Career Opportunities

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A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Productive Waiting

April 13, 2007

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Despite all the advancements in technology and the generally "sped up" nature of life, waiting is still a part of every day. Unless you are in a position of extreme power, and maybe even then, there will be times in every day when you will be forced to wait. You might have to wait for the train to begin your commute, wait in line at the bank, or wait for your turn at the doctor's office. You might have to wait on hold to talk to a representative. Regardless of the cause of your waiting, one way to increase your overall productivity is to always be ready to exploit these periods of waiting.

My own approach to waiting grew out of a general impatience and dislike of waiting. Combine this with a low-level case of claustrophobia and you can imagine why I had to develop some method of coping. Over the years, this has taken many forms. Early on, I learned to keep a book or other reading material with me at all times. As technology started to improve, I added a PDA for other purposes, but found I could load reading material on it as well. Cell phones can help to fill the time although you run the risk of annoying those around you, or your caller while trying to do business in public.

Finally, WiFi networking and wireless broadband such as EVDO and Edge, allows you to access the Internet from almost anywhere, bringing your office with you wherever you go...the current nadir of productive waiting.

Now that we have seen a few ways to wait more productively, let's talk about the why. In our increasingly go, go, go world, one of the most common complaints is the lack of time to do our work and live our lives. When long commutes are added to our increasingly long workdays, we can begin to feel that we have no time for ourselves. Even someone like myself who, as a freelancer, has a greater control over my time, finds my days driven by the needs of my clients and other deadlines. This is why we need to use the time that might otherwise be wasted. We need to recapture this time in order to free our evenings and weekends for those thoughts and activities in which we "want" to engage.

I realize that this might all sound very commonsensical, yet I talk with people nearly every day that are bemoaning their lack of time, but doing little to recapture their, otherwise wasted, waiting time.
In order to make the most of everyday, I highly recommend that you find some way to integrate the following recommendations into your day. First, your waiting activities can be passive or active, depending on what you need to accomplish. Sometimes, you might need to be drafting a memo to your staff as you ride the subway. At others, you might simply need to immerse yourself in a business podcast or book on tape as you drive yourself (or ride the subway with your iPod).

Regardless of what you do, or how you do it, though, the most important rule is that, whatever you do, it must add value to your day. This doesn't necessarily mean that all your activities will focus on business, though. On my own iPod, shows from technology conferences intermix with old-time radio, humor, and general information. All of this suits the idea of coping with long wait times . Engaging the mind is beneficial, regardless of how you do it. You need to be selective about what you input, but it can be quite wide-ranging.

I often spend some of my waiting time writing these columns, other articles, blog posts or simply noting ideas in the paper journal, I carry everywhere. Not only does this keep me productive throughout my day, but also it allows me to grab inspiration, wherever and whenever it might strike.
I also find that striking up conversations with those around you can also be very productive. We don't always need to hide behind our cell phones and iPod. In many cases, I find myself handing out business cards and developing business relationships, but at the very least, I have fun meeting nice people and expanding my contact to, and understanding of, the world around me.

Regardless of how you fill your waiting time, it only takes a little thought to turn wasted hours into productivity, whether for professional reasons, personal reasons, or both.


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