7 Smart Ways To Use Unexpected Free Time

Your meeting just got canceled. Now what? Schedule that time for yourself in the following ways.

7 Smart Ways To Use Unexpected Free Time
[Photo: Flickr user Francisco Osorio]

Anyone can plan something for an open slot on the calendar. What really separates the time management masters from everyone is else the ability to seize time they didn’t know would be there.


A client cancels. A meeting is moved. You’re up in the middle of the night and not going back to sleep any time soon. What should you do instead?

If you’ve got a busy life, then open space can feel like winning the time lottery. “These unexpected moments of time feel like a gift and a curse because often you feel guilty if you don’t use them well,” says Carson Tate, a productivity expert and author of the new book Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style.

Here are a few ideas for receiving the gift of time:

1. Indulge

“So often we tend to be last on our to do lists,” says Tate, “so what if you use these unexpected moments of time to recharge?”

Jennifer Hodgens, an Oklahoma real estate agent, does just this when a client cancels. She contacts a local spa that can usually squeeze her in.


“Half the fun of getting the massage for me is being able to sneak away,” she says. “You just kind of feel like you’re escaping from the world for a little bit, and everyone else thinks you’re in an appointment with a client.”

2. Reach Out

Admit it. You have a list of half a dozen friends you keep meaning to call but don’t. When one of Tate’s clients recently canceled–after she had already traveled to his office–she went outside and called her college roommate to catch up.

“I felt recharged and was more effective and productive for the rest of the day,” she says. Even if the other person tells you she can’t chat then, it will be good to hear her voice, and you can set a time to catch up at length later.

3. Get Creative

During the day, Beth Henary Watson is the marketing director at a financial services firm. At any time of the day, she also loves to write poetry.

“I jot ideas as they come to me in my iPhone’s notes section,” she says. “When spare time presents itself, I usually have several ideas to flesh out.”


Making use of found time to write poetry helped her reach her goal of writing one poem a month last year. She says this helps her make this passion a priority now, rather than something she’ll think she’ll will do when she retires.

4. Conduct Research

“I have a list of ideas, books, events, trips that I need and want to research and learn more about,” Tate says. “When I have a cancellation or unexpected long waits I pull out this list and do a little surfing.” It feels more productive than just checking email again.

5. Read

People claim they don’t have time to read, but plenty of busy people make time, and you can too.

“Collate and organize what you want to read later by using a service like Readability or Pocket,” Tate suggests. Each app supports tagging articles, making it easy to organize and retrieve pieces. It would also work to go old school and read an actual book, as long as you keep one in your desk, car, or purse.

6. Move

One of the busiest gyms I’ve ever seen was in a Tokyo hotel at 5 a.m. Jet-lagged Americans there for a conference had likely been up since about 3 a.m. If you’re awake and unable to go back to sleep, then this is an option.


Indeed, exercise is good for any found time. Pull on some comfy shoes and walk outside for a few minutes. A 30-minute flight delay is likely long enough to walk the terminal several times.

7. Play To-Do List Roulette

We all have a bunch of tasks that aren’t necessarily fun, but need to happen. Hopefully you’ve got a running list. Next time a spot of time opens up, randomly choose one item that takes just a few minutes, like booking a dentist visit.

Don’t waste energy deciding which one. Just put your finger down somewhere and go. Then you won’t have to spend time hacking through the list later.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at