We often hear people say they’re busy or that they don’t have the time. We know we all have 24 hours. If you need more “time”, you compromise by sleeping less, which we also know that it’s at the expense of your health. Not good! But wait! How about those idle times?

How we manage or view our time is a matter of mindset and prioritization. In reality, we have more time than we think we have. If we truly record the time spend on each activity or task we have on a day, we’ll realize that we have a lot of unproductive hours. These are all those accumulated hours commuting to work, being stuck in traffic jams, waiting in lines, waiting for someone, or between meetings can be put to good use. 


Here are 10 (+ 1 questionable) productive ways we can utilize our idle time effectively to accomplish tasks or goals we set for ourselves: 

1. Read, listen or watch something educational. 

Listening to podcasts or audiobooks are definitely most ideal when you’re driving. This can also be done while you’re cooking, doing the laundry or cleaning chores at home. If you’re commuting via public transports or waiting in lines, you can read books. 

Related blog post: Enrich Your Learning with Scribd (Unlimited access to e-books, audiobooks and magazines)

2. Create lists. 

I used to suffer from anxiety and sleepless nights because I was holding too many things to do and random thoughts in my mind. That’s why I love to create lists. To Do list is the most effective way for you to record the tasks you need to carry out and plan your day. Apart from that, you can also use your idle time to create shopping list, customers to call list, books to read list, movies to watch list, and so on. I even have a “What to do” list so I could pick an activity whenever I have days that I just don’t know what to do with it. Some of the productive ways to fill up our idle time shared in this blog post is part of my “What to do” list. 

 

3. Catch up with family or friends over the phone. 

Idle time can be effectively used to check up on loved ones or friends you haven’t seen for a while. Sometimes we get so busy and caught up with our work that we can forget our non-immediate family and friends. Squeezing in some short phone calls or hello texts during idle time may help bridge the relationship gap. 

I’m not a big fan of speaking over the phone, particularly when I’m in public places but texting works too. While waiting at customer service centres or waiting for your meals to be served (if you’re eating alone), you can give your mom and dad a call or text some friends you haven’t been in touch for a while and plan for an outing. A friend of mine shared with me that her kids who are studying overseas would send her random pictures of their food or daily activities through WhatsApp. This is actually more personal and meaningful rather than having our parents looking through our social media news feed like everyone else just to know what we’re up to. 

 

4. Check off those tiny tasks. 

Small tasks that are important but not necessarily urgent can still be a pain in the *bleep* if left unchecked. Idle times are the best times to get these off your To Do list so you can prioritize your important tasks. 

Respond to that email from your client, pay your utility bills, book that tickets for the movie you promised to take your kids to, or file those loose receipts. You can only check off these tiny tasks more effectively if you already have a To Do list prepared because it doesn’t require much thinking. Remember earlier when we talked about creating lists? Do that first! 

 

5. Take a short nap. 

When I used to commute to work via train, I had the luxury of a long 45-minute nap. Whether you work from home or from the office, taking a quick nap during your idle time can re-energize you especially when your work mostly require high level of concentration.  

 

6. Practice mindfulness. 

Doing nothing can be beneficial as well. If you’re constantly on the go, meetings after meetings, work after work, it’s best to just do nothing during your idle time. Practice mindfulness by being in the moment and silent your mind. You can also meditate and do some breathing exercises. 

 

7. Short workout. 

If you truly don’t have the time to spare for exercising, there’s no need to slave away at the gym for an hour. But you do need to exercise if you want to enjoy a long healthy life. Extra time after lunch breaks? Go to a nearby park and walk. Doing video conferencing? Get your dumb bells ready and do some weight lifting exercise. Why not right? Angle the camera to show only your face and don’t overdo it to the point of you panting away in front of the screen. That will be weird. 

 

8. Write or review goals. 

Most people set yearly, monthly or weekly goals. Yeah, I was one of those people. Sometimes I couldn’t be bothered with setting goals at all. But I realize that to achieve our goals, it’s important for us to pay close attention to them. Keep your goals written in a notebook you carry with you or you can also use apps like OneNote or Evernote. Whenever you have idle time at hand, take them out and review them. Perhaps you have already achieved some of them and you may want to set new goals. Doing this on a daily basis could very well save you a lot of time as you can eliminate distractions and focus on your objectives. 

 

9. Journal your thoughts. 

Most successful people keep a journal. Whenever you have the time to spare, write down your thoughts. It helps clear your mind and you can review it in the future. Apart from that, if you’re a writer or blogger, journaling is a good writing practice. 10-15 minutes of journaling everyday can also help to overcome writer’s block. I’ve been blogging inconsistently for the past 10 years because I run out of topics to write about. Then I realize that I do have topics in mind to write about but I’m just not confident in expressing those thoughts. Journaling helps. I can attest to that. 

 

10. Learn a new language or improve your vocabulary. 

Being born and raised in Malaysia, most of us are multi-lingual. I could speak and understand 3 languages and 2 dialects. I consider English my first language as it’s the language I’m most comfortable and fluent in. But not being a native speaker, I still have a lot to improve in terms of grammar and vocabulary. I’m sure there are always rooms for improvement when it comes to language no matter how fluent we are in it. Learning a new language, on the other hand, provides us with great opportunity to expand our knowledge of people of different culture. You can easily learn a new language using the app Duolingo. 

And finally…a not so productive way but could be beneficial nevertheless. 

 

11. Play games. 

I don’t know about you but I love to play games; mind games, trivia, board games and of course video games! I have a deck of monopoly deal cards kept in the car so I could just grab them and play it with whoever that was with me while we’re waiting for a movie to start or for other friends to show up. 

Other games you can play during your idle time can be anything you have installed on your phone that could help you relax and de-stress. While playing brain activity games is more productive, I’m not uptight when it comes to that. Whenever I’m not working or studying, I just want to let loose and engorge myself into my little fantasy world of gaming. 


By spending your idle time effectively, you can increase your productivity and find yourself having more time as a result. Most importantly, you don’t need to compromise what you enjoy doing because your schedule is filled with work, chores or errands you need to complete. Look for those idle times you can “steal.”

How do you spend your idle time? Do share in the comment if it’s not mentioned in this post.