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10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 Minutes

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 MinutesIt’s a rare but beautiful thing: An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you’re actually “free” for a short window. No one’s hair is on fire and there isn’t anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls. Whatever it is, you realize that the next little bit of time is not yet spoken for. The window is too short to dig into a project, but you do have time for something. What do you do?

For many of us, one thing rises reflexively to the top of the list of possibilities: Facebook. (Or whatever social media you happen to prefer.) We fritter away our 10, 20, or 30 minutes scrolling through the minutia and photographic exploits of people we may or may not a) know, b) like, or c) find interesting. Or maybe we hit our regular news sites or entertainment blogs. So long as we’re online, we’re engaged.

Then our window closes — the baby wakes up, the client calls, it’s time to head out — and those minutes are gone. Are we the better for how we spent them?

Don’t get me wrong: Downtime is important. Ten minutes of doing nothing has its value;  social media and other internet temptations can, at times, serve as recreation. But more often than not, the interwebs become a crutch that we depend on because we’re in a short period of transition. We don’t know what else to do — or we do know what to do, but we’re procrastinating because we’re over- or under-whelmed by whatever we’re supposed to be working on. And just when we might benefit most from a screen-free breather, we’re particularly addicted to the glow.

Whether you’re using up minutes that aren’t otherwise spoken for or you’re avoiding a task you’d rather not do, use those 10 minutes to your advantage. Here are 10 “unplugged” ways to do just that.

  1. Meditate. Whether or not you already meditate regularly, a 10-minute break is a great opportunity to sit. Research demonstrates the substantial health benefits of meditation: it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, increases focus, and reduces sensitivity to pain. Not sure how to meditate? Here’s an accessible introduction from Zen Habits.
  2. Write a poem. Short-form poetry is a lot of fun, and it only takes a few minutes to pen a haiku, tanka, or cinquain. Even if you’re unfamiliar with writing poetry, it’s deeply satisfying to solve the poetic puzzle of fitting your ideas into a time-honored structure.
  3. “Treat” read. You know that stack of magazines and journals that you never get to? Perhaps the New York Times Book Review that you set aside for “later,” or that tempting collection of One Story issues? Maybe an alumni magazine you want to peruse? That’s what I call “treat” reading — something that meets these three criteria: it’s short, unplugged, and somewhat indulgent.
  4. Exercise. Do 10 minutes of yoga, jump rope, or — if you have them — run up and down a flight of stairs (assuming you’re healthy enough to do so). A 10-minute burst of exercise boosts your concentration, mood, and physical well-being.
  5. Journal. Grab your journal — even if you’re a regular practitioner of Morning Pages — and gift yourself with a brief clearing session. Write out what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, what’s working, what’s not working. Keep your hand moving. Speaking from experience, 10 minutes of intense journaling can be an amazing stress reliever.
  6. Share the love. Dig out one of those blank cards or bits of stationary that are lurking in a drawer somewhere and write a brief note to someone you care about. It might be a thank-you note, a thinking-of-you note, or just a few lines that amount to “I’m so glad to know you.” Address your envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail the card next time you’re out. This act of gratitude has benefits for you as well as your recipient.
  7. Plot creatively. Grab a few index cards. Using one card per idea, outline a handful of important scenes that need to happen in your novel; the concept, colors, or basis for the painting that’s been kicking around in your head; a few possibilities for future blog posts. If you prefer visuals to words, use the blank side of your index cards to sketch or doodle.
  8. Prepare. Use a short interval to do some groundwork for a project: Gesso a canvas, sharpen your colored pencils, clean off your worktable or desk. If you don’t have any tasks in this category, spend your window filing bills or dealing with that “not sure what to do with this” stack of papers. It’s not sexy, but it sure feels good when it’s finished.
  9. Clip. Gather up a few old magazines (I keep a collection in my art room for this purpose) and flip through those glossy pages in search of collage materials. You don’t need to look for anything specific, just pull or clip the words and images that appeal to you. Save these clippings in a box for later collage work — and file anything else that sparks a story or project idea.
  10. Step outside. Use your brief break to get some fresh air. Go stand outside and marvel at whatever you see, feel, and hear. Raining? Enjoy the sound of rain hitting your umbrella. Snowing? Stand outside and be with it. Can’t go out because the kids are sleeping/watching TV/leaving you alone for a few seconds? Go stand by a window and breathe deeply. We all need to connect with nature, even if it’s just a few long-distance minutes with one straggly tree on the other side of a busy street.

What are your favorite ways to make the most of 10 minutes?

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35 Comments Post a comment
  1. yes.
    you are so right.
    darn.

    March 20, 2013
  2. - #

    There are few articles, if any, that have been a better fit for me. I can drill through a couple of 10 minutes accidental breaks through the glow of People.com, or perusing other people’s blogs wondering why mine comes up so dull in comparison. You nailed every “why” (under/overwhelmed), and yet you give practical advice to keep us engaged, productive, alive, and present. This will be printed and posted. Thank you.

    March 20, 2013
  3. I love the ‘treat read’ suggestion, but sad that we are all so time poor that we can only schedule ten minutes for it! Great post.

    March 20, 2013
    • I wish we could “treat read” for days on end, don’t you?? :-)

      March 20, 2013
      • Absolutely…..especially as I’m wading through not-so-treat books for my Honours Degree at the moment! I keep sneaking a peak at some Agatha Christie and a heap of samples on my Kindle when I feel I need a hit of something more pleasurable!

