Ask LH: How Can I Use Short Work Breaks Effectively?

Ask LH: How Can I Use Short Work Breaks Effectively?

Dear Lifehacker, I work in a call centre and always 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 further myself in this time? Maybe learning a language? I’d be interested in what ideas you guys might have! Regards, Spencer.

Dear Spencer,

Having been in the same boat years ago, I know the feeling. Depending on how busy the call centre is that day, those little breaks can be long enough to be boring, yet small enough to not be able to get anything meaningful done. And the way that quoting sales rates or customer service policies can get old, the mind cries out for proper stimulation.

Some people resort to video games they can play in a clandestine manner, some may even take up a craft or hobby that makes use of the hands (this helps with the negative effects of sitting at a computer all day, too). My cubicle neighbour had resorted to browsing Wikipedia all day, educating himself on things like the Big Bang. He became an amateur physicist, a few minutes at a time.

If you’re looking for something more targeted, though, your best bet is probably one of the many free online courses available. It’s become so easy to film yourself these days, online courses have become quite good – and they usually come in 5-10 minute chunks of video content. A lot of the courses you’ll find are introductory, but there’s a huge selection – from courses on climate change to advanced mathematics – and a lot to be gained from what’s there.

Try out Coursera, Udemy and Udacity. Each of the aforementioned websites provide hundreds of affordable options for time-poor learners. (You can regularly score discounts of up to 100 per cent too.)

The main challenge is headspace – even if, technically, you have a few minutes in between calls, that doesn’t mean you have a few minutes of concentration. Every time you come back to the content, there’s a period of getting your mind back into the game – so dipping in and out of complicated content can be more time-consuming than if you did it at home. Try to avoid hitting that Not Ready button. It’s a lot easier to wear the slower speed when you remember you’re getting paid to improve yourself.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Hello Spencer,
    I too work in a call centre, but I am not on the phones. A few random suggestions out there that would look favourable to your boss to see if there is anything else that could be done in other parts of the call centre, especially if your call centre is quite small.
    You could help with recruitment, help with building culture around the call centre, help by writing content for their website, get your call centre to create a games room (if they don’t have one), help IT with other agents computer troubles.
    I am sure your boss would like help with other things while you wait for a phone call.

    • Agreed. Wasting time is fine if you have no career ambition – as many working in call centers don’t.. But then the question must be asked as to why you work there at all? Why not do something you actually enjoy, or at least be working towards it!

      • Not all call centres are dead end career jobs though – some require lots of knowledge and training. I know someone who works at the poisons info line – it’s a job that requires pharmacy and/or toxicology knowledge and is well paid, but still has periods where you are twiddling your thumbs.

        • Absolutely agree with that too, I just meant that it does frequently attract people who DON’T have any ambition. Parents who’s main priority is time with their children for example, or university students studying in an unrelated field.

  • I also work in a call centre and have this problem. I’ve been here 2 months now, and have taken up chess. Its free to do online, heaps of tutorials, and you can stop playing if you take a phone call and go back to it easily enough. And its calming, and makes you think.

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