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Crumb Time – Love Your Work, Episode 285

August 11 2022 – 07:30am

crumb time“Crumb time” is the little pieces of time that get lost throughout the day. Instead of giving away your crumb time to unproductive distractions, build systems that complete big projects with small actions. Today, I’ll tell you how.

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Crumb time is everywhere throughout our days. Whenever we do something substantial with our time, little chunks of time of various sizes and shapes fall to the floor.

What is crumb time?

Crumb time has a combination of the following qualities:

Some examples of crumb time:

Why do we give away crumb time?

Crumb time feels insignificant, and we think we need a controlled environment and a big block of time to do anything useful. You don’t have the time or mental bandwidth, it seems, to make substantial progress reading a book, or writing an article. So, we doomscroll on Twitter, blow off steam with a game such as Wordle, or do something pseudo-productive such as check email once again.

Productive uses of crumb time

We just give away our crumb time, but we could turn it into something useful. Here are some things you could do with crumb time:

How about doing nothing at all?

Another valid use of your crumb time is simply doing nothing. But when you choose to do something, you may as well do something useful. Anything other than giving away crumb time is better than building that bad habit. The more you give away crumb time, the easier that becomes the default use of your crumb time.

Take a seven-day crumb-time challenge

You don’t need to change your crumb time habits all at once, forever. Instead, try a seven-day crumb-time challenge. Here’s how:

  1. Delete social media apps. You can do most things on Twitter or Instagram from desktop. Get them off your phone, to force yourself to make good use of crumb time.
  2. Block social media websites. Use the parental controls on your phone to block websites to which you give away your crumb time. For me that’s and On the iPhone, use the “Limit Adult Websites” feature, and add whatever sites you want to the block list. (You can also add adult websites to the allowed sites if that’s your thing.)
  3. Set up crumb-time actions. If you have a Zettelkasten, you know what to do. If you don’t have one, for a quick-start you could export your highlights from your favorite book and have them available on your phone. Set up a list of things you’d like to look up when you have crumb time. Set up a scratch file for brainstorming social media updates, or set up anything else you could make progress on when you have a minute.

Audio crumb time

You’re of course not always able to use your hands during crumb time, such as when you’re driving. This is actually a great reason to have a podcast. Sharing your ideas with others is nice, but if you want to review your own ideas during crumb time, with a podcast you already have a convenient format in which to do so. But, you can also listen to articles or text you’d like to review using the text-to-speech feature on your phone, or an app, such as Otter.

Crumb time becomes something bigger

I like the term “crumb time” not only because it implies crumb time’s perceived insignificance, but also because substantial things consist of crumbs. Bakers talk about the “crumb structure” of a cake, which is the mix of air and pastry that makes up the cake. In agriculture, soil has taken on a “crumb structure” when it has the right amount of moisture for the soil to bead into crumbs. Soil with a crumb structure has an ideal mix of air and moisture to be a good environment for plants to take root, and for microorganisms to assist in the plant’s growth.

Crumb time is powerful because it seems too insignificant to be worth anything. But if you use your crumb time well, those little pieces of time can build into something bigger. Here are some ways:

  1. Write a book: A book is little more than a collection of thoughts, and crumb time is enough to develop individual thoughts. I shared on episode 260 my newsletter system, which makes use of crumb time: My tweets grow into newsletters, which grow into podcast articles, which grow into books. Or, you can take a more direct approach. Walter Isaacson has said he writes on his phone while waiting in the airport, and Kirsten Oliphant wrote an entire book during two weeks’ time on the treadmill.
  2. Build a database of knowledge: Instead of writing a book, you can aim to build a database of knowledge, such as the Zettelkasten I talked about on episode 250. Highlighting highlights is the easiest use of crumb time, but you can do other Zettelkasten tasks with your crumb time, such as clearing your inbox.
  3. Make real progress: Even if you don’t aspire to write a book or build a Zettelkasten, you can use your crumb time to make real progress on any of your projects. Think of crumb time as a “context”, a la Getting Things Done. Just as you might mark a next action as “@home”, “@office”, or with my Seven Mental States of creativity, you can mark tasks as “@crumbtime”. Then you have a list of tasks you can do with little time and attention.

Imagine what your crumb time could become

Pay attention to how you use your crumb time, and you’ll find significant uses of time and energy that could be put toward something productive. In the same time and mental effort it takes to play Wordle every day, you could build a database of knowledge, write articles, or even books.

I encourage you to try a seven-day crumb-time challenge. Let me know how it goes!

Image: Pexals

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Theme music: Dorena “At Sea”, from the album About Everything And More. By Arrangement with Deep Elm Records. Listen on Spotify »

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