Time management, habits, and repeated chunks of time

At around 8:10 a.m. this morning, I picked up the kettle bell I keep in my office. I did a series of exercises, and then held a plank pose for about 60 seconds. I was done with all this by 8:25 a.m., at which point I hollered for my two middle children to start getting their shoes on so we could go to the bus stop.

I did this same routine several days last week as well. I have said many times in the past that I wanted to do more strength training, but I haven’t. This nascent habit, however, seems like it might have the potential to stick.

Why? I think the answer suggests some insights that might be helpful for other people trying to use time well and make progress on their long term goals.

The first insight: Sometimes, structurally, we wind up with small chunks of time in our schedules that are hard to use well. Around 8:10 a.m. most weekday mornings that I am home, I have just returned from the middle school carpool run or I am finishing making sure that the other kids have eaten breakfast. With the shoes-coats-backpacks elementary school bus fun starting at 8:25 a.m., this leaves 15 minutes to do…something. It’s too short to do the deep work projects I tend to start at 8:35 a.m., but it’s not nothing either. I have usually just answered emails, but this is an unsatisfying solution, as there are plenty of other spots in my schedule for inbox cleaning.

This chunk of time has been my particular bugaboo, but I’m guessing many schedules have something similar. It could be 30 minutes during a sports practice, or between two recurring meetings. These aren’t the random chunks of time (“time confetti”) that pop up while waiting for a phone call to start, or while waiting for the bus. These are regularly occurring chunks that can be planned for, even if they aren’t easy to use.

Another insight: small things done repeatedly add up over time. Dripping water hollows the stone, as the saying goes. Writing 250 words a day will produce a book in less than a year (my word count to this point on this post is already about 350 words!) Fifteen minutes of vocal exercises or 15 minutes of deliberate instrument practice will move the needle on performance. You won’t be fluent in a new language by studying it 15 minutes a day, but you’ll be a lot closer! You could definitely reach out to one new person a day in 15 minutes and build a thriving network. Or you could use that time to renew an old tie and bring quite a bit of happiness into your life.

The final insight: Habits are often more about cues than time. To do something that isn’t automatic, it helps to have a specific time or prompt. It also helps to make it easy.

This is why I think my new strength training habit might stick. I have given it a very specific home in my schedule when I wasn’t doing much else of note. It’s not every day, but it’s going to be enough days to matter. Keeping the kettle bell (and resistance bands) in my office helps remind me to do it. I don’t have to do much — I can’t, if I’m dealing with the bus stuff — but I have enough time to do something.

It might be worth thinking about. What repeated small chunk of time to do you have in your schedule? What long term goal of yours could be achieved through small, frequent steps? What would it take to use your recurring chunk of time for these steps? I’d love to hear what you come up with!

In other news: Juliet’s School of Possibilities, my time management fable, launches in less than two weeks! You can pre-order and get your pre-order perks (including Laura’s Little Book of Life Hacks) through the links on this page.

11 thoughts on “Time management, habits, and repeated chunks of time

  1. Great article! I love the idea of fitting something in to a small time chunk. I need to find a way to do physio exercises every day. Maybe a small chunk of waisted time would work.

    1. @Laura – yep, looking for a chunk of wasted time is the key to this. I’m sure I could do strength training at other points of the day, but the idea of using time I’m not using for anything else makes it more appealing.

  2. My only moments of this kind that I can probably think of are the 10-15 minutes I spend on the platform twice a day waiting for the train. I first ended up in the obvious social media scrolling but then I wanted to become more intentional about it. So I still read online stuff but they are specific articles I am interested in and did not have time to read immediately when I came across them (I use the app Pocket to save those links, so I open the app straight and read from there). I also use that time to listen to my favourite music or simply doing nothing and just let my thoughts wander! Daydreaming is probably the last thing I use my time for and it is apparently quite good to do so!

    1. @Ellie – online reading with a purpose definitely beats random scrolling. Saving articles to read is a great idea.

  3. I work from home most days and if a 20-minute block of time or so opens up I grab my dog and go for a quick walk around my neighborhood (this also dovetails nicely with my goal to walk outside every day in February). I don’t really have a regular small chunk of time each day, but I can usually find that 20 minutes somewhere in the day prettt easily. I’ll also sometimes grab the opportunity for a quick walk if I have to do a conference call or something where a little background noise isn’t a problem.

    1. @Emily- great idea! And I’m glad you’ve got the goal of walking outside in February. I’ve been trying to make sure I get outside every day and it’s definitely improved my winter mood.

  4. Love this concept! My favorite small pocket of time activities are: read a kid a book (I always call all three littles each time), a quick DuoLingo French lesson (je parle un peu!), unload/load dishwasher or restart laundry. These only take 5 minutes but either prevent chaos or chip away at long term goals. Last week I added one legged squats. I’m working on the booty. LOL.

  5. Yes to small chunks of time! I use small bits of time in the evenings to practice Spanish on DuoLingo and do my household chores. I listen to audiobooks or a podcast while driving to make use of that time, and try to sneak in quick walks when I have a minute at work. Your podcast and books have given me so many great ideas and I’ve really been able to improve my time usage :). I recommend your books to everyone who asks me for advice.

    1. @Jessie R – thank you so much! I appreciate your recommending the books and podcast. That means a lot to me.

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