        March 20, 2013
  4. Ugh sounds like me! I need to start using my time more wisely. Thank you for the reminder/tips. This was much needed!

    March 20, 2013
    • So glad to hear this post resonated with you, Kris — and thanks for the reblog!

      March 20, 2013
  5. Reblogged this on Family,Friends and Everything in Between and commented:
    This is something I struggle with, I do have issues using my precious time wisely! And it doesn’t help that I get easily distracted! Maybe possible ADD……hang on I got a Facebook notification lol

    March 20, 2013
  6. Reblogged this on bubblemomentpages and commented:
    I am the one Miranda describes; I now automatically pick up my phone and search blogs for a great read. Now, as this is better than Facebook and I learn from what I find, I should switch it up and get away from that screen.

    My favourite way to use an unexpected ten minutes is to be outside. In the summer I pick tomatoes from my garden. Other times I’ll brush the dogs’ hair or throw a ball around.

    From the suggestions in this post I love the “treat read”, using index cards to jot post ideas, sharing the love in a short card then mail it out and a quick yoga stretch.

    Thank you to Studio Mother’s and the inspiring, motivating blog site they have.

    March 20, 2013
  7. Par excellence! You are so right. I finally had to pull completely away from social media. The “Facebook Fast” began. I do several of yours but just learned a few more from you. My ten minutes? I’ll do that unsexy filing of papers or check my online banking accounts. Schedule a couple of appointments.
    One thing that has helped me is a dry erase board on the fridge with those big unpleasant must-do goals and more urgent things. I keep no more than ten things on there. It feels so good to erase one. Of course it replaces quickly! But it keeps me from being overwhelmed. Currently it says things like: schedule appt with financial counselor, start letter for Guatemala trip, birthday card for music director, appt for son’s wisdom teeth removal, buy ink for printer.
    For an indulgent treat my favorite is sitting down and reading through a few of my favorite blogs, one of which is yours. :-)
    Thanks for all of the great tips!
    Peace,
    Alexandria

    March 20, 2013
    • Love your dry erase board, Alexandria — and thank you for the kind words!

      March 20, 2013
  8. I would love it if you enabled a Pinterest button on your articles!

    March 20, 2013
    • Done, Anna — thank you for the suggestion!

      March 20, 2013
      • Valerie uk #

        Anna; there is a site that will hold all your favourite articles or the ones you want to read later. It’s free and quick to register. You get a “pocket” button similar to the “pin” button and you build your collection of ‘treat’ reads. Here is the link http://getpocket.com/

        March 20, 2013
  9. Ten minutes is just enough time for a magazine article (or a section of last weekend’s newspaper…), but I like the idea of a 10 minute yoga or meditation session. Love this article!

    March 20, 2013
  10. All excellent suggestions, Miranda! To answer your question, one of my favorite ways to make the most of 10 minutes is to play guitar and/or sing, because I find that music really centers me. I also find that there are few things in this world more refreshing than a power nap, particularly if the quantity and/or quality of sleep I’ve had the previous night is less than optimal. The trouble, of course, is limiting it to just 10 minutes… ;-)

    March 20, 2013
  11. homelifesimplified #

    As an avid reader I steal those 10 minutes if necessary. I also do #10.

    I plan to take #4, 8 & 9 from your list and put them into action thanks. Deb xx

    March 20, 2013
    • Wonderful, Deb — delighted to hear it!

      March 20, 2013
  12. I am going to reblog this in my next 10 minute window…and thank you for not including laundry on your list. You’re always worth reading Miranda. S

    March 20, 2013
    • Thank you, Letters! (Laundry?? Perish the thought!)

      March 20, 2013
  13. Reblogged this on LettersHead and commented:
    File under: posts I wish I had written. Miranda writes an excellent blog.

    March 20, 2013
  14. This was great to read, I just started writing in my diary again, so if I ever have a few minutes to spare I might just write in it! Or start yoga, I’ve always wanted to, just ironically have never had the time to start it!

    March 20, 2013
    • Good for you, Lottie! It does seem crazy that we’re too busy to do even simple things that appeal to us, doesn’t it? An unfortunate truth that we all seem to share.

      There are great online resources like Yoga Journal for learning the basics — simply practicing the Sun Salutation vinyasa is a great place to start. I always feel better if I start my day with 3-5 Sun Salutations :-)

      March 20, 2013
      • Thank you so much! I will look them up and give them a go!

        March 21, 2013
  15. Awesome article!

    March 21, 2013
  16. Those are great ideas! I have to say, though, I actually find Facebook time can *sometimes* be really creative too. Even though (or maybe BECAUSE) it’s public, I enjoy the “personal collage” that my page is becoming. And I think about the next creative or beautiful thing I might post, or read a post and follow an inspiring link from my brother or a close friend. Sometimes I find strange synergies – “He’s thinking about what I’M thinking about ! – Who knew??”

    I really enjoy your blog. It makes me want to straighten up my work room (soon, soon!). Thanks for this super little list. I may have to print it out and post it somewhere to remind me!

    March 21, 2013
    • Thank you, butterflymumma! I think the key is to be aware of using your time — Facebook isn’t inherently “bad,” and clearly you are using it in a way that feels mindful and connective. Good for you!

      March 21, 2013

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