What To Do When There’s Nothing To Do

In previous posts, I’ve written much about the importance of planning your day. I’ve discussed why to plan your day in minutes, how to optimally time block, and how to differentiate between urgent and important tasks.

While it’s wonderful to plan the perfect day, in reality there are moments in our days in which nothing is planned. Let’s refer to unplanned time as dead time. When we arrive at dead time, we become bored. When boredom ensues, we like to say we’re killing time.

Anything with the word “kill” make me squirm. Why is killing time problematic?

The Killing Of Time

Life is short. Killing is bad. Time is valuable.

If you agree with these three statements, then you should also agree life is too short to kill time, even if it’s deemed dead time. When we say we’re killing time what are we actually saying? We don’t value time, or at least we don’t value certain parts of our day.

To kill something is to not value that thing. If you look at time as something that can be killed, you’re more likely to waste it. With this mindset not every minute is treated equally. If life is too short we can’t go around dictating which minutes to value and which can be tossed away.

Maximizing Our Dead Time

Why is it important to recognize how we utilize our dead time? Because dead time is everywhere. It surrounds us like a pack of wolves cornering its prey.

Dead time is the wait for your unpunctual friend. Dead time is waking up earlier than expected. Dead time is time spent in the doctor’s waiting room. Dead time is the period between finishing lunch and the end of your lunch break.

Dead time fools us. It’s sprinkled frequently but for such short periods of time. As a result we underestimate how much of our day is filled with dead time. This explains why people spend hours each day on their phones. Five minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but multiply those five minutes with how many times you check your phone and suddenly you’ve used up three hours of your day.


What’s Your Default?

When dead time occurs, what are your default activities?

This is one of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself. Most people have 2-3 activities they fall back on. Default activities can include scrolling through Instagram, reading a book, checking the news, texting friends, reading emails, listening to a Podcast, and people watching.

Let’s say your primary default activity is checking Instagram. If you spend ten minutes of daily dead time on Instagram, and multiply that by the total numbers of day in a year, you get the following result:

10 minutes x 365 days = 3,650 minutes = 60.8 hours

Therefore, in one year you spent almost 61 hours checking Instagram. Think about the other things you could have done with 61 hours. If you spent ten minutes of dead time each day reading a book you could read seven books in one year.*

Choose Your Defaults Wisely

Our days are filled with dead time. Therefore, what you choose to do in those moments becomes a major part of your life. Life is about what you do when there’s nothing to do. Ask yourself, “what are my current defaults, and are these default activities a good use of my time?”

Making the conscious effort to select your default activities could drastically improve your life. Instead of checking Instagram, read a book. Instead of checking your email, text an old friend. Instead of checking the news for the fifth time, sit in silence and see what creative ideas pop in your mind.

Charles Caleb Colton famously said “the true measure of your character is what you do when nobody’s watching.” Let’s pivot that statement and say the true measure of your capabilities is what you do when there’s nothing to do.

Time is one of our most valuable assets. Use it well.


*This is assuming you read a 300-page book in a little over eight hours, which is an average reading pace. Faster readers could read more than eleven books in 61 hours. More on this breakdown at Capitalize My Title.

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