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4 Extra Minutes a Day: Realizing the Power of Microminutes

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My wife and I recently moved to a different part of town. The neighborhood is lovely, shopping and work are easily accessible, and we’re happy to have found a new home. But each time I drive from the house, I encounter the same intersection. It’s a four way, with advance turns on three of the four directions. One day, out of curiosity, I timed how long I sat at that intersection. It came in at an uninspiring one minute and nine seconds. An insignificant amount of time by anyone’s measure. Or was it?

Later that day, out of my usual combination of boredom and obsession, I did some calculations. I travel through that intersection four times each day – two outgoing and two incoming. If I average one minute lost per trip, that’s four minutes per day. Still insignificant? Possibly, that four minutes a day equals almost exactly 24 hours over the course of a year.

In other words, each year I will spend approximately one full day of my life sitting at that intersection.

The Hidden Value of Microminutes

That thought process started a cascade of ideas, theories, and further calculations as I came to grips with the truth – that very small increments of time spent each day can become extremely significant when repeated on a regular basis. I call these daily chunks microminutes, and they are valuable little suckers, let me tell you.

The microminute idea works for both tasks that are generally “unproductive” as well as for time we spend on enjoyable or productive pursuits. Time accumulates either way. It’s up to us to decide how we utilize it. The double-whammy approach would be, of course, to eliminate unproductive repeated time and maximize time spent on the good stuff. If we can translate time spent idle directly into minutes spent pursuing something that matters to us, we have effectively doubled our time on task.

My experience waiting for the traffic light illuminated to me that really any increment of time is worth investing in, if we have the interest. Since not having time is one of the most common excuses people have in their lives, it should be evident that if you can amass microminutes, that claim of “not having time” has little merit.

Below, I’ve outlined some strategies to capture the power of microminutes in two common circumstances – your work environment and your daily commute. Since most people spend the majority of their day at work, it is an obvious place to start. But your commute is another incredibly powerful option that you can harness in search of positive time.

Rescuing Microminutes at Work

There are many tasks during the workday that we could avoid or minimize in order to gain back time. Countless others have discussed when you should conduct your email checks and how to schedule meetings. I suggest taking a more intuitive approach, which is to simply realize when you are being unproductive.

Walking for body and mind

Going for a walk is good for both your mind and body.

We all know the signs – the droopy eyelids, the lack of attention, the loss of proper posture, and even the occasional social media check-in. These periods can last for ten to thirty minutes or more at a shot. Time that just slips away.

When you feel this happening, you need to recognize it immediately. Get up, walk away from your desk, and go to a completely different area. Removing yourself from the surroundings that are contributing to your lack of efficiency is one of the best ways to save microminutes.

Maybe go outside and walk for a while to brainstorm. Head upstairs to a quiet corner and read something that interests you, which may or may not have anything to do with work. In using these strategies, you introduce some minutes of exercise, stress release, and inspiration that would have been forever lost if you had remained at your desk.

Claiming those minutes immediately also frees up the time you might have spent on those same pursuits later on in the day – allowing you to use the micominutes you spared toward other rewarding activities. Some may fear that using time this way will cause issues at work, but the idea is not to avoid work. It is to realize your time is not being spent well, on either work or other pursuits.

Mining Microminutes on Your Commute

Your daily travel in car, bus, or train is a powerful reserve of time. It is typically repeated daily, is monotonous, and for most people represents forty or more minutes a day. Yes, I did the calculations on that also and it extrapolates out to a whopping twenty days each year if we consider all 365 opportunities.

Twenty whole days, each year, that can be spent on a passion, expanding your knowledge, or even creating a second business pursuit. This time is powerful if you can take hold of it and turn it into useful creative minutes each day.

Mine microminutes of your commute

Use the microminutes in your commute.

By far the best way to mine these minutes is to take in podcasts and audiobooks. Both help to tune out the surrounding environment, don’t rely on expensive hardware, and keep your hands free for either driving or for taking notes of important and inspiring thoughts. Your choice of book or podcast is up to you – whatever you find most interesting and intriguing will set your mind alight with possibilities. This positivity and motivation can and will flow into the rest of your day.

I started my company based on the experience I had listening to an audiobook while cycling to work quite a few years ago. I have listened to experts in my field and those quite far outside of it and am wiser for both. All of these small chunks of time spent have created a store of knowledge and inspiration that would not have existed had I not mined those microminutes each day.

Moving Forward With Your Microminutes

Harnessing time is impossible, but utilizing time to your benefit requires just a bit of forethought and relatively quick action. For me, the time spent at the intersection near my house sparked an idea that I now put into daily practice. So far I am a one-man experiment, but I feel there has been a lot of progress and enjoyment added to my days as a result. Give the above strategies a shot and grab hold of your own microminutes. Who knows, you might end up creating something great.

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Cam Birtwell
Cam Birtwell is a professional strength and conditioning coach living and working in Victoria, BC. For sixteen years, he has worked with athletes from high school to national level. He spent six years working at the Canadian Sport Centre, where he developed and implemented training programs for fourteen Olympians, including five medalists at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Since 2013, Cam has switched focus to running CrossFit Vic City. He has programmed for multiple CrossFit Regionals athletes as well as two Games athletes.

Cam is also the co-author of the popular squat training manual "SquatStrong," co-creator of WODtv, and a sought-after speaker on the topics of fitness and strength and conditioning for sports. You can find out more at his website, Podium Sports Conditioning.