by Hayley Doyle
…What would you do?
That’s a daft old question, I hear you cry. I see the eye rolls. Because what is 30 minutes? It’s nothing. It might as well be 10 minutes. What can be achieved in a mere half hour, you ask? Well, it’s not about the time frame itself. It’s more about how you choose to use it.
We can all lose 30 minutes scrolling on our phones. It flashes by like lightning. We haven’t been engaged in one singular activity, either. We’ve been flipping from app to app, watching videos, replying to messages, looking at photos, and taking photos…an addictive jumble of distractions. Also, a greater distraction - usually in human form - forces us to drag ourselves away from idly browsing; the doorbell ringing, a colleague approaching you, the train arriving at your stop, a child demanding a snack. And bam! That’s your 30 minutes done and dusted. More often than not, the feeling we’re left with after those 30 minutes is far from satisfying.
When I was a teenager with a Saturday job in a big store, my shift allowed me to take a half-hour break. I would nip over to the cafe up the street and get a jacket potato for lunch. But by the time I’d grabbed my purse, used the loo, queued for a spud and got back to the break room, I had a few minutes to wolf it down. I was always a bit late returning to the shop floor, piping hot potato in my chest undigested, and a telling-off from my manager awaiting me. So I put on my sensible head and started to take a packed lunch. If there happened to be others in the break room, it was fun to chat and cringe about the latest work night out, but most of the time, I was alone in there, and suddenly 30 minutes felt like a long time to sit in silence and eat a cheese sandwich. However, if I took a book to work, it was absolute bliss. I’d savour every page and every bite. The job itself was pretty mundane, but that short break became a worthwhile highlight. I even started to leave the paperback at work, and not take it home with me, making that particular book exclusive to my precious break time.
Making improvements to your life - or yourself - doesn’t have to be about making one big gesture. Doing small things every day - or even weekly - can add up to larger growth in the long run. Getting into the habit of utilising 30 minutes to serve you well may help to increase your confidence, reduce your stress levels, build deeper relationships, stabilise your work-life balance, improve your mental and physical health, and become a happier person. Ultimately, you’ll see benefits far beyond just the 30 minutes a week you spend on them.
So what can you do in a solid half hour? How would you love to spend that time? Going to a yoga class or hitting the gym isn’t what we’re talking about here. You can’t do that in 30 minutes because you have to factor in the journey and taking a shower. And if you arrange to meet a friend for coffee, but you only have 30 minutes, you’re going to rush the catch-up and feel pretty sad when the end abruptly arrives. It’s not about cramming in lots of activity. That’s not the point. Instead, imagine you are suddenly given a small trinket…of time. Just enough time to find something to do that makes you feel good all-round. Satisfied.
Buy a magazine. A physical copy. Sit down, scour the pages, and circle the things you love with a pen. You’ll absorb the content without exposing yourself to even more screen time and retain the information better because you’re not under pressure to check other apps and messages.
Sort a drawer. Just ONE. Remove the overwhelming thoughts that you need to sort out your entire life! Start with your underwear drawer. Use small dividers and roll your garments Marie Kondo-style. When the drawer is finished, you can enjoy a sense of achievement. You can do the next drawer tomorrow.
Treat yourself. Instead of trying to find a whole outfit and stressing out in the changing room, why not make a decision to go and buy yourself lipstick or some new nail polish? Indulge in choosing the colour. Or is there a bakery you’ve been wanting to try? Go and enjoy that cake.
Free-write. You don’t have to be an aspiring novelist to write, freely, without any directions or constraints. Forget the grammar and the spelling. Just set a timer and start writing. Maybe have a prompt or question to get you started, and see where the writing takes you. Discover how you’re feeling and what’s on your mind!
Watch a TED Talk. They’re like mini-lectures and usually around 20 minutes (so enough time to make a cuppa, too!) You might learn something about yourself or be inspired into action, or simply gain new knowledge. But you have to be strict with yourself. Resist the temptation to dip in and out of other apps, or turn all notifications off.
Phone a friend. When my best friend calls me, I always answer and say, “Is everything okay?!” Oh, how we’ve grown accustomed to text. But don’t be afraid of speaking. Hearing that voice you adore on the other end of the line will give you the best boost, and what’s more, you have them all to yourself, for a good ol’ chat, for a whole half an hour.
Soak up the view. Prep your food so you don’t have to spend time seeking it during your lunch break (okay, this one requires some forward-thinking) and get away from your desk to eat it. Find yourself a comfy spot or a pretty view, then pop in your EarPods and listen to your fave playlist.
Puzzle mania. Go to the nearest newsagent and buy a book filled with Sudoku, word search, logic puzzles and crosswords. Paper is conducive to better attention and engagement. Studies have shown that our brains actually process and store information better offline. Don’t forget a pen…and no Googling the answers!
Revisit the 90s/00s. Watch one full episode without the distraction of something like Friends, Sex and the City or Will and Grace. You’re spoilt for choice. But decide on what show in advance of your all-important me-time or you’ll waste it surfing the streaming services!
Play the piano. Or the violin. Or have a sing! Beginners are advised to take 15-30 minutes of practice consistently to improve. You are never too old to learn how to play a musical instrument, but you'll never learn unless you decide to start.