Let’s talk about how to use gap time effectively.
Gap time is not exactly the most important time management topic, but it does come up a lot.
Most people are better off maximising the other parts of their time management stack.
But if you have optimised everything else and are ready for the next level, here it is – how to make the most of your gap time.
Defining Gap Time
Gap time describes the spare five minutes here and there that you have, usually when you are out somewhere.
If you have your time management stack in order, you shouldn’t really have that much gap time. It will quite literally be just five minutes every other day, or transit time.
The most common examples are:
- Transit / commute time. This is the big one.1In the long term, you want to minimise your transit time to and from work and other places as much as possible. You can do this through a combination of moving closer to work/school/whatever and through remote working arrangements.
- Waiting for people, at stations, restaurants, coffee shops etc.
- Waiting for food.
- Between meetings. But this one is a bit different.
- Between sets at the gym.2Or maybe that’s just me.
- Any time where you’re not at home or work and you catch yourself scrolling social media.
Activities You Can Do During Gap Time
Using gap time effectively means productively using those spare minutes where you would otherwise be just sitting or standing around.
You want to choose things that you can jump in and jump out of easily.
The between meetings exception
As mentioned above, the one exception to this is between meetings or work calls. I strongly recommend that all you do during this one exception to gap times is to:
- Get some water.
- Use the restroom if you need to.
- Prepare for the next meeting.
You want to be fresh and prepared for the next meeting, and doing a gap time activity like triaging your email will not help with that.
Other gap times: Only do low value activities
You only want to do low value activities during gap times.
Let’s look at some examples first, then I will explain why.
For transit time, you can:
- Listen to podcasts or audiobooks.
- Watch something on your phone, but I have always found that a little odd.
- Do any of the activities below.
During other gap times, you can:
- Triage your email.
- Reply to messages.
- Do any kind of quick language learning like SRS.3Spaced repetition system.
- Quickly read an article on Feedly/Pocket.
These are all low value activities suitable for gap times.
As much as we may want to be productive during gap times, it is sometimes better to just take a break.
Just be still for a minute and take in the world around you.
This can actually be better for your attention, energy and willpower.
Explaining activity value
Now that you know what to do during gap times, let’s explain why you should only do those things.
There are two things that work together to determine what you should do during a given time:
- The activity value.
- The environment you are in.
The activity value is simply the idea that different activities that you do will have a different value weighting.
For example, high value activities would be creative work (coding, writing, content creation etc), detailed work, technical work, or sales or client work.
Low value activities would include clearing email, reading the news, or any of the gap time activities mentioned above.
The environment you are in determines the capacity of what you can do in that given moment.
If you are at home or in your office, that is a high capacity environment.
When you are out and about with only your phone and people everywhere, that is a low capacity environment.
Putting together activity value and environmental capacity for gap time usage
Your high capacity environments are set up so that you can deep work and single task. You have all your tools available to you and you can do things uninterrupted. You can get high value activities done relatively easily.
In contrast, gap time mostly occurs in low capacity environments like train stations, coffee shops or the back seat of an Uber.
And as such, gap time should be reserved for low value activities which are suited to low capacity environments.
Do not be that person who pulls out their laptop on the train, and tries to tether their phone and work on spreadsheets.
Nerdy time management explanation:
Gap time gives you a time and place for low value activities you have to do, but don’t want to waste your time in high capacity environments on.4Hat tip to Olle Linge at Hacking Chinese for the original concept of activity values. His original example was to not use high value time/environments like a private tutoring session to just review vocabulary, but to use them for high value activities like conversation practice or learning complex grammar.
What To Do Next
You now know how to use gap time effectively.
Don’t stress about gap time. How you use it will not make or break your time management.
You can learn more about the other parts of the time management stack here, and sign up for my free newsletter below for even more things time management. I’ll also send you a copy of Significant Systems, which will give you more effective systems like gap time for living a better life.
- In the long term, you want to minimise your transit time to and from work and other places as much as possible. You can do this through a combination of moving closer to work/school/whatever and through remote working arrangements.
- Or maybe that’s just me.
- Spaced repetition system.
- Hat tip to Olle Linge at Hacking Chinese for the original concept of activity values. His original example was to not use high value time/environments like a private tutoring session to just review vocabulary, but to use them for high value activities like conversation practice or learning complex grammar.