We cannot capture time. I think we can snatch it for…a small amount of time. It’s human nature to focus on large blocks of time, and ignore the value of the minutes and seconds that pass by unnoticed. We put a value to the time spent on a large project. We store the fortnight of a great vacation in our memories. But we don’t remember the time spent stuck in a traffic jam or that spent on catching up on gossip at the water cooler. Can we use some of those “lost” minutes and seconds and put some value in them?
Don’t get me wrong; we all need our downtime for unplugging and dialing down our hyperactive brains. As digital workers, we spend an inordinate amount of time setting up productivity rituals (do read our free guide on productivity). Productivity for us, could be as much about saving time as it could be about using what we have more effectively. So, here’s an incomplete list to get you thinking about the productive things you can do online when you have a few minutes in your hands.
Learn Something New Every Day
The best way to start a new day is to learn something new. It’s also the easiest way to “blow” the minutes as there are umpteen websites for learning new things in bit-sized chunks. Subscribing to Wikipedia’s featured article for the day to using Wikipedia games for fun and exploration are two easy options. Alternatively, you can let services like Now I Know do the hard work with their daily newsletters.
Practice Speed Reading
All that reading could get a little easier with speed reading skills. The ability to rocket through text while understanding it all is an essential skill because there’s just too much to consume. A free online app like Spreeder can take you through the equivalent of 15 A4 sized pages in 15 minutes (@300 words per minute). Removing the vocalization of the words we read comes with practice and the 15 minutes of it every day should help to build up your speed.
Go Around the World on Google Street View
Your boss might disagree, but daydreaming could also be productive. Google Street View is the ideal virtual window for thinking of your next vacation and de-stressing your day . We have seen how you can expand your world view with geeky virtual tours or try out amazing Street View mashups. There are many more places you can visit in 15 minutes or less with Google Street View. And now, we have Photo Spheres as well.
Watch a TED Talk
Fill your time with ideas and inspiration on TED Talks. There are even TED Talks that are just under five minutes. If you are not sure what to watch in the time you have at hand, use the handy Not sure what to watch? guide on the homepage to search out talks that can fill the minutes you have. Academic Earth is also another good one you can visit. I previously had written about other free video lecture sites.
Learn a New Language (Or a Foreign Word)
Learning a single new word a day adds up over the course of a year. If you are learning a new language, it could mean 300+ words at the end of a year. Use a dedicated service like the excellent Duolingo (read our review) or just pick up a language while browsing.
Indulge Your Favorite Hobby
Mine is photography. What’s yours? Finding bite-sized chunks on photography is easy, but whatever yours might be, you are sure to find popular hashtags or tags and use it to find conversations and resources around it. Reddit is a favorite stomping ground for enthusiasts of all kinds.
Operate On Your Operating System
Learn more about your operating system bit by bit. After all, doing something on your own is always better than calling out for help. MakeUseOf.com, is itself a fantastic resource for tutorials on Windows, Mac, and Linux. You can search YouTube for video tutorials and use the Advanced Search Filters to get videos by duration.
Build Your Book List
Write Your Thoughts in a Journal
Surely, we can engineer our Twitter habits to write our own life log. The psychological benefits of journaling are well-documented. My favorite service for keeping an online diary is OhLife. The best part is that it doesn’t even have to take 15 minutes.
Re-build Your Memory
Boost your brain power. Personally, I find it difficult to retain jokes. You never know when you might need a good one. For you, it could be a name or a new word you might have learnt if you followed the previous cue. Memory exercising services like Memorize Now create online flash cards and aid your retention process. Memorize Now is simple, but if you are looking to go beyond look at ones which use spaced repetition. There are mobile flash card apps as well. Justin covered six of the best flash card apps for Android.
Be a Martian
We have covered citizen science projects and free to join crowdsourcing projects. You can pick any from there, or take a bit of the Martian buzz by participating in this one – Be a Martian is the opening you were probably looking for to “join” NASA and go on your own great Mars adventure. Help NASA engineers manage the large volume of data from the Red Planet by taking part in this online project. This is just an example, as there are many more online projects you could contribute your time to.
Return to Humanity on LinkedIn
15 minutes a day can make you a master networker. One of the ways is to move beyond your immediate professional network on LinkedIn and connect to people whose profiles interest you. See if someone in your network can introduce you to an interesting profile. LinkedIn Groups is a good jumping off point for meeting new people. So are other digital town squares like Quora and Google+ communities.
Build Up Your Online Rep
You don’t have to be the product for social media. Give it 15 minutes of your time and turn it around to build a strong online reputation by sharing insights on your industry, art, or niche expertise. Sites like Quora, Stack Exchange, Yahoo Answers, and Twitter are great platforms for sharing knowledge. Be authentic, honest, and meaningful for 15 minutes a day and your name could swim to the top. We should know – a few of my colleagues who are working at MakeUseOf now, started by commenting and participating on the public forum of Answers.
The 7-minute workout went viral. It might not buff you up, but some exercise is better than no exercise. Yaara’s 8 exercises to help you stay fit at your desk show that office cubicles are also good enough for impromptu gym sessions.
Meditation is not mystical. Watch the mind-altering TED Talk above. It doesn’t even take 15 minutes.
In the end, 15 minutes is just an arbitrary unit…it could be something as low as five minutes. Doing these fifteen activities, or any of your choice is a surefire way of adding value to the little bits of time that slips between the cracks. We tend to look at the “big picture”, but it is surprising how these minutes can compound over time and really add something substantial to our lives. One of the ways to get the 15-minute chunks of time off the ground is to have a prepared list in hand. That’s where your ideas and contributions come in. Let’s make the comments count!