Our Windows of Opportunity

Oct 07, 2015

How often do we wait a few minutes for something? For the bus, for the show to start, for a meeting to begin? And what are we doing with that time?

The Segmentation of Our Time

Meetings are toxic.

In their famous book "Rework", 37signals cofounder Jason Fried and Ruby on Rails inventor David Heinemeier Hansson raised a few eyebrows with this claim, arguing that not only do meetings themselves steal our time, but also do they interrupt the state of "flow", causing us to work less efficiently until we've regained it. I couldn't agree more and would like to take this idea a bit further into our everyday lives.

Even when we're not working, our days are full of appointments. We eat, meet, shop, go out, come home, do chores, relax. Our schedule is mostly created by ourselves, and we should be able to fit these things in in a way that allows us to make the most efficient use of our time.

However we seem to be unable to do so. No matter how perfectly we try to plan our day, we still end up with little inefficiencies - small windows of time between two activities that often end up wasted. We wait - ten minutes for the bus, "five minutes" for our girlfriends to get ready (an all-time favorite of mine), a minute or two for our food to cook, a quarter of an hour for a show to start, twenty minutes for the traffic to clear up, three minutes for our friend to turn up at the café.

We create our own segmentation without wanting to do so. And more often than not, the precious minutes in between end up squandered away. Think of all the time you've spent waiting in traffic. How many hours do you think you've wasted this way? Couldn't there be a way to make efficient use of these small windows of time that we involuntarily waste?

Windows of Opportunity

I claim that there is, and that we can use these little bits of time to make big improvements. That's why I like to call them windows of opportunity. We can't really fix the everyday segmentation because more often than not, we're dependent on external factors (like other people). But what we can do is try to use this time efficiently instead of dawdling about on our phones.

Here are a few ideas for things that can be done in a few minutes, but if we make them a habit, will facilitate big improvements in our lives over time.

Read something.
Be prepared. Have reading lists of quality blog posts and articles available (there are great smartphone apps for that), and start reading once you have the time. For bigger timeslots, have your ebook reader or a newspaper with you.

Think - and take notes.
Think about a problem that you currently have in your personal or professional life, and how to fix it. Take notes, make a plan. This will save you time later - you will know where to start and will procrastinate less because a soft problem becomes a hard one.

Draw something.
Draw what you see. Have your drawing book with you and doodle away - it's a great way to get your creative juices flowing, even if you're not very artistically inclined.

Talk to someone
Call a friend or a family member, or talk to the people around you. Train to be an open and communicative human being - your personal relationships will benefit a lot.

Clean up.
Something that I like to do when waiting to go out is clean my place. I'll have to do it anyway at some point, so I might as well use the five minutes I have to save me some time later, which will allow me bigger slots of uninterrupted time.

Learn something new.
Have a vocabulary trainer on your phone, and fire it up every opportunity you get. Listen to an interesting podcast. Learn to juggle (seriously - I learned juggling during slow times at a summer job). There are a million things that you can train for in a few minutes.

Start Today!

As you can see, there are a lots of things that we can do instead of watching funny videos or being on Facebook. It's easy to start today, and you will see how making this a habit will benefit you greatly. There are just three steps to follow:

Be prepared.
Decide how you want to use your windows of opportunity, and have the necessary tools (reading lists, smartphone, juggling balls) with you.

Notice quickly when you have a few minutes of spare time, and use them.

You have the tools, you have the time - use it.

I'm sure you can come up with many more things that our windows of opportunity can be used for. I'd be glad to hear some of them!

This post was created during Winnie Kao and Seth Godin's YourTurnChallenge and also appears on their Tumblr.