It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I know that I have a scheduled phone call coming up in 10 minutes. Instead of throwing myself into the start of a new project, I kill some time by watching a few mindless YouTube videos.
Harmless, right? Except I often do that very same thing numerous times throughout my day—without even realizing it. And, it often has a dire effect on my productivity.
Identifying Wasted Pockets of Time
Stop to think for a moment, and you’ll likely notice that you do this very same thing yourself.
You have to leave to run an errand in 15 minutes, so you might as well read the latest clickbait on the internet. You’re planning to take your lunch break in 10 minutes anyway, so why not see what’s happening on Twitter?
I get it—these small pockets of time seem completely insignificant in the grand scheme of your workday.
However, one day when I was feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed by my to-do list, I had a realization: Just because I was wasting a seemingly small amount of time didn’t change the fact that I was still wasting time—and it was time that I was complaining I was short on to begin with.
It seems stupid when you put it in writing, but we all fall into this trap numerous times throughout the day. Those minutes before a meeting or before you pack up for the day are almost too easy to justify wasting.
So, it was then and there that I decided to make a change: I would use those seemingly unnoticeable time blocks to my advantage.
Related: 3 Simple, Effective Rules From a Time-Management Master
Leveraging My Time
Sure, those short time periods might seem like the perfect opportunity to give yourself a little breather—and, yes, sometimes a break really is necessary!
However, they’re also a great chance for you to take care of a few of those small, pesky tasks that crowd up your to-do list. They don’t require a ton of focus or a big commitment, but they still need to get done.
Answering emails, making a quick phone call, creating an outline, or even cleaning off your desk. They’re all things that you could complete—or at the very least make some major progress on—in the course of just 15 minutes.
And, that’s exactly what I decided to do.
Related: 40 Useful Self-Management Hacks to Master Your Time
Changing My Work Routine
Previously, I would start my workday by attempting to get as many of those little items off my list as possible. They were neither the most urgent or the most important tasks on my list. But, I just wanted to get them out of the way.
As you might guess, that’s not the most efficient or strategic way to work. So, I changed things around.
Now, I still write those little items on my list, but I definitely don’t start my day with them. Instead, I begin with the most important thing I need to get done. I close my email, move my phone away from my desk, and channel my early morning focus into that bigger task.
During those pockets of time when I find I have an extra 10 or 15 minutes that I don’t want to invest in starting something new? That’s when I’ll tick a few of those smaller to-dos off my list. That chunk of time is no longer wasted, and I’m also taking a much smarter approach to my workload.
Yes, it’s a somewhat small change. But, just think: If you manage to dilly dally for 15 minutes here and there three times throughout your workday—and you do that same thing every day of your work week—you’ll have wasted almost four hours by the end of Friday. Pretty crazy, right?
Related: How to Make More Time for Yourself When You’re in Over Your Head
Personally, I’ve already seen significant positive changes in my productivity by implementing this minor tweak. So, give it a try for yourself, and prepare to make major progress on that to-do list!
This article was originally published on Inc. It has been republished here with permission