Effective Use of Wait Time

Imagine that you have the following set of appointments and tasks for the day:

10:00-11:00 Dr. K. Complete Physical
11:00-12:00 New Project Kickoff Meeting
12:00-1:00 Lunch with JD
1:00-2:00 Staff Meeting
2:00-3:00 Video Conference with London Team

Mail gift to Aunt Sarah
Deposit check at bank
Oil change at Kwik Lube

Granted this is a very contrived and artificial set of tasks and appointments. Do you see the situations where you would wait? The answer is: at all of these.

When was the last time you saw a doctor or a dentist without waiting in the little room outside, or without waiting in the examination room? This is not a snide against members of the medical and dental professions – I have the utmost respect for them. However, it is not easy for them to predict the amount of time they need to spend with each patient. A little wait in the ante room is inevitable.

When was the last time a meeting started and ended exactly on time? There is always some time spent in waiting for all the attendees to arrive and settle down.

Lunch with someone may include waiting for that person, waiting to be seated, waiting to be served and even to pay and leave. When lunching alone, all those time holes may be filled with useful work. When lunching with someone else, only part of this time may be put to use without offending the other person, unless this were a working lunch (an oxymoron!)

Mailing a letter only involves putting the letter in an envelope, addressing and stamping the envelope, and dropping it in a mail box. A gift is a different matter – it invariably requires waiting in line at a post office until the clerk is able to attend to you.

What tasks would involve waiting? You can probably answer this already: Anything that involves queues (post office, department stores, bank, airport security, etc.), many appointments and meetings, transportation (waiting for the bus or train, waiting in traffic, waiting for bags to arrive at the airport baggage carousel, etc.), and tasks that involve hand-offs between partners (“I’ll do the writing, you do the editing”), etc.

The obvious cost of waiting is the lost opportunity. In a piece of Swiss cheese, the air pockets which cause the holes in the cheese do not contribute to the mass of the cheese but occupy the space. Similarly, the time pockets in a task do not contribute to the task but occupy the time.

Unused wait time is wasted time. Time is an irrecoverable, irreversible and irreplaceable resource. Benjamin Franklin said, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” Wasting time is tantamount to throwing away a part of your life.

Identify tasks that can be done while you wait. Only location independent tasks (i.e. tasks that do not depend on being at a specific place before you can do them). For example, you cannot pick up clothes from the dry cleaners, drop off a book at the library or take the car for an oil change while waiting in the dentist’s office or at the airport security check. You can, however, read a book or a report in the same situations. Likewise, in situations where it is acceptable to use a cell phone (e.g., not while driving), you can call prospects or follow up leads while you wait. On the other hand, even if some tasks are location independent, you cannot work on them anywhere due to confidentiality or need for privacy, or the need to focus without noise or distractions. You can also not work on tasks that involve collaboration or discussion.

On your planner/organizer, link the situations (appointments, meetings, tasks) that involve waiting with tasks that may be worked on while waiting. Keep with you all that you need for the things you can do while waiting. Exploit every opportunity to get ahead of your personal schedule.