How To Make Dead Time More Productive

What is dead time?

Dead time is the time you spend queuing, commuting, waiting for an appointment, a train, a flight, etc. It’s time that you usually have no choice but to invest with a specific aim, but the time spent in reaching that aim is not often productive in any other way.

Making use of dead time is an extension of scheduling everything you do. The more disciplined you are with your time, the more sensitive you become to exactly what you are doing with your time at any given moment.

Of course, we all have times when we succumb to distractions, but if you have a schedule and a framework you work to each day, you are much less likely to slip into habits where you spend big chunks of time idle or involved in low-value activities.

The same applies to being aware of “dead time”.

Using dead time is really about having an activity plan in mind when the opportunity to take advantage of time that wasn’t scheduled for a certain activity arises.

For example, if you’re standing in a queue, you’re not really going to be able to do something like writing a report, but you might be able to do some reading or research.

How to bring dead time back to life

In a perfectly scheduled day, there should be no dead time, but wherever it exists, there’s an opportunity to capitalize on it.

Dead time can be expected, which would include time spent commuting, waiting to see a doctor or to board a flight, for example.

But it can also be unexpected, like those times when you find there’s a huge queue at the station when you go to pick up your ticket, you’re stuck in gridlocked traffic due to an RTA on the highway or maybe your when client has just called to say they’re running late but will be with you in 20 minutes.

It can also happen at the office if a scheduled event suddenly gets cancelled or if your IT system goes down.

Whatever the cause, you can still prepare for both expected and unexpected dead time and by doing so, you can suddenly capture that “extra” time in your day that can be used to get more done.

How you plan for this time and what you do with it can make a big difference to your life. Some people actually have huge amounts of dead time each week, but perhaps just don’t recognize it.

For example, let’s say you go to the office by train and the commute is 45-minutes each way every day, which amounts to around thirty hours a month. Take out a couple of weeks for vacation and you’re looking at 345 hours per year.

That’s two weeks’ worth of time!!

So if you’re not currently doing anything during that commute other than browsing the internet and listening to music, then you, my friend, have a whole lot of untapped potential right there.

Admittedly, dead time can’t always be used to do other things.

For example, if your commute involves driving, for sure you can’t be busy actively doing other things while you’re supposed to be in control of a vehicle.

But there are still some passive activities you can do to make that time more productive without compromising your ability at the wheel, like listening to some podcasts or an audiobook to broaden your knowledge (see below). I don’t personally recommend this, but I know some people do it as, in terms of distraction level, it’s probably no different to listening to the radio or talking to the passenger next to you.

Ultimately though, you need to decide for yourself whether or not you find it distracting.

Anyway, here are some ideas to make the most out of your dead time.

Ten activities you can do during dead time

1. Listen to podcasts/audiobooks

I tend to listen to podcasts when I am doing something that doesn’t require much focus and attention, like working out or doing some kind of low-value administrative task. There are some shows with some fantastic content out there and no shortage of topics to choose from.

Check out my ten favourite podcasts for time management and productivity here.

Read: 10 Best Podcasts To Boost Productivity >>>

Listening to broaden horizons / Image by Pixabay

2. Language learning

Native English speakers are notoriously lazy when it comes to learning a second language. But with the technology and accessibility to knowledge that we have today, there is really is no excuse. Apps like Duolingo and Babbel can be used with your phone and are great for building the foundations.

And there are countless YouTube channels that can provide language lessons for free.

3. Online classes

Furthering your knowledge or studying for a qualification requires some dedicated time, but there are also opportunities to get plenty of work done during dead time.

When I was studying for an examination recently, I opted to receive the digital course material and online revision resources, rather than the hard copies of the books on the syllabus.

This meant that I could study whenever I was commuting or waiting around somewhere and was an excellent source of supplementary study in addition to the time I had already scheduled for it each week.

4. Read a book

Carrying around a hard copy of a book is not always convenient, especially if you’re a guy and don’t carry around any kind of bag (although many of us do these days), but who needs to do that anyway when you can read books on your phone?

5. Meditation/mindfulness

Mindfulness is certainly something you can do anytime and pretty much any place. There are numerous apps that can help you with guided meditation too, such as Headspace and Sanvello.

6. Make/update your to-do list

I prefer to work on my To-Do list on a Sunday evening, but using dead time to update it is a good use of time.

Read more: How To Write A To-Do List – Properly! >>>

7. Plan your meals

Meal planning saves a huge amount of time and energy but is usually way down there on your list of things to do. So why not handle that task when you’re standing in a queue?

Remember to call the folks / Image by Andrea Piacquadio

8. Call your parents

Finding the time to speak regularly with your parents is important, but can get overlooked when you’re busy with work and your own family life. When you have some unexpected down-time, why not give the folks a quick call? They’ll be delighted to hear from you.

You could also call a grandparent or other family member. I am definitely guilty of a lack of communication with my extended family members, and my poor excuse is mostly that “I don’t have time”.

Well, during dead time periods, I now have time!

9. Clean your desk

Tidying my desk definitely falls into the not urgent and not important quadrant of my Eisenhower Matrix, but it is actually important to keep your environment tidy. Otherwise, it can create a distraction.

Take a few minutes of dead time to keep your workspace organized.

10. Exercise

I am not kidding here.

Obviously, I am not necessarily talking about getting in a full HIIT workout at your desk, but there are ties when it is possible to get in a bit of stretching and exercises using bodyweight.

For example, I may get down and do some push-ups or burpees if I am at home or some calf raises or lunges if I am in a queue. Sure, I get a few funny looks, but who cares?

This lady (Laurie Searle) shows you how to do some yoga while waiting in line. And I’m loving the fact that she’s even gone to the trouble of using some bags of shopping to keep it real. 🙂

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

Taken as a snapshot, dead time during our day doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, when you add it up over the months and years, we’re looking at substantial amounts of our time.

And if you’re not doing anything productive with that time, you’re wasting an opportunity.

To capture as much of this time as possible, when you schedule your week, make sure that you have a ‘pool’ of tasks or activities that you plan to do during periods of dead time. You can then can jump straight into them when the opportunity arises.

More reading

How To Use Time Blocking

How To Stop Being Late

Why Time Management Fails

Using Personal Kanban To Organize Your Workflow

The Power Of Microbreaks

[Featured image credit: Andrea Piacquadio]

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