20 Good Minutes: Taking Advantage of Awkward Amounts of Time

By Xavier Royer
September 1, 2022

One of the most annoying circumstances I find myself in is having 20 to about 40 minutes between scheduled tasks or appointments. It is not enough time to start something new and get stuck, but it is too much time to have to kill scrolling on my phone without feeling like I am being unproductive. However, having the presence of mind to take advantage of these awkward amounts of time can completely change the trajectory of my day. In prior articles, I have often referred to time management as a skill new college students will need to learn while on campus. This article will offer four uses for those odd time windows that can help manage time and reduce stress.

Solution 1: Physical Needs

Have you been running around all day and now find yourself with your first sniff of free time since you left the house this morning? This moment is your chance to shut your brain off for a little bit. I recommend keeping your phone in your pocket. Instead, take a bit of a walk and stretch your legs. Have you had a chance to freshen up in the restroom? This is your chance. Finally, eat. So many students forget or intentionally forgo eating and wonder why they feel tired or have difficulty focusing. Taking time to fuel your body does not need to entail a grand slam breakfast, but it is better to eat something when you have the time before you get hungry than wait only to find yourself staring through the instructor at your next class because your stomach is empty. It's incredible how far a granola bar or apple can go towards energy levels and attention span. Similarly, when was the last time you drank water? Not coffee or soda, but plain old H2O? Staying hydrated is also important to stay engaged for the rest of your day.

Solution 2: Awkward Time for Awkward Tasks

Paying bills in 2022 is often as quick as logging in and punching two buttons on the screen. Because these tasks are so easy, I find myself putting them off longer than needed. Easy tasks are the easiest to procrastinate because the stakes are so low. Nonetheless, these tasks take up space on the mental "to-do" list — space otherwise used for something more prescient. This is a great time to open up that bank app and make that card payment. Or, perhaps you saw an email earlier but did not have the time to send a meaningful reply — here is your chance! I find when I can knock out three or four of those minor tasks in between bigger errands or classes, I feel great.

Solution 3: Touch Base

When was the last time you texted your parents? Or called grandma? I am sure they would love to hear from you. Making these obligatory communications in these windows also gives you a legitimate out if the individual on the other end is long-winded — you have somewhere to be in 20-40 minutes! It is easy to get wrapped up in the fast-paced campus life and not stay in touch with home as well as we may want. This is not limited to family. Remember that meme you saw on the bus this morning? I am sure your friend from high school, who you have been meaning to reach out to, would love to see it. University life often means new friends and opportunities, but it is important to remain connected to those back home.

Solution 4: Develop a Routine

If your awkward amount of time is recurring, such as between two classes, you may consider finding one task that you enjoy or is helpful to do every time to at least take out the decision fatigue. For example, as an undergrad, I used the time between Biology and English to set my fantasy football lineups for the week. Fantasy Football was a task I enjoyed and could easily access anywhere on campus. It did not take such tremendous brain power that it would burn me out between classes, either. I know football is not everyone's cup of tea, but consider if there is a similar activity you can plug into those odd time slots.

This article has given some ways to use those weird amounts of time between classes or meetings. Being able to squeeze in small tasks or care for oneself goes a long way to taking the stress out of the student experience. Any of the above solutions are better than aimless scrolling through social media. Strange amounts of time can be annoying, but when put to use can be great tools for improving the day.

Xavier Royer

I am currently a full time instructor at a William Penn University, a small private university in Iowa. I am the lone political science faculty member there. In my time teaching, I have already connected with an incredible cohort of students in ways I could never have expected. Partnering with SAGE will allow me the opportunity to help even more students across the globe navigate those tricky questions. When I am not on campus or writing for SAGE, I can be found playing golf or watching college basketball.
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