Getting Ahead

7 Sneaky Opportunities to Get Ahead on Your Work When You're Behind.

1. Early morningsI wake up around 5:00 a.m. every day. The hours before the sun comes up are the perfect time to exercise, answer emails and prepare for the day to come. Rather than spend an extra hour before bed scrolling social media or bingeing a show you don’t even like, hit the hay earlier. You'll wake up refreshed and ready to go.

Get up early to make a to-do list for the day ahead. Schedule your biggest hurdles for the morning to leave yourself more flexibility when unexpected afternoon surprises arise.

2. Your commute

Drive to work? Listen to a podcast from an influencer you admire. Take the train? Plug in your headphones, lean back and take in an audiobook. Live just down the street? Use your extra morning time to squeeze in some exercise. Physical activity in the morning can kickstart your brain and make you more productive all day.

Don’t spend your educational commute on just anything. Make a deliberate plan for your downtime. Just 20 minutes of listening to a book a day is enough to get through several audiobooks per year (or a week).

3. Pre-meeting minutes

Next time someone starts fumbling with the projector, don’t sit idly and look at your phone. Pull up your inbox and fire off a few email responses. I even schedule this in my calendar app to make sure I block off down time. Secretly I use this for catching up. Make some email templates so you can respond quickly -- even to the more complex questions.

Remember not to be rude if you decide to get some work done before a meeting. If the presenter is ready to go on time, set aside your phone or laptop and pay close attention. You’ll gain more by focusing on the moment than you would by trying to do two things at once.

4. Boarding is a great time to sneak in some time to get ahead on your work.

Next time you go to the airport, don’t let the boarding process interrupt your workflow. Scan your ticket and head to your seat, then get right down to work. Everyone knows that flights are the perfect time to be productive, but you don’t have to wait for takeoff to start getting things done.

Most flights today have WiFi, but why not use your time in the sky to unplug for a while? Rather than slog through emails, take advantage of the free moment to write a blog post, draft a plan for a future project or sketch out an idea for a new product.

5. On hold

No one likes to sit on hold, but time spent waiting doesn’t have to be time wasted. Next time someone puts you on hold, put the phone on speakerphone and start blasting away at your emails. Remember to use templates to make the process go even faster. While this isn't part of calendar, I like noting on my calendar when I expect a hold to be longer than normal. Helps me with my time and calendar management. 

All caught up on emails? Do some number-crunching in Excel or create charts in PowerPoint. Let that soothing elevator music be your background noise as you knock out some of the busywork from your afternoon.

6. Commercials

The next time you watch a football game on TV -- use every commercial break to work on a project. NFL fans watch more than 24 hours of commercials per season, according to The Charlotte Observer. Imagine what you could do with one extra workday every month.

The short breaks provided by commercials are perfect for emails. If you don’t feel like opening your inbox, use that downtime to socialize. Send a text to someone in your network with whom you’d like to maintain contact. If you know the person well enough -- call them during halftime for a quick chat.

7. Late nights

Experiencing a lousy bout of insomnia? Instead of tossing and turning, give yourself 15 minutes with a pen and a piece of paper. You can write down anything you want -- just don’t use this time to start your to-do list for the next day. If you begin on your to-do list -- you’ll just rile yourself up further and make it harder to sleep.

While you wait for sleep to come, write a thoughtful thank-you note to a valued team member or client. Handwritten notes are one of the most effective expressions  of gratitude, yet not many people use them anymore. Think about something nice that someone did recently for you. Write a note of appreciation and then go back to bed. Usually, the calming effect of gratitude will help you get to sleep in time to rest before your next productive morning.