101 Useful Things You Can Do in 15 Minutes or Less

By Julie Rains on 1 April 2013 12 comments

Do you have 15 minutes to spare?

You can't tackle a long-term project or a complicated problem that requires deep concentration and uninterrupted thinking in the busyness of a typical day. But there are many things you can accomplish in 15 minutes or less. These can help boost your career, manage your finances, strengthen relationships, reduce clutter, save money, improve your health, and lots, lots more.

So the next time you have 15 minutes to fill, fill it with something productive. (See also: 25 Ways to Take Five Minutes for Yourself)


  1. Document recent career-related accomplishments for use in your LinkedIn profile, private resume, upcoming interview, or performance review.
  2. Ask your boss if the company will pay fees for your professional development, such as the cost to attend an industry conference or a certification exam that will allow you to earn a professional designation.
  3. Practice a speech or short presentation.
  4. Get ready for a meeting instead of showing up unprepared. Define what you want to get accomplished, such as approval for a decision.
  5. Offer yourself as a resource to a valued colleague or customer via a short email, LinkedIn message, or handwritten note, particularly if you are looking to expand your professional presence and build your portfolio.
  6. Follow up with a colleague, vendor, employee, whoever to make sure a task has been completed. If yes, express gratitude; if no, make a note to troubleshoot obstacles soon.
  7. Reserve a book from the library that will help you in your career. Ask your boss, mentor, coworkers, customers, and friends for recommendations if you don't have a list of must-read titles.
  8. Design an online survey to assess satisfaction among customers, employees, or groups your team serves. Use free versions of Survey Monkey or a similar tool.
  9. Ask a trusted and discriminating friend for input on ways that you can improve communications.
  10. Sign up for and/or try a new automated tool to see if you can recruit and organize people more efficiently.
  11. Join your college or university alumni network via LinkedIn or consider another one of these 25 career changes you can make today.
  12. For job hunters, start or revitalize your search by naming 10 companies you admire.
  13. Conduct research on a desirable employer by reading about their products, getting familiar with its history, identifying those in your network with ties to the company, or reading latest news so that you will be prepared when you conduct an informational interview or participate in a phone interview.
  14. Visit the careers section of targeted employers, locate opportunities that match your qualifications, and apply for a position or identify new skills you can acquire to increase your market value.
  15. Send a congratulatory note or acknowledge someone else's accomplishment as a kind gesture and way to show respect for a colleague.


  1. Determine how much life insurance you need. Remember to consider the economic value of a stay-at-home parent. Find an insurance calculator online or visit this one from LIFE Foundation.
  2. Learn the rationale for getting an umbrella (insurance) policy and decide if you need personal liability coverage.
  3. Figure out whether you still need collision coverage on your car, especially if you drive an older model.
  4. Check your homeowners' policy to make sure that you have replacement insurance, which is coverage based on how much you would need to replace the home (not just get a payout on the depreciated value).
  5. Contact your insurance agent to make adjustments to your coverage, if needed.
  6. Set up and/or update alerts on your credit card and bank accounts. You might set up an alert to notify you when your credit card payment is due but yet unpaid or your checking account balance falls below a certain amount.
  7. Gather coins from inside furniture cushions, junk drawers, or other places; store your coins in a sturdy canister for an upcoming trip to the bank, where you can cash in your change.
  8. Transfer excess funds from PayPal to your bank account.
  9. Set up automatic contributions to your Health Savings Account or transfer funds on a one-time basis for an upcoming visit, procedure, or prescription so you'll get a tax break for health expenses.
  10. Cash in rewards from credit cards, claiming statement credits or requesting gift cards you know you'll spend quickly.
  11. Clean out your wallet, find receipts that need reimbursement, and make plans to spend unused gift cards.
  12. Set up an online savings account for recurring expenses, a large purchase, or emergency fund.
  13. Improve control of your finances by a) identifying non-monthly but recurring expenses such as property taxes, car insurance, etc; and b) setting aside money in a savings account to pay these bills when they come due.
  14. Set up electronic reminders to review free credit reports, one of many money management tasks that you can handle quickly.
  15. Open an account with an online brokerage firm.
  16. Contribute to a regular investment account or retirement account with your brokerage firm, making a one-time deposit or setting up automated monthly transfers.
  17. Review your profiles on various financial accounts, verifying your email address, security questions, phone numbers, bank account information, and card numbers. Update or delete information to keep things current.
  18. Update beneficiaries on your retirement accounts, making changes online or starting the process by completing and mailing forms.
  19. Check on the status of an IRA rollover and take the next step to complete the move from your former employer's 401(k) plan to an IRA.
  20. Create a file or folder (paper or electronic) for all of your tax information. You may need to accumulate records throughout the year as many organizations send reports after a tax-related event instead of mailing statements at tax time.
  21. Document charitable activity that has happened recently. For example, note the cost of supplies for bake sales, value of items donated to Goodwill or yard sales benefiting non-profit organizations, and mileage associated with volunteer travel.
  22. Review bank and bank card statements for items relating to tax deductions, which may include property taxes and freelance expenses, such as professional subscriptions.
  23. Make a last-minute contribution to retirement and/or health savings accounts, lowering your tax bill.
  24. Decide how you are going to spend or save your tax refund (if one is coming to you) before money is deposited into your bank account.


