How To Kill Time Productively On Your Phone

The smartphone has made killing time when you're standing in line easy, but instead of launching another bird into the sky you can turn those two-minute spurts of non-activity into productive moments. Doing so will help you clear your most annoying daily tasks in your downtime. Here are a few ideas for doing just that.

You'll find plenty of great productivity apps on smartphones, but actually using them isn't always the easiest option. After all, when you're waiting around for a plane or killing time at the motor registry it's a lot easier to just boot up Facebook and mess around for a few minutes. However, you can get a surprising number of actual tasks in just a couple of minutes, starting with your email.

Process Your Inbox: Respond To Easy Emails

The odds are good you have a few emails you haven't responded to because they're just simple questions. It's those emails you often avoid because they're seem easy, but they end up piling up as the day goes along. Using a tagging system makes it easy to identify those emails. You can keep it very simple by setting up specific labels in Gmail called Kill Time (or using flags in Outlook). Throughout the day just throw in those easy to reply emails you leave sitting around and then bang them out when you're waiting around later.

However you choose to do it, the purpose is the same: filter off a few emails a day into a folder where you can quickly pull them up on your phone and kill some time answering them. Photo by Olaf.

Bake Phone Tasks Into Your To-Do List

If your to-do list is anything like mine then it features a stack of simple, quick tasks mixed with bigger picture items. These include things like making quick phone calls, sending emails, researching a simple topic, and even ordering some new shoes. Instead of keeping these short tasks alongside more complicated to-dos, bake in a special phone list filled with everything you can do from your phone.

If that's not possible, use those idle minutes to sit down and prune items from your to-do list. Eliminate tasks you can't get to, reorganise others, and do whatever you can to make your list manageable.

Brainstorm Freely With No Purpose

This is a little more abstract, but taking advantage of those moments when you're bored is a great way time for creativity (and productivity). We've seen before that being bored is actually good for creativity and it's easy to do on the go.

You can do this anyway you like, with a text editor, drawing app, or anything else. Personally, I use the iOS app Mindjet because I love mindmapping. The idea is that you just write down all the ridiculous ideas you have while you're bored, giving no thought to how bad they are, and then return to them later to filter out the good ones.

Give Your Brain A Workout

Another option is to cram a little brain training into those moments. We know brain games don't make you smarter as such, but some games, logic puzzles and other exercises still benefit your brain. Crossword puzzles are thought to combat Alzheimers and they're readily available for every smartphone. If crosswords aren't your thing, nearly every digital device on the planet has Tetris available on it and Tetris is known to expand your brain.

You can also take that time to learn something new. Wikipedia apps are a great way to kill some time while still learning something. Just fire up an app (or your browser), select a random article, and you're on your way to learning something new instead of killing time. (As we've noted before, reading featured articles is a good tactic for getting good information from Wikipedia.)

The ideas here are pretty basic. Instead of spending time being bored, turn that time into something productive. Make it easy on yourself by separating all those tasks ahead of time so you can pop in, take care of a few things, and pop right back out.

Have your own time killing tips? Share them in the comments.


    Can anyone recommend a GOOD crossword app for iOS? I've tried several and thought them all utter pants...(too American, too easy or bad app design)

    I've found the best way to use my downtime productively is to put away the phone entirely, and instead spend my commute on my Kindle, reading up on new skills. Unlike with the phone, there's no temptation to procrastinate at all by checking 'just one blog'.

    How about reading thru some. Rss feeds like Lifehacker . I use Google reader and then save items for more thorough reading to the Pocket (read it later) service on my phone.. Works for me, and in fact it just did!

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