Systems & Tips

Contexts: How to Maximize Each Moment

You’re on a four-hour plane trip. What can you work on to stay productive in that time?
You’re waiting at the doctor’s office. How can you make the most of the situation?

What about when your internet is down? Or when the kids get home from school in the afternoon? Or when you’re commuting? What can you do during those different circumstances to maximize every moment?

Considering Contexts

It’s helpful to think of your time in contexts. Different locations and different situations give you certain opportunities and certain limitations.

The things you can do at the office are different from what you can do at home. The things you can do during normal business hours are different from what you can do in the evenings and late at night.

Once you know your contexts, you can plan ahead so that you’re making the most of every second.

On a simple level, you can have a to-do list for the office and a separate list for at home. Or you can make sure you schedule in those important phone calls at the right time of day.

This is common sense, and this is how people have thought about contexts for the last few decades. But let’s take things one step further.

Not Just Time and Place

What about other ways of determining contexts?

For instance, what about tasks that you can fit into a 10-minute window of time that suddenly opens up? What about long blocks of uninterrupted time? What about your own energy levels and ability to concentrate?

Take a moment to think about the unique contexts that you regularly experience. What times do you feel are wasted because you didn’t really know what to do?

For many, it may be a small block of time. It’s not long enough to dive into a project, so only certain tasks would be effectively done.

It could be a feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day. Maybe you don’t feel like doing any hard thinking.

More likely, you may have situations that are rather unique.

My wife breastfeeds our youngest son. Several times a day, she has to spend 30 to 45 minutes in a chair holding a baby close with only one hand occasionally free. This was a time when she was very limited in what she could do.

Recently, I was being examined to see if I needed to schedule some future surgery. Had I needed an operation, I would have been able to do hardly anything for a few days – and it would have been weeks before I would be fully recovered. This would have presented some challenges for me to maximize my time.

Windows of Productivity

Contexts don’t have to just be times when you’re limited in what you can do. They can also be rare opportunities where you have a chance to really get things done.

To use my wife again as an example: our sons’ nap schedules overlap slightly, allowing her an hour or so of time during the day when both kids are asleep. This is an opportunity for her to really get working on activities she couldn’t do with babies running around her feet.


Once you’ve thought long and hard about the various contexts for your life, making the most of them isn’t terribly difficult. Just keep a list of things you can do in your different situations.

My wife has a list of things she can do while breastfeeding my infant son. Perhaps you can make a list of things you can do at the end of the day when you’re drained.

Then, plan a little and shuffle around your tasks according to your contexts. Make sure that your hard tasks are scheduled for your most productive times. Make sure that these most productive times are not wasted on the easier tasks that could be done in other contexts.

Preparing for your contexts allows you to work at full potential for each situation. And that’s the key to maximizing every moment.

What are some ways you’ve managed the unique contests of your life?

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