In every person’s life, there are multiple situations where time flies by unutilized and, frankly, wasted. The first thing that comes to mind is the commute back and forth from work or school (an average of 45-60 minutes back and forth daily, depending on the country). But, the truth is that there are multiple more such occasions.
Wasted is the time waiting for the bus, the subway or the train. It also is the time waiting in queue in the post office or anywhere else, and also the time spent in traffic jams. The same applies to waiting for your coffee order to be prepared or waiting for a friend who is running a little bit late.
As in my life, there certainly exist multiple such moments in yours, which, in their majority, cannot be avoided. Added together, they can add up to a huge amount of wasted time. For most people, those moments simply fly by with them waiting in frustration. That is not only an unnecessary amount of stress, but also a great opportunity getting missed.
What these moments are is a great chance to dive into learning. While they can easily be spent doing something fun, like playing games on your smartphone, they could also add up to all your learning and practice time in a day! This is true whether you are the one driving or just a passenger on public transportation. Below you can find various ways to utilize these wasted moments for learning.
My personal favorite activity, and the one I believe provides the maximum value, is listening to podcasts. Briefly defined, a podcast is usually an episode in an audio series, which you can download and listen to or listen directly online, for free. Think of it as (quality) radio on demand. You can find numerous podcasts on almost every topic you can imagine, and in multiple formats as well. There are scripted podcasts that sound like enjoyable presentations, compelling stories that can get you hooked like a good movie, and, the one I enjoy the most, unscripted interviews.
I personally recommend The Tim Ferriss Show, where the focus is on deconstructing the habits and routines of the most successful people in any field, from acting to sports to startups. The guests range from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Arianna Huffington to Maria Sharapova. I am not exaggerating when I say that this podcast changed my life.
Another recommendation is the Startup podcast by Gimlet Media, which provides an amazing insight into the startup world and what building a startup is really like. The 1st season of this podcast is about how Gimlet Media itself started as a startup.
Nevertheless, even if these podcasts don’t click for you, there are many, many more out there. I’ve listened to podcasts on coding, design, learning, nutrition, and much more, during my daily commute. Discover what you like, and enjoy!
Whether you are driving yourself or getting a bit nauseous if you read an actual book on public transportation, audio is the way to go. Beyond podcasts, another great idea is listening to audiobooks. It’s amazing how many more books you will have “read” in a year if you spend even a little amount of your wasted time listening to an audiobook. Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to get a hold on audiobooks, especially through services like Audible (for a limited time, Audible offers a free audiobook with its 30-day free trial). There are also multiple free ones as well, which you can use to figure out if this habit is suitable for you.
I should also mention that there are multiple school and university textbooks that also exist in audio format. Go to the university’s or the publisher’s website to find out if there is audio available. In case there isn’t, you could always use text-to-speech programs, like Natural Reader, to copy-and-paste a textbook (or your notes) into audio.
You could also use an app like Pocket to save articles, which you can then listen to instead of reading, directly through the app, which is a great way to catch up on your daily reading during your commute.
3) Books (or e-books)
Unless you are the one driving, you could always read a book on the go. Even getting a few extra paragraphs in per day will greatly increase the speed at which you complete books, and thus accumulate knowledge. Note that it’s not “necessary” that you read non-fiction books. After all, fiction books can be quite educational as well, especially for skills like vocabulary, story-telling, writing, and creativity.
In case carrying a physical book is inconvenient, you could always use an e-book, which you can then read from any device. Personally, I’ve used the Kindle and the iBooks iOS apps to read e-books on the go. There are also multiple free e-books for you to download and read as well.
Note that you could also download some coursework, either in text or video format, and progress in the curriculum while on the go. If you have access to the internet you could also use services like Khan Academy or even just old plain Youtube to learn various things, depending on your interests.
4) Learn a language
Being on the go or waiting in queues is the best time to brush up on vocabulary, practice listening and generally learn a language. Using apps like Duolingo or Memrise, you can easily and quickly learn new vocabulary or review what you already know.
There also exist multiple podcasts and audio resources with educational content in any language, which you can easily utilize to learn while on your commute. Finally, you could go the traditional way and study a page of vocabulary or read a page from a textbook whenever you can.
5) Use flashcards and spaced repetition with Anki
For anything you want to learn, including languages, flashcards are one of the most compelling ways to do so. Briefly defined, a flashcard is a card bearing information on both sides, where you write a question on one side and the answer on the other. Enhanced with a spaced repetition system, flashcards can boost your retention to unprecedented levels.
The easiest way to use flashcards and spaced repetition is through Anki, an app specifically designed for that purpose. Providing testing in bite-sized chunks, it is the ideal activity for the brief intervals of wasted time, like waiting for the bus or being in a queue.
- To learn more about spaced repetition and Anki, read my relevant article.
6) Record yourself and listen on the road
This technique is ideal when you want to review concepts, in either long or short format. While at home, you can record yourself reading out loud a difficult section of a textbook, or you could record questions and answers, split by a couple seconds of silence, essentially creating audio flashcards. The first one allows you to review whole concepts, while the second is most suitable for bite-sized information.
Another way this technique can be used is to improve your speaking skills and/or pronunciation in a foreign language. Record a couple minutes of yourself speaking, and then listen to yourself, noting mistakes and potential improvements. A great free app to record yourself is Audacity.
The solitude of such wasted intervals provides a great opportunity to rehearse on anything you might need to, like a presentation. Simply go over the key points or maybe do a mock presentation to yourself, to further straighten out your flow and get comfortable. This could also be applied to improving your speaking skills in a language or reciting your role for a play.
8) Be creative
Those moments are optimal for improving your creativity, by either writing or doodling. Writing is a superpower, and getting better at it is a great way to utilize those moments. The same applies to allowing your mind to diffuse and get creative, by doodling and drawing. In case you believe these 2 activities are not worth your time because you are not currently good at them, read my article on growth mindset.
9) Create your to-do list for the day
Having a to-do (and a to-study) list for the day is both a great way to know where you currently are and how to improve, and also one of the primary ways to beat procrastination. Use your commute time to draft a to-do list for the rest of the day, making sure to identify the most important item that you should get on with. In case you can’t actually put pen to paper, you can record this list with your smartphone’s built-in microphone, or at least create one mentally.
I personally listen to a podcast every time that I expect the waiting interval to be longer than 5 minutes. Through this habit, I’ve learned numerous things and I have managed to not waste all this time. For all the smaller or unexpected such intervals, I use Duolingo to learn a language (like Spanish).
You also should choose just a couple of the suggestions above, to begin with, and then start using those for a couple of weeks. There will no more exist a huge amount of wasted time in your life; instead, you will be able to learn more and faster, without changing your schedule at all.
Call to Action
I’d love to learn about which of the above activities you choose to fill your wasted time on the go. Also, if you discover any amazing podcasts, please share them with me! Post on the Facebook group, or contact me directly!