26 Ways to Be Productive in the Waiting Room

Whether it's a doctor's visit or tutoring, parents spend a lot of time waiting. A metro Detroit mom offers her ways to be more productive in the waiting room.

I had dropped my son off at his tutor and decided to spend the hour in the waiting room instead of squeezing in a few errands. I grabbed the last seat there and immediately pulled out my phone. The dad next to me chuckled and asked how we ever survived before smartphones. Magazines, we agreed, as the answer to his rhetorical question.

Every parent there had his or her eyes glued to a tiny screen; even the one who periodically glanced at her young son quietly playing with some toys.

Were any of us being all that productive in the waiting room, though – and, more importantly, could we be?

Ways we wait around

As a mother of three, including a child with autism, I feel like I’ve spent more than half of my mom life in various waiting rooms.

While my son’s after-school activities consist of occupational therapy, speech therapy, music therapy and social skills groups, the other two kids continue to spend considerable amounts of time at tennis, gymnastics and violin lessons.

And, of course, there are the countless doctors’ appointments, visits to the dentist’s office and now the orthodontist. With all these activities and appointments, I am an expert on quickly spotting the old waiting-room magazines desperately needing to be replaced.

Like the parents at the tutoring center, I spend – or should I say waste – most of that time checking email, getting updates through social media or mindlessly searching the internet.

Reclaim your productivity

On the day that my phone suddenly became uninteresting, I put it away and had the most productive 60 minutes ever outside of work or home.

I wrote this list of 26 things to do while stuck in a waiting room. Some of the ideas are useful. Others are meant to be nurturing. The rest are just plain silly.

Here’s how you, too, can be more productive in the waiting room.

  1. Always keep a notebook with you and use it to make a to-do list, shopping list or as a place to jot down random thoughts and ideas.
  2. Write a list of conversation starters – beyond “How was your day?” – and then use them during a family dinner. Ask questions like, “If you were president, what would you do?” or “If our dog could talk, what do you think he would say?”
  3. Draw a picture and give it to your child after her session. It doesn’t matter how bad you think your art skills are; your child will appreciate it. Maybe even more than you love your kid’s artwork.
  4. Talk to other parents – especially if you have a child with special needs or unique challenges. It can be helpful and therapeutic to talk to others who understand the ups and downs of raising a child like yours.
  5. Take a nap. Aren’t we all just a little sleep deprived?
  6. Read something that is not on a screen. Remember what it feels like to actually hold a book or newspaper? Some waiting-room magazines are actually current.
  7. Not a reader? Listen to a book or podcast.
  8. If your child is receiving therapy like OT, PT or speech, revisit therapy goals. When was the last time you and your child’s therapist looked at goals together? What are your goals and how do they compare to the therapist’s?
  9. Exercise discreetly (or see who wants to join you for squats and lunges). How? Try these exercises designed to be done in your car.
  10. Ask if you can observe a session. This may give you some fresh ideas for things to try at home.
  11. Just for fun, think of things you probably should not do in a waiting room – like starting the wave, trying to engage other parents in a game of Simon Says or yelling, “Free drinks in the break room!”
  12. Organize pictures and videos on your smartphone. If you’re one of those people who just can’t put down the phone, be productive and delete old photos or videos; especially the unidentifiable ones taken by your child. Similarly, clean out your inbox.
  13. Breathe. Take some time to relax and meditate, even if you are just focusing on your breath. It’s amazing what a few calming, deep breaths can do.
  14. Write out clues for an at-home scavenger hunt and use them next time your kids are looking for something to do.
  15. Bring cookbooks and find new recipes. If a sibling is with you, ask her to help. Then maybe she won’t complain about dinner.
  16. Plan menus for the week, including school lunches. If you’re fresh out of ideas, ask another parent (unless your child only eats pasta).
  17. If you’re waiting with siblings, have them bring homework and offer to help.
  18. Play I Spy with your other child or children.
  19. If siblings are usual tagalongs, make a waiting room bag and fill it with activities that are only done in a waiting room. Include things like crayons, stickers, coloring books and a Ziploc bag filled with orphan Legos.
  20. Make yourself a waiting room bag. Include items such as magazines, cards or stationery, knitting projects or other crafts.
  21. Pen a handwritten note to your spouse, child, child’s teacher or a friend.
  22. Send an email (or letter) to an elected official advocating for something you feel passionate about. I know a lot of people who do this after elections.
  23. Make a list of your child’s strengths and refer to it when he’s having a particularly bad day.
  24. Write an encouraging letter to yourself for when you are having a particularly bad day.
  25. Write in a journal or start a blog. Yes – I really wrote this entire list while sitting in the waiting room.
  26. Come up with ideas to add to this list and post them in the comment section.

How many hours do you think you spend in waiting rooms – and what do you do to be more productive in the waiting room? Tell us in comments.

This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated regularly.


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