Time Management

7 Ways to Maximize Downtime

We live in an era where we are required to do more, better, faster and with less resources. Yet amazingly, the most precious resource we have -- our time -- is often wasted or at best mismanaged. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it.

My obsession with peak performance and time management began in 1996 as a college coach, and I have since refined it into a system called The Coach Approach Daily Game Plan for entrepreneurs. The NCAA limited the amount of time you could spend working with your team to 20 hours a week, which made every second of every practice matter. Just like business, the playing field is pretty unbalanced in most areas, but those 20 hours were the one area where the playing field was level. Maximizing the 20 hours became a competitive advantage.

For example, by eliminating formal water breaks in practice and simply making water bottles constantly accessible to our players, we gained an additional 13 hours in practice time over the course of a season. That’s an example of maximizing what was previously downtime and turning it into a slight edge in the form of additional productivity. Add a few different slight edges together and we created some major separation between ourselves and the competition. 

Related: 10 Ways to Kill the Distractions and Supercharge Your Productivity

Here are seven ways you can do the same thing to get a competitive edge:

1. Rise and G.R.I.N.D. (Get Ready It’s a New Day)

Wake up an hour earlier than everyone else in your house. Hitting snooze is not an option. This provides you with a quiet, distraction-free environment to enhance your focus.

Grab your coffee and instead of checking your email or watching the news, invest that time in reviewing your vision board and writing down your goals and plan for the day, which will move you closer to your vision. Particularly focus on that one mission-critical goal you have to achieve to make today a win.

2. Shower time

Ever notice you do some of your best thinking in the shower? There’s a good reason why. It’s a relaxing and monotonous task. When you’re relaxed your body produces more dopamine and your brain more alpha waves. Both stimulate your creative juices and ideas.

Use that time to think about ideas that can help accomplish the goals you wrote down. To prevent your good ideas from escaping down the drain keep a dry erase marker in the shower, make notes on the wall and as soon as you get out take a photo of it with your camera phone. Store it in Evernote and act on the information later. Alternately, you can invest in Aqua Notes, a waterproof note pad.

3. Commuting time 

Americans waste the equivalent of a work week sitting in traffic. Transform your morning and evening commutes from stressful time or wasted time into "Windshield University."

The average daily commute time in the U.S. is 50 minutes round trip. If you invested your 50-minute commute each work day in audiobooks and podcasts, that equates to four hours a week and adds up to 216 hours in professional development annually. You can get the equivalent of an MBA’s worth of professional development in what was previously down time.

Related: 6 Ways to Take Back Your Time

4. Lunch time

Stop eating at your desk, or worse, taking extended social lunches. Schedule business-lunch meetings (at least one every single week) that can help you: achieve one of your goals, make a sale or advance your career. Use a few minutes of your lunch break to recalibrate your schedule and review your "Win the Day" goal.

According to Atlassian, we spend 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings. That doesn’t even count productive meeting time or the time you waste waiting for meetings or appointments to begin.

5. Pre-meeting or appointment time

Typically, when we arrive a few minutes early or when a meeting starts late, we’re left sitting around with idle time. Bring your planner, a book or article and invest that idle time in getting better and more productive. A great app to use is ReadTime. It will scan an article and tell you the amount of time it will take you to read it.

6. Meeting time

How often do you get stuck in a useless or boring meeting that leaves you wishing you had that hour of your life back? Instead of suffering in silence, invest that time in planning the next day or week, jotting down some ideas and creating your action items to finish the day strong. Look up every so often, smile and nod. People will be convinced you’re taking notes about the meeting.

7. Post-meeting or appointment time

Instead of killing time on Facebook while waiting for the next meeting, invest that time with either an immediate follow up on the action items from the last meeting, preparation for the upcoming meeting or reviewing your daily game plan to find slices of time you can win back. For example, turning that 30-minute meeting into a 15-minute one or canceling it all together.

View this process of recovering time in your daily schedule as an experiment. Be sure to give each strategy enough time to accurately measure how well it is working for you, then tweak it or refine it to maximize its usefulness.

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Related: 4 Business Meetings You Should Never Take