Ask LH: How Can I Fill In My Spare Time At Work?

Hi Lifehacker, I work in a call centre and often have bits of spare time between my calls. It adds up to a lot of time wasted per day but the time between calls isn't huge. Are there any things I can be doing to improve myself in this time? Maybe learning a language? I'd be interested in what ideas you guys might have! Thanks, Time Tracker

Sudoku picture from Shutterstock

Dear TT,

If you're working in an open plan office, you'll probably need to come up with a pastime that doesn't arouse too much attention. I once knew a woman who used to knit in her downtime -- she was later fired for not being productive enough. To this day, I suspect she never would have come under the manager's notice if not for those telltale knitting needles. With that in mind, I'd advise against high-visibility pastimes like mobile gaming or browsing the web on your desktop; even if you're not expected to work in-between calls, it's probably a bad look.

One tried-and-tested method is to engage in physical and mental warm-ups during short breaks. In addition to filling up time, this will also jump=start your batteries and keep you alert throughout the day. In her book Crane for Creativity, designer and engineer Julia Davids offers the following brain exercise tip:

Supposedly, when you engage in a warm-up before engaging in work activity, something amazing happens. You start to move, and lo and behold, your engagement in the present increases; your body and mind stand at attention; you gear up to your top performance with record-breaking speed.


Example: draw fifty small circles on blank paper, set a timer for two minutes and use a pen to convert the circles into objects. At first, you might not come up with more than a smiley face, a single baseball and a lonely orange. With more practice, your efficiency will increase.


Or you can simply default to doodling; starting with a blank page and filling it with nonsense gives me pleasure. The frenetic energy of the lines created by my felt tip pen often exceeds the energy I might gain from jumping ten times.

We also like your language idea which should be easy to do on the sly via your headset. If you enjoy comedy, another option would be stack up on famous stand-up albums and live recordings. Unlike an audio book, these can be regularly interrupted without breaking the flow which makes them perfect for your situation. Just try not to laugh too loud!

In the unlikely event that your workplace allows it, there are plenty of productive ways to kill time on your phone -- this guide explains some of the ways your smartphone can turn those two-minute spurts of non-activity into productive moments.

We're going to throw this question over to our readers: how do you kill time at work when the time at your disposal is limited? Share your tips with TT in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Dear TT,

    Assuming you are still being paid for this time - perhaps doing something work-related would be appropriate? E.g. researching / reading journals related to your industry, cleaning or organising the area, extra filing, helping out with a workmate's jobs who may have more on their plate than you.

    One should ask themselves: what would I want / expect someone to do if I was paying them by the hour? Certainly not knitting, playing games, mindlessly doodling, watching TV or listening to a comedy fest. There is nothing that annoys me more than someone with not much to do at work playing 'solitaire' and sip lattes while watching their fellow colleagues with (as chance has it) more to do, bust their cloaca to finish on time.

    Of course, if your not paid by the hour, rather by work done then go for your life!

      The question is why are they having to work so much harder? Most likely its either their work practices bringing them down, or they occupy a higher position which comes with higher pay to match the workload.

      Doing this sounds like a great way to get noticed, but that's not something everyone working at a call centre is all that interested in..

      OP here.

      Good points you make, however there really isn't much to do in a call centre with respect to cleaning and research. And predominately the pay is for work done (sales).

      PS - props to LH for answering my question so quickly!

        So what have you decided to do in the down time out of interest?

    Or reading Lifehacker whilst at work as I am now...

    In some jobs, your work isn't constant and there is literally nothing to do until a certain situation happens. That's the case with me now and there is no filing, cleaning etc to do. All I can do is try to amuse myself till I'm needed to perform my duties.

    I'm a big fan of Duolingo ( for learning languages online in short breaks. I have work that often involves five/ten minute breaks and it's the perfect time to complete one lesson/test either on their website or mobile app, depending on where I am.

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