The Amazing Productive Value Of Five Minutes

Sometimes, the most powerful changes we can make in our lives are surprisingly small.

An excellent example of this is how much more productive we can be in our lives just by recapturing the little periods of time in between major activities. Let’s say that I’ve put on some water to boil for tea, and I know that between the water heating and the tea steeping, there will be around five minutes of useful free time before my tea is ready.

Now, in the past I’ve typically used this time to browse Facebook, or perhaps read an article on Feedly, or just surf the web aimlessly. This wasn’t intentional use of my time, because I didn’t feel that “wasting” that tiny amount of time really meant anything. After all, what can you really do in five minutes?

There’s two main problems with this way of thinking.

First, there tends to be a lot of these little chunks of time throughout the day, and they add up quickly. I haven’t collected any real data, but it would not surprise me if, in a typical day, there were upwards of five or six of these periods. That comes out to almost half an hour of time that ultimately gets wasted. What would happen if you spent another half hour a day reading that book you’re trying to finish?

Second, there are absolutely ways to be productive and useful in five minutes or less. Yes, it’s true, the short time is limiting, especially in terms of activities which have a ramp up time (like writing, for example, where I clearly do better after getting into a groove). But if you look at your to-do list(s) (because you are maintaining stuff there, right?), you will surely find a number of little pesky chores that need to be done. Putting dishes away, responding to an e-mail (marginally acceptable, this really should be done in batch), wiping down the counters… the list goes on.

I’ve worked very hard to break this habit over the last month or so, with some very positive results. I’m far from perfect, but it’s clear that the habit of being intentional is just as important with short periods of time as it is in the grand scheme of things. So the next time you find yourself standing around waiting for the microwave to finish, instead of pulling out your phone and checking on the latest updates, pick some small bit of work and get it done.

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