Stealing time by optimising the mundane

Published on Sep 17, 2020

Lately I'd been enjoying this little hack to steal more time and opportunities to work on my goals. It's about stealing time where you didn't think you had, by leveraging on mundane moments or activities that you don't think much about optimising.

Think about how many activities in your daily life that's low cognitive intensity, done in more of a rote manner out of force of habit rather than any intentionality or awareness. Activities like brushing your teeth, showering, walking out to lunch, eating, etc. Do you have to use any intense level of cognitive effort to do those? Not really. We go through these in screensaver mode. Or it could be moments like getting up from your chair to walk to the pantry/toilet, moments that—at first glance—seem too short or transient to use for any good purpose. 

These are the moments that I'd been stealing time from, and I looove it. You see, working from home while co-caring a baby isn't a situation where one can have any sort of deep work for extended periods of time. But there's still plenty of mundane moments that's low in cognitive intensity or highly transience. These tiny moments do add up. And everyday we just perform these tasks in sort of a mindless, habitual manner. 

But what if we could use them for reaching our goals?

Say, I want to exercise more, be healthier, more athletic. But the past practice of having a chunk of two hours of workout time is no longer possible. How do I use these mundane moments for that? I intentionally take the stairs when I head out for lunch. Ok it's not much of a workout, but it's still better than nothing. But I try to leverage on more mundane moments by brisk walking on the way out and back. When I get up from my chair to go to the toilet, I go 10-20 push-ups, squats, planks. It doesn't take long, like 3min, but it's a brief sweat. Pile it on for 2-3 times a day, it's getting substantial. When I accompany my child on the playmat, I do the same exercises again. I'm now thinking, perhaps I can wear workout clothes and do a short run to my lunch venue and back, since I have to cover the distance anyway.

Another small goal I had was to start listening to podcasts again. Unfortunately podcasts are often 60-90min long, who has the time! But now I listen to it when I head out for lunch (by now you can see lunch is a great opportunity for optimising mundane moments). Usually I take an hour, and it fits just right. And I went from not having time at all for podcasts to running out of podcasts to listen to. I'd been meaning to get back to reading books now, so perhaps I can listen to audio books instead?

With these time hacks, it's the same feeling as finding a hundred dollar bill in my old jacket. Time that didn't matter then is now useful. Mundane moments now optimised. Fleeting minutes in between getting from A to B, now serves double purposes. 

It's like striking lottery, and I really do feel like a winner everyday.