. This isn’t a deep clean, just something you can do quickly. Toss trash, put toys, books, etc., away; take dishes to the dishwasher, straighten cushions and fold throw blankets–generally put things back where they belong. Doing these things will make the space more relaxing and pleasant. A great time to do this could be before bed or before leaving for work. If you have kids in the house you might need to do it a couple of times a day. Generally, this takes only 5 minutes or so, so you might want to do a quick sweep or vacuum too.
Five productive things we can do in the areas of general productivity & organization
So often we procrastinate on things that need to get done because we overestimate how difficult they’ll be or how much time they’ll take. But really, they can be done pretty quickly if we just get to it. Give yourself 15 minutes to get tasks off your to-do list and mind.
- Make a phone call. Return a call, schedule an appointment, get information you need.
- Process your email inbox. Begin by triaging the emails quickly–can you delete any of them? Reply to the important ones that can be responded to in a couple of minutes or less and transfer those that require more time into an action folder (and put a reminder on your calendar to take that action!). If you follow these steps once or twice a day, you can work through your inbox pretty quickly.
- Brainstorm next steps on an important project or goal (especially helpful if you’ve been stuck and not making progress). Sit down with pen and paper and start brainstorming all the steps to accomplishing that goal or completing that project. Don’t worry about task order to start with; just quickly write down every step–questions to be answered, supplied to be obtained, help to be recruited, and each individual step to be completed. When you have them all on paper, it’s easier to see what needs to happen first–the thing that needs to happen before you can do the other things! Also, save 30 seconds at the end to identify and calendar the next step.
- Do a brain dump. This is so helpful when we’re feeling overwhelmed or distracted. Grab a pen and paper and just start listing everything that’s on your mind. Just like with the previous step, I encourage you to save a minute at the end to identify an action or two to take from the list. Until you decide to take action and do these things, they are just steps on paper.
- Plan your MITs (Most Important Tasks) for the day–or the next day. Look at your calendar and your master to-do list (or that brain dump you just did) and based on the time available to you and the relative importance and urgency, what are your top 3-5 tasks for the day? Which one will you do first?
Five productive things we can do for self-care/restoration
- Take a nap. Sometimes the most productive thing we can do is rest. Dim the room, grab a throw blanket, set a timer, and lie down and close your eyes. Even if you don’t sleep, 15 minutes of rest can make a difference in your energy level and focus. Napping is much more effective than plopping in a chair scrolling your phone–if you need rest, then really rest.
- Take a walk. Getting your heart rate up is good for both your physical and mental health. A walk after dinner is good for digestion and a change of scenery can restore focus and energy, especially if you can get outside in the fresh air and sunshine. If you can’t get outside (right now the daytime temps here in Texas are near 100 degrees F!) even getting on a treadmill, walking the halls at the office, or going up and down a few flights of stairs can have great benefits.
- Read a chapter of a book (motivational, inspirational, or informative). Feeding our mind and spirit is always good! Good books can broaden our perspective, exercise our minds, and feed our souls. E-books are great, but there are benefits to putting the screens away and reading an actual paper book.
- Cancel a commitment you’ve been dreading. Sometimes the hardest productive thing is to say no, sowe sometimes say yes when we’d rather not. Maybe that event takes up time we don’t have or doesn’t align with our values. Whatever the reason, bite the bullet, retake control of your time and energy, and cancel that party, event, conference, etc.
- Check in with someone you love. A life that matters almost always matters in relation to people. Sometimes when we’re very busy, relationships can be neglected. Long heart-to-heart conversations are awesome, as are memorable occasions, but when time doesn’t permit, we can still nurture those relationships with a quick phone call or a chat over dinner. Make time to connect with your spouse, kids, parents, or best friends near and far.
What do you think? Questions? Comments
I’ve shared some of my favorite productive things we can do in just 15 minutes or less. What are your favorite ways to make productive use of short bits of time? Please share them in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
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