I've been on a no-holds-barred mission this year to make better use of my time. After listening to the audiobook I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam, I tracked every single minute of my day (and night!) for four weeks using an app called Harvest.
At the end of this very eye-opening personal experiment, I realized that I actually had a lot more time than I'd thought to spend with my family, accomplish personal tasks, and work on growing my content marketing company, Masthead Media. The thing was--spare time didn't come in the big chunks that I originally thought I wanted. It came in the form of leftover pockets--15 to 20 minutes after a call that ran short, a cab ride that's going long, a lull in the 5 p.m. hour, a staff meeting that got bumped.
When smaller bits of unexpected time present themselves, it's all too easy to get sucked into email or worse, scrolling your personal social media feed. One of my big lessons from this experiment was to anticipate and prepare for even the smallest bits of spare time.
I have a running list of non-urgent tasks that take about 15 to 20 minutes to accomplish. Most are the kinds of proactive, business-building to-dos that I used to say that I could never get to. Here are a few of the ways that I try to get ahead when I'm lucky enough to win a little extra time in my day--and you can too.
Add a networking event to your calendar.
Search and sign up for networking events in your area. You can discover plenty through Eventbrite and Meetup.org, but I also like to bookmark specific marketing-related organizations that I'm interested in. During my unexpected downtime, I'll check what's coming up at She Runs It, American Marketing Association, and New York Women in Communications.
Take an educational break.
Watch a TED Talk on a subject that inspires you and your work--by design, they're no more than 18 minutes. You can do this even while eating lunch or commuting (by train, bus, etc). I love this recently published list of talks that are all about increasing your focus--and being more productive.
Schedule social media.
Feel like you're behind on your work-related social scheduling? Take this time to engage as the leader of your company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, or Alignable. Share a post using a hashtag that's trending that day. This Ultimate Social Media Holiday Calendar for 2018 may help. Learn more about how to spot the opportunities on social media.
Take an online class.
I use Boomerang for Gmail to remind me who I should follow up with. If I boomerang a note I've sent out to a key contact, it will return to my inbox and remind me to reach back out again. This has saved me numerous times with harder-to-reach contacts--and allows me to put follow-ups out of my mind until I have a little block of time to deal with them.
Read an industry-specific article.
Sure, you're trying to stay on top of your industry's news daily and in the morning, but take 18 minutes in the middle of the day to see what popped up. Try Pocket or Instapaper, where you can add articles and access them later.
Find money you're owed.
Review your overdue invoice list and send a friendly reminder to clients, vendors, or customers who need to pay.
Improve your business's SEO.
Are you set up on Google's My Business? It'll help customers find you, particularly if you're a brick-and-mortar business. You should also check your site's speed. If it's taking too long to load, potential customers might bounce.
What's your go-to task to tackle when you have less than 20 minutes?