Only have 20 minutes? That’s enough time to work out, to wind down, to get creative, to learn something new, to organize your life or get some needed sleep!
If you work eight hours a day, chances are you feel like you never have enough time in the day to do everything you want to. Hell, I only work seven hours a day yet find my day disintegrating when I get out of work at 4:00. By the time I get home, cook, eat dinner, and clean up, it’s usually 7:00 and I find myself struggling to get the energy to work out, write, read, and meditate — all those healthy things I was originally planning to do. Naturally, this was making me a stressed mess because I had so much I wanted to do, yet no time to do it.
How was I supposed to sit down and write for an hour after the exhaustion of work, cooking, and cleaning up after dinner (which, I’ll argue, is also a lot of work)?
Part of the problem with my mentality was that I was telling myself that I needed at least an hour to write, read, or work out. I bet most people believe this. I’ve definitely heard some of my friends say that they need to go to the gym for at least an hour to feel as though they’ve accomplished anything. But if you work a nine to five, go to the gym for an hour, get a hot meal on the table (which usually takes at least an hour), and meditate for an hour, you’ll probably find yourself falling asleep during your meditation.
When you factor in commute times from work to the gym to home, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to support this “I need at least one hour” mentality.
Lately I’ve been able to squeeze a little more in because I’m trying this new thing: Instead of letting a task determine how long it will take, I will determine how long I will do a task. To make my ambitions more time manageable, I chose 20 minutes as a standard time because it’s long enough to immerse yourself in work (I wrote most of this article in 20-minute spurts) but short enough that it doesn’t seem like too much of a time commitment after a long day of work. And if you’re one of those people who has two jobs or frequently finds themselves with awkward gaps of time, you can easily set aside at least 20 minutes of that time to do any of the following things.
I used to frequently pass an awkward 20-minute time gap watching a re-run of Friends that I’d already seen three times before, but I can guarantee you that there are better ways to protect you from the predictability of the all-too familiar laugh track.
Through my own experimentation, here’s my list of 20 things you can do in 20 minutes:
1. Go for a walk — Yes, it will be a short walk, but guess what? 20 minutes of walking around your neighborhood is definitely better for you than sitting on the couch mindlessly eating chips. In order to gauge the time, I set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes so I know I have enough time to turn around and get back. If you have a hilly neighborhood and you know you’re short on time, make it a goal to get up and down one large hill.
2. Lift free weights — I’m not talking a major workout here, but if you have a little time to kill and know you can’t squeeze in a workout later, you might as well pick up those free weights at either your company’s gym or at your home gym. This is generally a no-to-low sweat workout, so if you normally like to sweat a lot, this option may not be for you.
3. Work out with YouTube — YouTube is so underrated when it comes to exercise. Obviously if you don’t have time for a shower, you don’t want to sweat much, so I recommend lower impact workouts such as pilates, barre, or yoga. Just because you’re short on time doesn’t mean you can’t get toned!
4. Meditate — You can meditate by trying to sit still with your thoughts (and working to eventually not think), or you can use an app, like Headspace. If you choose to go without the app, I recommend setting a timer so you don’t run late for your next appointment or fall asleep!
5. Give yourself a massage — I know, this sounds weird, but seriously, who doesn’t get tense in their shoulders? I’m far from an expert on self-massage (or yoga), but this 10-minute video can definitely get your juices flowing:
6. Masturbate — If your hands get sidetracked on their way to massage your feet, that’s fine too! Not only does masturbation feel great, but it’s also a great way to relieve sexual tension and can even help you sleep better. And what better way to kill time than by pleasuring yourself?
7. Draw or color— I failed fifth grade art, so I usually stick with coloring, but I suppose if you’re talented, you could set a timer and sit down to draw. In that case, all you need is a pencil and paper. If you’re artistically challenged like me, you need an adult coloring book (or a children’s one if you really can’t color within the lines) and some markers or colored pencils.
8. Write — I assume at least half of you will skip this recommendation, but for all those writers out there reading this, know this: You do not need a day, an afternoon, or even an hour to set aside time for writing. I realize that Stephen King preaches 4-6 hours a day, but for those of us who aren’t yet fortunate enough to write novels for a living, 20 minutes is better than nothing. Is it optimal? No, but you can still produce 200-500 more words than you would have if you told yourself you didn’t have time to write. Those who aren’t so inclined to write novels can use a spare 20 minutes to journal their thoughts.
9. Read — Again, set a timer! That way you can become absorbed in what you’re reading without needing to check the time obsessively. I know there are slow readers, and that’s fine. To them, I’ll say this: every little bit adds up. It doesn’t matter if you only get through five pages in that time frame. Those pages will add up over time. It just matters that you enjoy the time you spend reading.
10. Practice a musical instrument — If you have both an instrument and the desire, that is. 20 minutes may not seem like a lot, but it’s enough time to do a few run-throughs of a song you’ve been working on or hone in on a particularly challenging part of a piece.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW
11. Learn a new language — There are so many apps out there for language learning, but the one I’m most familiar with is Duolingo. The regular level and the casual level both take less than 20 minutes to achieve each day, so if you’re already on these apps, think about maximizing your efficiency by squeezing your learning in as part of your after-work rituals.
12. Watch a TedTalk — These talks were designed to be short and sweet, so most of them are less than 20 minutes. The best part? Ted is now an app, so you can plug in your earbuds in the doctor’s office and listen to a TedTalk instead of reading last year’s issue of People magazine.
13. Listen to a Podcast — This is a similar concept to a TedTalk, but if you’re in the mood to listen more for entertainment than specifically for learning, this is the option for you. If you’re new to the podcast world, or just want to expand your horizons, check out this list of the best podcasts.
OTHER RANDOM STUFF YOU CAN DO
14. Clean — I know some people find cleaning relaxing, but I’m not one of those people so it’s been delegated to the ‘Other’ category. What can you clean in 20 minutes? Well, you can certainly start with the dishes in the sink. You could also unload your dishwasher or wipe down your counters or bathroom vanity. I’m not saying that your house will be spotless in 20 minutes, but you can make some progress.
15. Organize a drawer (or counter) — Have you been meaning to put your bank statement away so that it won’t continue to haunt you? You can always take a spare 20 minutes and use it to clear the clutter on your counter and organize small stuff, like a desk drawer or a cabinet in your kitchen.
16. Chop veggies — Or do some other small meal prep tasks. You can even turn that rerun of Friends on in the background for some entertainment while you slice and dice.
17. Plan for the day or week ahead — Organizing doesn’t just apply to your house. Think of 20 minutes as a chance to breathe and ponder and then make a to-do list for the next day.
18. Catch up on the news — If you can watch it without wanting to chuck your remote at the TV that is. If you’re like me and you have very little patience, I suggest using a news app, such as Flipboard, so you can put the news down the second you start getting angry or depressed.
19. Play with your pet — Your dog that’s obsessed with fetch will love this one, but dogs aren’t the only ones who like to play. Invest in a laser pointer for your cat and you’ll get a comedy show while your cat gets some exercise. If you have a rodent or reptile, you can take them out of their cage for some quality time (just not both at the same time). I suppose if you have fish you could stare at them for 20 minutes, but that might get boring fast.
20. Sleep — I know, I know, this should have been at the top of the list, but how many people would have read all the way to number 20 if I had put it first? Sara C. Mednick, PhD, sleep expert and author of Take a Nap! Change your Life! has touted the many benefits of a 20-minute power nap, including increased alertness and motor learning skills. So why not sleep if you can’t muster up the energy to do any of the above 19 tasks?
You may also enjoy trying our Best Self Yoga Flow for Flexibility and Relaxation with Carter Miles