Oliver Burkeman: This column will change your life

There's a popular subgenre of books about writing known informally as "writer porn", in which famous authors describe their daily routines, which pens they use and, especially, the secluded mountaintop cabins where they work each morning for six blissfully undisturbed hours. I don't think I've ever actually met such an author, but for anyone whose job is even slightly "creative", they stir envy: we'd all love such big chunks of time in which to focus. Instead, our lives are plagued with what the blogger Merlin Mann, at 43folders.com, calls "interstitial time" - small chunks of minutes spent waiting at the doctor's surgery, or for someone who's late, or for a meeting postponed at short notice.

It feels like time wasted. But it needn't be. The poet William Carlos Williams, for example, wrote much of his oeuvre on the backs of prescription pads during gaps in his workday as a paediatrician. Here are some insights from bloggers and authors on using interstitial time, condensed into a form you can digest in three minutes, while waiting for that delayed train:

1. Don't fall for the "major project" fallacy: really important things, we tell ourselves, deserve big blocks of time and undivided concentration - so they never get done. In truth, most "major projects" won't be worse for being worked on in short bursts. As for those that will, remember GK Chesterton: "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly." Would you rather do something only fairly well, or die before you've done it at all?

2. Batch your tasks: You'll fit more into a sliver of time if you're doing several similar tasks - answering a stack of emails, say - than if you try to switch between different kinds of activity. Workplace studies show that time spent "task-switching" eats up the day. Even if your lifestyle does allow long, uninterrupted work periods, batching routine tasks is still sensible: deal with all your email twice daily, for example, and you'll spend less time on it overall.

3. Take inspiration from knitters, Mann suggests. Knitting fulfils the three criteria of a good interstitial-time activity: it's portable, it can be done amid distractions, and even a few seconds spent on it contributes to the end result. (That's not the case with tasks requiring "set-up", such as waiting forever while Windows boots up on your laptop.) Identify in advance which of your tasks fit the knitting criteria: those involving reading and (hand)writing are a good place to start. Or take up knitting.

4. Do nothing, but do it deliberately. You don't have to use interstitial time to cram more activity into every last minute. But if you want to use it to "stop and smell the roses", you have to choose to stop. Martin Boroson's fantastic book The One-Moment Master is all about learning to condense the practice of meditation into these fleeting moments. And about how, from a certain perspective, a sequence of fleeting moments are all we ever really have anyway.


Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.