How to make time go faster: 15 tips to use at work or anytime

Time is a funny thing: the more we pay attention to it, the slower it goes.

Conversely, time flies when you aren’t looking.

Whatever you do within the day can influence how you perceive time.

Think about how an afternoon spent at the beach is over before you know it, but an afternoon stuck in traffic stretches on and on.

The trick to mastering this irony is to manage your day-to-day activities well.

Although the coronavirus work-from-home situation has many of us trapped in monotony, there are some things you can do to keep time from dragging on.

Here are 15 ways to help you make time go faster (while also being productive as well):

1) Keep yourself busy.

The number one tip to make time move faster is to stop looking at the clock and to keep yourself moving.

You can either find entertainment to lose yourself in or perform a task without getting distracted.

You’re less likely to notice how time passes when you’re busy, even if you’re not necessarily having fun.

A week at work can fly by when you’re engrossed in doing something, but you’ll definitely be more preoccupied with time when you’re bored or uninspired.

Making sure your brain has something to focus on can diminish fatigue with time.

According to Eckhert College sociologist Michael Flaherty, Ph.D., one theory on how we perceive time relies on “the density of human experience.”

This density measures how much objective and subjective information we receive.

This density is high when a lot is happening around us, which is natural.

However, it can also be high even when nothing is going on because we fill up this “empty” period of time by going inward.

We focus on our boredom, fear, anxiety, or excitement – and time passes slowly.

If you’re not doing anything, then it’s best to tuck your watch away and look for something to do.

It could be simple things like:

  • Watching the latest pop music videos
  • Catching up on the news
  • Working on your resume or CV
  • Asking your boss if there is anything else you can assist with
  • Planning a personal side project
  • Developing a new skill or learning a new hobby

2) Break up your time into manageable segments.

If you’ve ever done an intense workout, it may feel like doing one rep of 30 jumping jacks can be so repetitive and exhausting.

However, if you break it down by counting up to 30 in sets of five, it can feel a little less tedious.

Our brains struggle to maintain its concentration for long periods, especially if the task we’re doing isn’t very interesting or challenging.

Our minds have to be stimulated every now and then.

One way you can resolve this problem is to create shorter blocks of time to focus on.

The idea is to chop up your time in 10 – 15 minute blocks where you’re fully engrossed in something, alternating this with breaks in between or working at a more relaxed pace.

You give yourself these in-between stages to help your ability to focus recharge.

Not only will you have bursts of productivity, but you’ll also speed up the day.

If you don’t know how to begin breaking down your time into blocks, try the Pomodoro Technique:

  • Do a task for 25 minutes.
  • Take a break for 3 – 5 minutes.
  • Repeat for four rounds.
  • Go on a longer break for 15 – 30 minutes/
  • Repeat the process.

3) Squeeze in refreshing activities.

What can you do within a quick break?

When you include breaks after working on a task, it should be something you can look forward to.

It doesn’t have to be long and strenuous.

Activities like stretching, mini-workouts, or going outdoors are usually recommended, especially if you’re someone who has a sedentary job or lifestyle.

Even a quick walk for fresh air can rejuvenate you by getting your blood flowing, delivering more oxygen to the brain, and giving you a rush of endorphins.

Aside from taking a walk outdoors, here are a few other refreshing breaktime activities to try:

  • Meditating: Meditation requires you to sit still and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. It helps you clear your head, reduce anxiety, and lower stress levels. Visit YouTube for a guided meditation video or download an app if you’re new to meditation.
  • Taking a snack break: Refueling on healthy snacks can boost your energy levels: almonds, dark chocolate, and popcorn are ideal options. And while you’re heading to the pantry, you may as well drink water too. Keeping yourself hydrated with plenty of water helps your brain function well.
  • Exercising: A short workout will get your blood pumping. You don’t need to do crunches or push-ups. You can simply do a few yoga stretches, jog in place, or have a dance party to your favorite songs. It will help you destress as you wait for the time to go by.
  • Napping: Napping for longer than 20 minutes can leave you groggy, but having a shut-eye for 10 – 15 minutes can work wonders. Your brain will feel much more refreshed after.

4) Find small hobbies.

Hobbies were practically invented for people who have too much time. They keep your hands busy and teach you new things you can apply to other aspects of your life.

The great thing about hobbies is that no one is forcing you to complete a project immediately.

You can learn little by little, put it down, then pick it up again when you feel like it.