  1. Respond to an invitation. Let the host or hostess know of your intentions, whether you can attend the event or not.
  2. Send a note of encouragement to someone who has experienced turmoil in her life recently.
  3. Take care of a chore that your spouse, roommate, or friend hates to do, such as arranging a babysitter for a date night, emptying out the dishwasher, or finding a movie that both of you will enjoy watching together.
  4. Tell your beloved that you love him (or her) in person, through a handwritten note, or via text message.
  5. Read a short book or a chapter of a longer book to your child.
  6. Call a friend on the phone. You can make a genuine connection yet politely end the conversation within 15 minutes.
  7. Take a moment to set a lunch date with a friend.
  8. Say "no" to a request that doesn't sync with your personal or professional goals.


  1. Mix up a breakfast smoothie before you head out the door for a busy day.
  2. In the evening, get ready for mornings by making garlic cheese grits or breakfast burritos.
  3. Toss dinner in the crock pot. Choose shredded buffalo chicken, pork roast, pot roast with vegetables, or another one of these cheap and easy dishes.
  4. Fix veggie tortillas with black beans, tomatoes (in sauce, salsa, or diced form), taco seasoning, and chopped vegetables, topped with guacamole or sour cream; or choose another dish among these five-minute healthy dinners.
  5. Prepare a hearty meal with lettuce, leftover chicken or meat, and other salad add-ins from your pantry or refrigerator.
  6. Create an elegant appetizer with a few ingredients that you already have on hand, like cream cheese and salsa or similar recipes.
  7. Make a family-sized or potluck-ready dessert in the oven using boxed cake mix and a few other items. Note that baking time takes longer, but you can put together the ingredients in just a few minutes if you have the items on hand.
  8. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a made-for-one dessert on this list.
  9. Make energy bars in the microwave. Try this recipe and make adjustments that work for your preferences (like substituting honey for corn syrup).
  10. Prepare a side dish by cutting up vegetables and serving them raw with dip or roasting them in the oven at 450 degrees with olive oil and salt (roasting takes longer than 15 minutes, but the prep time should take about 5-10 minutes).
  11. Put leftovers in a meal-sized container to take to work for lunch.
  12. Start planning meals for the next week. Find new favorites in the Food and Drink section of Wise Bread or the "Top 20" in various categories (such as pasta, chicken, or "easy") at allrecipes.com.
  13. Calculate your weekly expenses for groceries so that you can set a goal to control or reduce this amount. Also, note expenses for dining out so that you won't overspend in another food and drink category.


  1. Empty out the dishwasher or load and run the dishwasher. You might include your kids' toys or other everyday items in one of your loads.
  2. Time yourself when handling a household chore, such as putting up a load of newly laundered clothes, making coffee for the next morning, or taking out the trash. You'll probably find that the task doesn't take as long as you think.
  3. Clean drains with baking soda and vinegar.
  4. Polish your stainless steel appliances with olive oil.
  5. Change sheets or towels or both.
  6. Put away shoes, books, and anything else that unintentionally gets left on the living room floor.
  7. Vacuum or sweep one room of your house, the outside steps, or the deck or patio.
  8. Find missing socks (see tips on where to look).
  9. Freeze food that will not be consumed but will go bad in a few days. For example, peel and freeze bananas for smoothies, toast and food-process bread for breadcrumbs, and save vegetables and beans for soup.
  10. Clear a small surface in your house or office such as a bedside table or corner of your desk.
  11. Read a chapter of classic books that you typically don't have time to read. Download titles (like "Anna Karenina" or "Moby Dick") for free.
  12. Start or add to a list of books to read (I use Evernote to keep and maintain an electronic list that I won't misplace).
  13. Clean out your car, or tidy at least one section.
  14. Check out potential contractors on Angie's List or public review sites in addition to asking for referrals from friends.
  15. Schedule an appointment to get a quote from a qualified professional on home repair projects that are out of your league.
  16. Pull out cloth napkins and use them instead of paper ones for at-home meals.
  17. Set aside old t-shirts and use them as rags, or consider up-cycling them into cloth napkins or other objects.
  18. Prune trees or shrubbery.
  19. Cut flowers and place in a vase.
  20. Prepare your garden space by pulling weeds, tilling the soil, removing rocks, planting seeds, or watering plants.
  21. Check trees, plants, etc. for growth and harvest fruit or vegetables from your garden.
  22. Go through items in one closet, one drawer, one shelf, etc. to find things that you no longer need or want. Place usable but unwanted items in a bag or box.
  23. Place bags or boxes of unwanted stuff in the car. If you have enough time left in this 15 minutes, carry stuff to a drop-off site. If not, remember to make a stop when you are commuting or running errands.
  24. Finish reading an old magazine and toss in the recycling bin.
  25. Tidy up your inbox for 15 minutes or less: archive emails, delete emails with expired offers, and/or place a filter on emails to make checking your inbox faster and easier.

