Life is full of dull periods, slack moments, and drudgery to be gotten through. Whether it's standing in line at the post office or biding your time at a dull job until a better opportunity comes along, whether it's five minutes or five years, at some point we've all just been killing time.

But maybe a single question can change that.

Maybe asking yourself just one question is enough to jolt you out of your complacency and nudge you to realize that life is short and every moment is precious (every one! No matter how lame your circumstances). That's the contention of a potentially life-altering classic blog post from writer Ryan Holiday I stumbled upon recently.

Alive Time or Dead Time?

In it, Holiday recounts a conversation he had with author Robert Greene early in his career. At that moment of his life, Holiday was living far from family and friends and engaged in a not-entirely pleasant period in his career. Some would be inclined to kill that time with distractions, day dreams, and complaints, but Greene advised otherwise.

"He told me, Ryan while people wait for the right moment, there are two types of time: Dead time--where they are passive and biding and Alive time--where they are learning and acting and leveraging every second towards their intended future. Which will this be for you?" Holiday recounts.

It turns out this simple sounding question -- "Is this going to be Alive Time or Dead Time?" actually has a pretty storied pedigree, Holiday points out. Political dissidents and concentration camp survivors like oft-recommended thinker Victor Frankl have posed much the same question, insisting that even in the grimmest situations, we need to do more than bear up; we need to actually be alive.

And if people can use this question to remind themselves that every moment is a moment of your precious life you won't get back -- a moment that deserves to be honored with attention and intention -- in such bleak situations, certainly you can do the same when bored to tears at that Wednesday staff meeting.

"Maybe you're sitting in high school, maybe you're making smoothies despite a solid degree, maybe you're stuck waiting out a contract or a tour of duty. Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we'd rather not do," writes Holiday. "These situations give us a choice. Do we feel shame and anger? Or do we say: This is an opportunity for me. I am using it for my purposes. I will not let this be dead time for me."

After receiving this wisdom from Greene, Holiday went on to use that difficult period of his life as an opportunity for extended learning and reflection. He couldn't really change his material circumstances, at least not right away, but he could always change his thinking. He decided not to just kill time -- to insist on 'Alive Time' -- and that made a huge difference.

As you can read in his post, he filled notebooks with insights, index cards with ideas, and shelves with books he'd read. He nourished his mind and his soul.

Maybe the next time you're tempted to just kill time, you can ask yourself "Is this going to be Alive Time or Dead Time?" and choose not to waste those moments either.