Some small hobbies you can try include:

  • Art: No one is too old to learn art. There are thousands of tutorials on the internet that can guide you through basic drawing, calligraphy, and even painting. The fun thing about art is that you can take it with you anywhere. As long as you have some pen and paper, you can doodle boredom away.
  • Photoshop: Graphics are a huge part of our lives online and being able to create them is a big bonus skill. Teach yourself how to do Photoshop so you can edit your photos and create beautiful digital designs.
  • Coding: Learning how to code is a hobby that offers a lot of benefits. Coding is one of the most valuable skills you can take anywhere with you in your career. And thanks to free online courses, you don’t even have to pay to learn how to code. It’s a win-win.
  • Languages: Picking up a new language is an important hobby if you want to travel. Not only does fluency in another language make you seem more cultured, but it also improves brain agility.
  • Needlework: Knitting, crochet, and embroidery are some of the most popular types of needlework you can do as a hobby. Needlework tasks demand a lot of your attention and concentration, so you’re sure to be focused as you stitch your way to a new scarf.

5) Develop a to-do list for every day.

Time tends to drag on when we aren’t meeting the goals we set for ourselves.

When we complete a task we planned, our brain rewards us with the chemical dopamine – which motivates us and drives us to do more things, effectively keeping us from boredom.

One way to tap into this is to create a to-do list that can get you through the day with small bursts of satisfaction.

Planning out your day through a to-do list also prevents you from spending extra time trying to figure out what to do next.

When you structure your day, you can easily jump from one goal to the next.

A time management practice called Monday Hour One takes the to-do list to the next level.

The theory is that you can kickstart your entire week by dedicating the first hour of Monday morning to set your calendar up for the week ahead.

To complete Monday Hour One, you have to empty out your brain and write down all your tasks on paper.

It should include even small things like setting up appointments, writing emails, or shopping for groceries.

Although it may seem silly at first, there is some wisdom to mapping out exactly how you’re anticipating the week to go.

Once you have everything on paper, you can figure out how much time to dedicate to each task.

Not only will this make you more productive, but you’ll be sure that you won’t spend hours doing absolutely anything.

6) Listen to something while you work.

Music is a great way to pass time quickly, especially if you’re doing work that doesn’t require a lot of mental energy or focus like cleaning and chores.

If you’re doing work that does require you to concentrate, you can use instrumental music which helps eliminate external, audible distractions as well.

Podcasts and audiobooks are another good way to entertain yourself when you’re doing mindless tasks or are stuck commuting.

These audio distractions let you zone out and move into the flow of your tasks, which can make time go faster.

7) Pick up a book.

If you want time to go faster, get lost in the book. Reading can improve your memory, concentration, comprehension, and vocabulary.

Plus, there’s something about dipping yourself in an author’s words that provides a bit of stress relief.

Dive into that pile of books you haven’t read yet (or want to reread). If you want to read something new, here are a few tips to follow:

  • Don’t rely on others’ opinions: Limiting yourself to bestseller lists, publishing crazes, or “literary” books will quash your desire to read. The key to picking a good book is to choose something that aligns with your tastes – even if it’s something others might turn their noses at.
  • Find your genre: People tend to enjoy reading books from a certain genre over and over again, even if the stories are similar. Mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, romance – think of books you’ve enjoyed previously and try to identify it’s genre. Chances are, you’ll like other books that fall into that category as well.
  • Let the covers guide you: They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it would be so difficult to pick out something to read if it wasn’t for the cover. Browse books and see if the cover art catches your eye, then read the description of the plot. If you like it or are curious about the story, then you’ve found something to read.

8) Get the tedious tasks out of the way.

When you have a lot of time on your hands that just won’t move faster, then maybe it’s time to complete those tedious tasks you’ve been putting off once and for all.

It could be visiting the dentist for your yearly checkup, organizing all the files on your computer, or purging your Facebook friends.

When you knock out these unwanted tasks, you pass the time and make progress in your life.

No one really wants to do spring cleaning or re-file all that misplaced paperwork, but it’s something that should be done.

The bright side of getting these duties out of the way is that you won’t have the added anxiety of doing them lingering at the back of your head. You get the unpleasantness over with.

You can also apply this concept to your everyday to-do list by tackling the worst of your tasks first.

This way, your energy levels are up and you get the difficult stuff done quicker.

As the day progresses and your productivity dwindles, you’ll be left with the more mundane tasks.

9) Play a few brain games.

Maybe you don’t have the option of distracting yourself with a book or music with your work, or your tedious (but vital) job requires you to sit and stand idly all day.

Perhaps a lot of your time is spent doing nothing at all or duties that can be done on autopilot.