Health and Fitness

  1. Take a walk alone to help you relax and clear your mind.
  2. Conduct a walking meeting with a coworker or step outside with your spouse and/or children for family time.
  3. Jump rope or do bodyweight exercises from "15 Ways to Exercise in Under 5 Minutes."
  4. Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator.
  5. Run or walk a mile.
  6. Train for the swim portion of a sprint triathlon.
  7. Make an appointment to get a health screening according to your age or risk factor. Check out ways to find free or cheap health resources to get what you need if cost is a concern.
  8. Do a self exam of whatever body part may need attention, including your skin.
  9. Make a dentist appointment for yourself, your spouse, or your children if you are not yet on a regular schedule.
  10. Stretch. If you don't have a routine already, consider these exercises to build flexibility.
  11. Wrap a present with supplies you have on hand.
  12. Post for vacation time and/or reserve time on your calendar to take time off, whether you are staying at home or taking a trip.
  13. Poll your Facebook friends about must-do experiences in your choice of vacation spot or ask about favorite vacation places if you are undecided about where to go.
  14. Ask a friend if you can borrow camping items or find out where you can acquire durable items cheaply so you won't blow your travel budget on equipment.
  15. Set up alerts to find cheap airfare for your next trip.
  16. Get ready for tomorrow, whether it's making a to-do list or packing a bag for a fun outing.

Even if you are super busy, you should have snippets of time throughout the day to get things done. Don't spend spare moments doing the same things, like checking game scores and stats, commenting on status updates, and reviewing emails. Use my list or think of things you can handle in 15 minutes or less. Then, you'll have time to contemplate more complex issues or simply enjoy blissful unproductivity whenever you want.

How do you like to spend spare moments during the day?

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Guest's picture

Great tips! I always clean and workout in my free time if I'm not too exhausted. My favorite tip is the first one about updating your LinkedIn profile, I feel like I constantly neglect mine and don't use it for enough interaction so posting about interviews and accomplishments sounds like a great way to promote yourself and interact with your peers.

Julie Rains's picture

Cleaning up and working out are generally the way I fill extra moments also. But I may neglect other areas so I thought it would be interesting to see what I could accomplish in spare minutes -- more than I first realized. Glad you enjoyed the article!

Guest's picture

This is such a great read for people who are always on the go! I know many people who like to stay busy AT ALL TIMES even in that spare 15 minutes.

Julie Rains's picture

I like to relax AND be productive, which are generally mutually exclusive. But I realized that if I could get some key things done quickly then I would feel better about taking a break. So, I hoped to list meaningful things that just took a few minutes. Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed the post.

Guest's picture

This is a great list. If you completed just one of these each month you would improve yourself a lot financially and/or personally.

Julie Rains's picture

Glad you liked the list. I tried to include items that people (including me!) may think are time consuming but really aren't, particularly ones that can help manage your finances.

Guest's picture

Thanks, Julie. Now I know what to do with my next free 15 minutes. I especially like #15—send a congratulatory note. If Twitter counts, I can get out at least 5 notes in that time.

Julie Rains's picture

Love the idea about using Twitter, great for giving someone a shout out. You could also use Facebook or an email. I'll add that though saying congrats may seem like a small thing, others -- esp. those who don't like to brag or draw attention to themselves -- really appreciate the gesture.

Guest's picture

What a great, massive list! I like the idea to encourage your spouse, that's important. Sometimes they can get stressed out, and you can do so much to encourage them and lower their stress level. And the tip about an extra PayPal account . . . I think I have one I'll need to close, thanks!

Julie Rains's picture

Glad you like the list! The simplest gestures can often have long-lasting benefits, and most of us need encouragement. Thanks for reading.

Guest's picture

I actually just transferred money from my PayPal to my bank account. I didn't even know that it worked that way until i got a refund for an item and I didn't see it in my bank account.I then had to transfer the money back to my bank account. But i changed the PayPal settings so hopefully that's no longer a problem,

Julie Rains's picture

Small things, over time and added together, can make a big difference. Thanks for sharing!