By Amelia Bartlett

5 Productive Things to Do with Free Time on Your Phone


When you find yourself with free time, how do you usually spend it? I’m not talking about a long weekend where you have hours of free time to work on a project or clean the house. I am talking about the free time that happens in 5 and 10 minute bursts throughout every single day. […]

When you find yourself with free time, how do you usually spend it?

I’m not talking about a long weekend where you have hours of free time to work on a project or clean the house. I am talking about the free time that happens in 5 and 10 minute bursts throughout every single day.

These bursts of free time happen more often than most of us realize – because most of us just let that time pass us by. 5 or 10 minutes doesn’t feel like enough time to do anything important, so instead we scroll through Facebook or check and re-check our inbox without giving our productivity a second thought.

If you feel like you’re always behind on things — if you wish you had more time to read, or you never feel caught up on your finances, or you can’t find time to learn a new skill for work — this list is for you.

The apps curate below can give you as little as 1 productive minute of free time to a whole afternoon spent enriching yourself with new knowledge and skills. Each of these applications can be accessed from an iPhone or Android device, and all are certifiably more productive than scrolling mindlessly through Instagram or YouTube.

1. Mint | 3 – 15 minutes

Do you know how much you’re spending on your favorite indulgences? I didn’t until I started tracking my purchases; and I mean ALL of my purchases.

Just looking through my bank statements individually, with accounts scattered across different banks and a variety of expenditures that weren’t being recorded, I wasn’t getting the whole picture. Budgeting seemed impossible because I couldn’t deduce a solid baseline for how much my lifestyle was actually costing me.

Enter: Mint. I spend about 15 minutes per week on this app, and it’s the most productive 15 minutes I spend. When I connected each of my accounts and assets to Mint, I could navigate a comprehensive array of data, categorize my spending, and create reports that illustrated trends in my expenses.

Here are a few of the ways Mint has helped me save money, for free, and all from my phone:

  • Uncover frequently ignored expenses. Instead of seeing line-items in my bank statement that were overarching, like Amazon or Target, I could split those transactions into their categories: Home Goods, Entertainment, Snacks, Personal Care, and see just how much I was spending in each area. I found that at Target, I would Impulsively buy self-care products, resulting in an additional $50 per month.
  • Track cumulative spending. I had the feeling I was making a lot of Amazon purchases, with a steady stream of packages arriving at my door every week, but no concept of how much I was spending. At the end of the first month using Mint, I saw that I was spending well into the three digits on Amazon, more than I was spending on groceries, and it caused me to take a closer look at why I was spending so much.
  • Fight back against interest. Because interest charges are technically a transaction on your credit card statement, they show up individually in Mint. I had no idea how much I was paying per month in interest on my credit cards until I produced an easy report on the Interest Charges category. Armed with this information, I approached my credit card companies to lower my interest rates and even closed two accounts because they were so aggressive.

Staying on top of finances isn’t easy, but spending the few minutes you have on your commute to work one day each week will help you make better financial decisions effortlessly.

2. Headspace | 1 – 10 minutes

We could all use a little more head space. That’s their tagline and it’s true – mindfulness, meditation, and stillness are not always compatible with our busy daily lives. Yet, if you have as little as one minute free, you could listen to one of the Headspace app’s pre-recorded guided meditations and activities.

Headspace is unlike any guided meditation I’ve experienced. It’s down to earth, quirky at times, and there are little illustrations that accompany certain programs to illustrate concepts before you dive into a guided activity. Rather than focusing solely on emptying your mind of thoughts, Headspace has a vast library of programs and single-tracks to give you more ‘head space’ in a variety of areas in your life.

When you sign up, you’re gifted the first Basic pack for free. This is a great introduction to the app, the methodology behind Headspace, and a few simple meditations to get your practice started.

When you dig deeper into the app, there are packs that contain 10 sessions for:

  • Sports, featuring motivation, concentration, training, competition, and more.
  • Students, including leaving home and distractions.
  • Work & performance, featuring prioritization, productivity, finding focus, creativity, and more.
  • Self-esteem, relationships, sadness, grief, and so much more.

These guided meditations, which can be done with or without headphones, transport you from your current mental state to a more centered experience. Having used Headspace for months, I can attest to it being worth every moment of free time spent in the app.

3. TED | 10 – 20 minutes

TEDTalks aren’t just on YouTube! Possibly one of the best reasons to experience TEDTalks within the app is that there are no commercials. On YouTube, you’re constantly distracted by commercials, auto-loading the next video, and suggestions that often have little to do with what you’re watching, and more to do with sucking you into a mindless scroll-fest.

The TED app is free and organized for browsing, searching, and collecting TED Talks for later viewing. They even have a “Surprise Me” button that delivers unexpected, interesting videos that are typically under 20 minutes.

Similar to Spotify, TED has also developed curated playlists, from talks on love and relationships to “A day trip to Antarctica,” a collection of seven videos about the true last frontier on the arctic continent. If there’s a subject, concept, idea, or place you’ve ever been curious about, chances are that you’ll find more than one expert giving a 10 – 20 minute talk on the TED platform.

The app can access the entire TED library, and you can download talks for later viewing, or for listening if you’re going on a long road trip.

4. Blinkist | 5 – 20 minutes

If you like podcasts, you’ll love Blinkist. Similar to Cliff’s Notes, the team at Blinkist reads and summarizes thousands of books on an immense variety of subjects, then provides an audio summary of the key points.

If there are non-fiction books you have been wanting to read, Blinkist extracts the value for you, like the nuggets of wisdom you would have highlighted and a few key quotes that emphasize the book’s purpose or argument efficiently.

If you’ve ever read a nonfiction book and thought, “That could’ve been a blog post,” Blinkist does just that. Blinkist shortens hundreds of pages into 10-20 minute audio summaries accompanied by the transcript you can read in a fraction of that time, meaning you can take 5-20 minutes of free time and reap the benefits of an entire book.

5. Skillshare | 15  – 45 minutes (and more)

Graphic design, sewing, music production, photography, writing, cooking, interior design… where can you learn all of these on your phone? Skillshare: a video-based online education platform that hasn’t stopped growing since it began. Thousands of talented professionals have turned to Skillshare to create and share courses on the knowledge they’ve accumulated over the course of their career.

What sets Skillshare apart from other learning platforms is the condensed, succinct nature of their courses and the simple interactive system they’ve built for students.

Each class contains one or more videos, often includes one or more “assignments,” similar to homework, that students upload for critique, feedback, and peer review. But, if you don’t want to share your work, it’s completely optional!

If you’ve considered learning to code, picking up illustration, or just want to know how to take better pictures with your iPhone, there’s a class for you on Skillshare. Whenever you have 15 minutes to spare, you can be on your way to mastering a new skill right from your smartphone.