If you’re starved for time, you probably don’t have a few spare hours to do whatever you want. But do you have fifteen minutes? You won’t be able to run a marathon, finish a novel or have a party, but fifteen minutes can go a long way if you know how to use it.
Finding Your Fifteen
I’ve recently been facing a major time crunch between full time classes, running this website, freelance writing, being the president of my local Toastmasters club, exercising regularly and still trying to have a social life. A few spare hours don’t usually materialize, but it is possible to find fifteen minute gaps between work that needs to be done.
What’s crucial is to look for them. Your next fifteen minute gap can be spent staring off into space or it can be squeezed for all it’s worth. Here are some suggestions:
Train Your Brain
Invest the time in sharpening your mind. Small investments here can accumulate to huge payoffs later. You could learn a new language, master a skill or become an expert in your field.
- Read – Even if you can only devote fifteen minutes a day to reading, you can read up to two dozen books a year. I know many incredibly busy people who still manage to read over fifty books annually. The trick is to carry a book with you, or keep one in a place you frequently return to, so you can read when gap time becomes available.
- Create – Draw a picture, download a free program to make your own images  or music . Create things without a specific goal. This exercise can keep your creative muscles strong while taking your mind away from the pressures of life.
- Listen – Buy some audio books and listen to them when driving or walking between locations. This is a great way to use of time spent doing chores that don’t require mental effort but keep you from reading.
If you’re working constantly, take your fifteen minutes to relax. Even if you can’t devote a few hours to blank out, you can use your sliver of time to relax deeply and come back feeling energized.
- Breathe – Close your eyes and count your breathing. If you’re feeling particularly tired you may need to set an alarm to make sure you don’t fall asleep. Try to inhale and exhale at a rhythmic pace with as many seconds as is comfortable.
- Journal – If you’re at your computer, open up a word document and start writing about the challenges you are facing. This exercise will help you get everything organized and can bring a bit of sanity to your responsibilities.
- Walk – Go for a walk with no direction other than to arrive back in fifteen minutes. Moving around can help take your mind off pressing tasks. Plus the exercise can release endorphin, which improves your mood.
Cut Your To-Do
Fifteen minutes can also be used to knock off little items on your to-do list. These things might not be critical or urgent, but build up. A messy desk, a full inbox or call to be made might not take long to fix, but it can be a nuisance if it isn’t handled.
- Two-minute checks – Look at your to-do list and the space around you. Ask yourself if there is anything that needs to be done that could be done in less than two minutes. Do as many of these as you can in fifteen minutes to simplify your to-do list.
- Eliminate the Unimportant – If you are feeling overwhelmed, try investing your time to simplify your list. Determine what doesn’t need to be done at all, or can be done more easily. Cutting the things that don’t matter gives you more time for the things that do.
- Tie Up Unknowns – A good way to procrastinate is to not know where to start. Tie up these unknowns by making the appropriate calls, research or planning so every item on your to-do list can be started easily.
Boost Your Body
It can be hard to find four or five hours a week to exercise. This is even worse if you hate going to the gym. But inserting a bit of physical activity into your fifteen minute slots can make up for missed workouts.
- Walk – Get outside and move around. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking between locations instead of driving. Keep your pace fast if you can’t jog or run.
- Pump – Push-ups and sit-ups might not be possible everywhere, but if you’re at home or outside, they can’t hurt. Doing a bit of higher-intensity exercise for fifteen minutes doesn’t just keep you fit, it can give you a boost of energy and focus that caffeine can’t provide.
- Stretch – Staying flexible is an important part of staying fit and easy to neglect. Most stretches are easy to do in almost any location. Try touching your toes, or if you can do that, touch them with your palms.
Fifteen minutes may not be enough for quality time, but it can keep you in touch with friends.
- Rolodex Shuffle – Get out your address book and pick one person you haven’t talked to in awhile. Write them an e-mail or pick up the phone to check in on them. Weaker ties often fall apart if you don’t spend these small moments to nurture the connection.
- Listen – Find someone you haven’t talked to in awhile and ask them about themselves. Try to listen to their challenges, victories and life in general. A little investment can go a long way in showing you care.
- Meet Someone New – There are probably thousands of people in your immediate vicinity you haven’t met yet. Walk around and say hi. The worst that can happen is losing fifteen minutes.