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How to Maximize Downtime: 7 Ways to Crush a Half Hour

Those awkward breaks between classes are meant for something better than scrolling through your social feed. Here’s how to use those 30 minutes like a boss.

How much can you get done in half an hour?

When you’re in that weird nether region where you have 30 minutes to burn between classes, the challenge of using that short space can just add to your stress. If you’re juggling a full course load, a handful of extracurricular activities, and a part-time job to boot, you may be tempted to shut down your brain and unlock your phone. But being so busy is precisely why it’s important to make the most of this minibreak.

What if we told you a half hour is often all you need to refresh your body and mind, get in a power study session, or even sleep for a few minutes? We consulted a handful of experts and found that it’s not hard at all to be productive between classes. Here are seven ways to maximize those minutes and feel more positive about your day’s accomplishments.

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1. Lock in what you just learned

Stop us if this sounds familiar: You go to every lecture and take fastidious notes, yet by the time midterms roll around, you’ve forgotten nearly everything you learned over the past several weeks. Good news: This isn’t your fault.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada studied this very phenomenon, which they deem “The Curve of Forgetting.” TL;DR: If you’re not regularly reviewing the information you’re learning, you’ll forget almost all of it after 30 days.

The good news is, 30 minutes per day is a perfect window for reviewing what you’ve learned and helping commit it to memory. Latha Ramchand, dean and professor of finance at the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, recommends writing down a series of three points:

  • 3 things from class you can recall
  • 3 things that were unclear that might require more time to study
  • 3 questions for your instructor for the next time the class meets

Consider doing this exercise with a classmate, who “might recall three totally different items” than yours, says Ramchand, and you’ll be well on your way to fighting that curve of forgetting.

2. Use an app to clear your head

use an app to clear your head
Long Island University Chief of Institutional Research and Effectiveness Andy Person recommends a quick meditation to students who are looking for useful ways to fill those gaps in their schedule. “After a long class, a 30-minute break is the perfect time to refresh and reset your mind for a great rest of the day,” he says.

Meditation isn’t as touchy-feely as many believe it to be. It’s less about mantras and chanting than it is about simply clearing your mind of the everyday stress and clutter. And that’s often as simple as doing a breathing exercise to slow down your brain for a few minutes.

There are several great apps that can lead you through a low-maintenance meditation exercise — we like Headspace, Calm, and Stop, Breathe & Think.

Dorm Room Workouts

3. Get fit without getting sweaty

Thirty minutes is a perfect amount of time to catch some exercise, according to Certified Personal Trainer Pete McCall, who is also an adjunct professor in exercise science at San Diego Mesa College and host of the All About Fitness podcast. And exercise comes with a bonus: It boosts your brain-enhancing neurotransmitters, so you may be sharper for your next class.

McCall recommends doing one or both of the following two back-to-back circuit workouts, which don’t require any equipment. Each level takes about 10 minutes to complete, and you can do it in the school gym — or anywhere you can find some space — without even changing out of your street clothes.

Note: The links below will give you a general idea of correct form, but you may need to modify them depending upon your workout space and fitness level.

Level 1 – Try to complete the following moves in order for 3–4 circuits. Do each move for 30–45 seconds.

Level 2 – Try to complete the following moves in order for 2–4 circuits.

“The goal is to get the heart rate up a bit — but not too much, so you don’t get too sweaty,” says McCall. “Use the muscles that are affected by being seated for extensive periods of time: glutes, deep core stabilizers, and inner thighs.”

McCall recommends an open space or even a quiet part of the school library to plank and lunge during break time. But if you’re self-conscious, that’s OK. Try those circuit workouts while bingeing Netflix in your dorm, and use the next tip to burn off extra energy. And don’t just limit yourself to one between-class break: Spreading out multiple 8–12-minute chunks of activity throughout the day will help keep your mind focused, he adds.

4. Step outside your usual routine

get moving on campus maximize downtime
Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in one place to connect with your senses. In fact, you can practice its principles while physically moving as far as you can from your current location to find a completely different headspace.

Florida Southern College President Dr. Anne Kerr suggests that students set a goal of visiting every single building on their campus. And that’s no small feat for many schools, especially big state university campuses.

“It is interesting to get a fuller perspective of what is happening around campus,” says Kerr, “and these drop-by walks can be really fascinating and help students feel a greater sense of pride in their campuses.”

That’s to say nothing of the nonacademic places on your campus, from man-made spots like museums or gardens to natural wonders like woods or beaches. Mitchell College Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Welsh recommends finding those unique spots on campus “to shift your perspective and feelings that day.”

Yearning to make it just a tad productive? Plan your walking tour around your most inconvenient errand (one that involves a campus building that’s generally off your route), such as dropping off a library book, printing out a paper, or checking your mailbox.

Power napping tips

5. Grab a power nap

It’s the answer to your prayers: Sleep experts agree that getting some quick shut-eye between classes can be hugely beneficial.

“Short naps have been scientifically shown to boost alertness, memory, and mood,” says Dr. Sara Mednick, an associate professor of psychology at UC Riverside and the author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. And 20–30 minutes is the optimal duration for that boost.

Just don’t go beyond that — more than a half hour of midday shut-eye can affect your nighttime sleep cycle, says Dr. Aneesa Das, a sleep specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. For that same reason, the ideal nap window for your body is somewhere between 2 and 4 p.m.

So go ahead and find yourself a quiet, comfortable place for a reenergizing siesta. Many schools even have dedicated nap spaces. Just don’t forget: Naps are a supplement, not a substitute, for regular sleep. Experts still recommend 7–9 hours for adults between the ages of 18 and 25. (We know — easy for us to say. We don’t always hit that benchmark either.)

6. Check in with your peeps

connect with friends
Who are the people in your life who really matter? Are you actually staying in touch with them instead of just liking their Instagram posts? It takes very little effort to check in beyond social media, and that short break between classes is a perfect time to do so.

At the University of Houston’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, Director David Cook has his incoming students complete a unique exercise in which they list all their values, dreams, and goals. He then asks them to list all the people in their lives who are attached to those high ideals. Those are the people to check in with, from family members to peers to favorite high school teachers or coaches.

“We ask [our students] to touch base with those people at least three times over one quarter,” Cook says. “That can be anything from sending them a text to a full email to forwarding them a link to an interesting article — whatever. These are people you don’t necessarily need to spend an hour talking to, for instance, but it’s still important to keep in touch.”

Not only will they appreciate hearing from you but you’ll feel good about maintaining your personal relationships in a more meaningful way.

7. Connect with your professors

Nearly every expert we interviewed touched on a similar suggestion: Use that free time to connect with your instructors. Maybe your break doesn’t coincide with a professor’s office hours, but that’s no excuse. You still might be able to have a brief conversation after class, or you can drop them a follow-up email to ask questions about a recent lesson. Any connection you make helps build a relationship outside of lectures or group sessions. This can help you to gain a deeper connection to your subjects, and it can also help you start building a network of people with connections in your field and future career.

“[Breaks in between classes are] an ideal time to discuss a concept, get professors’ advice on career and internship opportunities, and just get to know some fascinating folks,” says Kerr.

Isn’t that worth a half hour of your time?

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