How to stay productive during your in-between time

Between projects, emails, looming deadlines, and meetings, it can be tempting to take advantage of the little pockets of downtime — think 10 minutes here and there — to do anything except work.

Do you

  • Gossip with coworkers?
  • Mindlessly scroll through Facebook?
  • Check your favorite news site?

If you aren’t intentional with how you use your downtime, these micro-breaks can end up making you feel more unfocused and overwhelmed. Here are some tips to help you take advantage of the downtime and even get ahead.  

Check and respond to emails

Reading and responding to emails can be tedious and is a task that’s often relegated to the bottom of our to-do list.  

During a day with back-to-back meetings, the five- to 10-minute breaks between sessions can be an excellent time for reading, organizing, and replying to emails.

You can even turn this into a small game. Set a timer for whatever amount of time you have, and see how many emails you can read, sort, and respond to.

Update your to-do list

Most of us get into work and immediately go into reactive mode. We focus on whatever is urgent or on fire at the moment. The reality is that this isn’t the most efficient way to work. A better approach is to plan your day by setting goals for what you want to accomplish. There are hundreds of goal-setting and productivity methods out there including these two:

  • Batching: Group similar or administrative tasks together and do them all at once.
  • Rapid logging: Organize your tasks and priorities through a system like the Bullet Journal.

Whether you use one of these systems, a different system, or invent your own, the method you choose is far less important than just picking one, sticking with it, and integrating into it your day-to-day work.

When you find yourself in back-to-back meetings with only minimal time to do any focused work, you can immediately tackle a small item on your list or reprioritize your list to ensure that you continue to make progress toward your goals on even your busiest days.

Prepare for your next meeting

How many times have you gone into a meeting only to realize you have no idea what the meeting is about and haven’t done any preparation in advance? It happens to all of us.

You don’t need a ton of time to prep for meetings. Even just 10 minutes can significantly improve your next meeting and reduce the time spent in the conference room.

Educating yourself on the subject, reading the agenda, looking over past meeting notes, and jotting down quick questions in advance can make a big difference.

Filing expense reports

I don’t know anyone who enjoys this tedious task, but it is a necessity for any business.

Taking the in-between time to fill out expense reports from your last client dinner or the conference you attended a month ago is a great way to crank through an administrative task that you’ve likely been putting off for days, if not weeks.

This isn’t just for expense reports, but for any administrative task, including filling out timesheets, updating contact details in your CRM, cleaning up your digital file structure so you can find documents easier, etc.

Just like with email, you can make this task less of a drag by turning it into a game. Crank up some music, set your timer for 15 minutes, and get to work. You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done in such a short period.

Take a 10–15-minute meditation break

While meditation has become trendy in the last few years, there’s no denying its health and productivity benefits. Meditating can improve your concentration, help with focus, improve your emotional intelligence, and boost creativity.  

In this Huffington Post article, Gwen Schlefer mentions that when we take time during the workday to stop working and focus on the present, it helps our brains better manage stress and anxiety.

Meditating for 10 minutes will clear your head, improve your mood, and allow you to become more centered for the rest of the workday.

We tend to waste the rare moments of downtime throughout our day by gossiping or checking our phones. This distracts us rather than making us more productive. We are missing a golden opportunity to use that time to get ahead.

Downtime can either be spent productively or lounging around waiting for to-dos to build up. Take advantage of those extra minutes to tackle tasks so you can cross them off your list.

Annabel is a former Director of Communications at Jotform. She's passionate about writing and has worked in communications roles domestically and internationally. When she's not blogging about SaaS or online forms, she enjoys international travel, loud concerts, and artisan coffee.

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