Some people automatically fill those slivers of time with worthwhile activities. They sing or daydream or say a prayer or make observations or read a few pages of a book. I seem to need a longer list with activities that add up to help achieve my larger goals. Not surprisingly, most of what's on my list now is aimed at writing, and using such a list is one of the primary ways I boost my productivity. What's on my list?
- Small business tasks - I can complete a simple invoice for freelance writing in less than 15 minutes, using older invoices as templates. I can research a new market or answer a client's question. (I keep questions that take a little thought in a queue rather than refer to email. For me, email and social media can be a time suck, and I prefer to schedule my interactions with them.)
- Brainstorming - I like generating lists of ten (or twenty). Ten blog ideas. Ten ways my character can escape a prison cell. Ten things I love about my novel. Most of what's on such lists is useless, but pushing for more leads to pleasant surprises.
- Outlining - For smaller work, like writing this blog, all I need is a blank index card. For building on the outline of a novel, I usually need to be carrying a card that lists the pivotal scenes so I can fill in ideas that fit in between.
- Sorting - When ideas tumble out, they often are not it the most effective order. It only takes a few minutes to take a list of obstacles a character faces and organize them according to what is at risk. (This helps me ensure I am constantly raising the stakes so readers get hooked.) With essays, I organize the arguments so the second most compelling notion comes first and the most compelling concludes the piece.
- Character interviews - The best way for me to get to know a character is to have a conversation. I carry lists of characters and questions with me to the garage or doctor's office and take advantage of those times to interrogate them.
- Mechanical rewriting - This is the less creative work, such as getting rid of junk words and ferreting out all the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Re-conceiving scenes or polishing prose is likely to need more dedicated time.
Note that these tasks are "writerly" activities. They don't contribute directly to adding pages to your manuscript. I never count these activities toward my daily writing goals, even though I am aware that they make an impact.
Do you have small tasks you get done during fragments of time? What would you put on your own "interstitial" list?