So what can you do to pass the time while still retaining some level of concentration? You can play brain games with yourself, such as:

  • Spelling long words backwards
  • Multiplying random numbers
  • Listing all the films your favorite celebrity has starred in
  • Playing the alphabet game, where you give yourself a category (“fruits”) and come up with an answer for A-Z.

10) Find your “flow”.

According to psychology, you can make time pass faster when you’re completely absorbed in an activity.

This mental state is called the “flow”, where you get lost in the present moment.

In order to achieve flow, you have to find a task that has clear goals and requires specific responses.

One example is playing a game of chess because you need to focus entirely on the game while you’re playing.

The ideal conditions for entering the state of flow are:

  • You’re doing an activity you enjoy and feel passionate about.
  • The activity has an element of challenge that prompts you to stretch your skills.
  • You have a specific goal to achieve and a plan of action you want to execute.

11) Catch up with a friend.

When you have spare time, you might want to use it by reaching out to friends.

The clock will tick by much faster if you’re socializing with friends through messages or chatting with a coworker during a break.

Chances are, your friends needed a break or wanted to watch the day melt away too.

Not sure how to break the ice?

Here are some conversation starters you might want to use:

  • Have you been working on a personal project lately?
  • What do you like most about work?
  • How do you handle stress when you’re busy?
  • What do you think about this news story/movie/TV show/album?
  • What is your dream vacation?
  • Do you have any cool hidden talents?
  • What do you do on your days off?
  • Do you ever think about what you want to do when you retire?
  • What is the worst thing you have ever eaten?

12) Try new things for fun.

As the old saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun.

If you can find a way to create some fun for yourself, you can speed up time.

Maybe you can race yourself while you do work and try to beat your record for accomplishing a task.

Or you can also look for mindlessly fun things to do or learn over the Internet, such as:

  • Learn a party trick: Impress your friends with your newfound knowledge on palm reading, shadow puppetry, or breaking an apple in half. It’s not a bad thing to use your time on something “frivolous”. It might be the mental break you need.
  • Visit Reddit: Reddit is an online hub for thousands of user-made communities. Each community or “subreddit” focuses on a certain topic or idea and there are many interesting subreddits to go through. Some good places to start are: r/Nostalgia, r/UnsolvedMysteries, and r/Funny.
  • Create a wish list: If you’re the type of person that has a good handle on your finances, then this exercise might work for you. Think of it like “window shopping” on Amazon and research on products you would be happy to buy. Once you’ve found them, add them to your Saved For Later list. If you’re still thinking about them a month after, then you won’t suffer from buyer’s remorse. You’ll find that shopping is more exciting than buying and you kill a lot of time in the process.

13) Figure out your reward system.

Treating yourself to activities you find exciting or rewarding has a powerful impact on how we experience time.

Plus, you’re more prone to burnout if you don’t create a space where you can indulge yourself.

A reward system will let you balance productivity with small rewards you can look forward to within the day.

There are two steps in creating your reward system:

  1. Decide how often to reward yourself: It’s not the best idea to reward yourself every time you accomplish something, but the point is to set up incentives at fairly regular intervals. If you’re unsure, you can set up a number of goals on Monday then reward yourself on Friday. This will let the week move quicker for you.
  2. Decide what the rewards will be: Your reward is your motivation, so it should be something you enjoy. Avoid choosing food as a reward because you might form an unhealthy habit. Instead, you can think of an item or a relaxing activity you want to splurge on.

14) Create a routine.

Based on research published in the Journal of Experimental psychology, people who are engaged in a routine perceive time going by faster.

When you have a routine in place, it’s easier to get into a state of flow and stave off boredom.

A solid daily routine combines art with science. You have to create a structure for yourself and leave room for flexibility as well.

One way to begin your day efficiently is spending time skimming through social media or catching up on news before you proceed with everything else.

This method will prepare your mindset for the rest of the day and you will feel the urgency to complete tasks afterward.

15) Rethink your goals.

Extra time means you can think about your personal goals, maybe the things you want to do once work is complete.

This involves compiling actionable and practical to-do lists you want to complete once you’re done for the day.

Maybe you want to have a headstart on next week’s meal plan and grocery list or you want to plan your end-of-the-year vacation trip.

When you spend your time planning, you will feel accomplished and ready to start fulfilling these goals – killing some time in the process.

Time Is Gold

Every moment of your life should be spent wisely because none of it ever returns to you.

Gaps of free time in your schedule are a blessing in disguise.

Don’t waste these precious hours waiting for the present to be over with.

Use this time to unwind, spark inspiration, or look ahead to the future.

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Picture of Lachlan Brown

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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