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How to Make Use of Short Blocks of Time (<30 minutes)

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Data Engineer at Financial Company8 months ago

I often find myself with short blocks of time during the day. For example, I am typing this question in one such block of time right now. I have 15 minutes between the end of my morning stand-up and a debugging session that starts at 10am. I'm wondering how to use these sessions productively, but even more, I am wondering how to not use them unproductively.

It's very easy to go onto YouTube or LinkedIn (my preferred social media sites to waste time) and tell myself I'm being productive because I follow tech people I respect such as Alex and Rahul. However, I now believe that such quick checks are harmful to my productivity.

I'm reading "Deep Work" by Cal Newport and Rule #2 is Embrace Boredom. Rule #3 is Quit Social Media. Both of these rules suggest that I really need to stop checking YouTube and LinkedIn daily, and definitely multiple times a day. Since there actually is valuable content on these platforms (hello again Alex and Rahul), I'm thinking of limiting myself to only checking once a week.

In the meantime, I do have the original issue of how to spend blocks of time <30 minutes. I've solved my current issue by using it to ask this question.

I guess short blocks of time are perfect for shallow tasks like responding to email. But probably just staring into space is better than checking YouTube/LinkedIn.

Any other tips?



  • 3
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    I think you more or less nailed it: Avoid social media like the plague during micro-blocks. Their problem is that they're prone to rabbit holes - It's easy to watch something entertaining and then realize you've spent way too much time mindlessly scrolling 1 hour later. Social media is the main culprit for rabbit holes, but stuff like video games can do it too.

    I recommend writing down a list of "micro-productivity" tasks you can do when you have access to just 10-30 minute blocks. You can do pen and paper and have it at your desk if you really need to reinforce.

    Here are some ideas for those tasks:

    • Do a small open code review
    • Take a walk
    • Take a break in general (maybe meditate)
    • Do some chores like vacuuming your living room (assuming you're WFH)
    • Apply to 1-2 jobs (assuming you're job hunting)
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    Head of Engineering at Capgemini
    8 months ago

    I would prioritize self-care during those times instead of feeling the need to be productive every min of the day. As you mentioned, "deep work" is usually when you get the most productivity anyways, so treat the smaller blocks of time to ensure that you're in good shape when you need to "deep work" in the upcoming focus block (plus not burnout / resent life in general).

    I struggle the most with exercise, so I made a mini system for myself to develop a habit during these micro blocks of time. I've extracted my response from another thread talking about burnout prevention below.

    Exercise: I struggle the most with this, but have a pre-planned routine for various intervals of time - 2 mins, 5 mins, 10 mins, 30 mins, 1 hr. I find it harder to only exercise with you have at least 30 mins, so you end up doing it less frequently. Here's some examples by time interval - 2 mins: stretch, plank, pushups, 5 mins: exercise bike if accessible, 10 mins: combine the 5 mins & 2 mins ones or go for a walk.