What are 3 minutes good for?

You’re on line (not online) at Starbucks for your iced skinny half-caf semi-grande caramel macchiato with soy whip on top. You’ve got about three minutes from where you are now to picking up your drink. What do you do?

Pull out your Droid and check email, of course. After all, you’ve got three minutes. Why waste them? That’s what the mobile internet is for.

But here’s a suggestion: instead of filling your brain, why don’t you try emptying it?

Let’s face it. In the three minutes you’ve got to look at your inbox, you really can’t get much of anything done. Sure you can skim some of your new email, and you might even be able to answer a couple of the easy ones. (“Yes.” “No.” “Chicken.”) But for the most part, you’re pre-ordaining yourself to seeing a bunch of subject lines or messages that you can’t do anything about at that moment. Not when you’ve got to elbow your way from the pick-up counter to the Splenda dispenser.

That’s a recipe for stress. You know you have to respond to a customer or to your boss, but you don’t have the time right now. It’s festering in your inbox. And you know it. Enjoy the macchiato, bub.

So, a modest proposal. Next time you have three extra minutes, instead of filling up your mind with stuff you can’t do anything about, why not empty it? Take a notebook and write down stray ideas that have come to you, to-dos that you’ve forgotten about, questions you need to ask, whatever. Use the time to empty your head of the flotsam that washes up on the shores of your consciousness so that you can actually do something about them later.

Last week I wrote about why you need slack in a system. Filling every minute with work guarantees that your throughput will decrease. My modest proposal to empty your head, rather than fill it, is, I think, a related concept. Giving yourself more work (more email busy-ness) just because you have a few minutes of unbooked time in your day is utterly counter-productive.

Yes, this means that you’ll have to stop mainlining the internet for just. Three. Minutes. And you may suffer from some withdrawal symptoms. But you’re likely to become more relaxed. More focused. Less frazzled.

Now, enjoy your coffee.