The 5 minute rule
Updated: Mar 3
Your time is your most precious commodity. In this blog I reflect on how busyness can stop you from being effective, and how 5 minute tasks can boost your productivity.
efficiency /ɪˈfɪʃənsi/ noun
the ability to accomplish something competently with the minimum expenditure of time and effort
I generally consider myself quite an efficient person, and most of the time I stay on top of my workload. However, over recent months this has not always been the case, and my to do list feels like it's getting longer and longer.
Equally I feel like every time I open my inbox I'm at risk of getting sucked into an email black-hole. You know, the one where you mean to spend just a few minutes 'checking-in' and before you know it you're several hours into that inbox with nothing ticked off your to do list and you're due in your next meeting?
The problem is that the busier I get, the longer the to do list and the more emails in the inbox, the less productive I feel I become and the more inertia I feel. My usual time efficiency starts to waiver and doubts start to creep in. This is compounded of course by those really big challenging tasks that I need to 'reserve a good space for', 'block out a half day for', but feel increasing unable to protect my time to do so. Everything starts to feel insurmountable somehow.
Then the other day, I read a really interesting take on time efficiency, and its principle message was very simple,
"If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now."
Reading this, I stopped in a moment of reflection and thought about how my current workload was making me feel, about my available time and how I was using it. I looked at my to do list - it was longer than it had been in months, and everything on it was big tasks, all much longer than 5 minutes. All except one. So, in that moment I did that one task. It took 3 minutes. It had been on my list for 3 months.
I felt a mixture of satisfaction and silliness. Why had I let this simple 5 minute task stay on the list for so long and why was every other task not broken down so that I could achieve my goals more easily? Sounds simple, but the reality of being busy is we sometimes lose the ability to see the bigger picture and get stuck in a mixture of procrastination and overwhelm.
So how can this 5 minute concept help, surely I still have the long to do list just with one less task? Yes, but through thinking about this simple message I harnessed an opportunity to reflect on my time efficiency. For me it was a moment to remember that time is my most precious commodity.
So what is so magic about 5 minutes?
5 minutes is likely to be long enough to write a simple email, answer a basic question, or complete a short task
5 minutes is long enough to task yourself with your next step in a larger challenge or to start to plan
5 minutes might just be the perfect time for a moment of reflection; long enough to take stock just briefly without rumination
Of course, not all tasks can be compartmentalised in this way, nor should they be, but simply doing a task so that it can leave the to do list, or taking 5 minutes to take stock, can be incredibly freeing and can kick-start some much needed productivity.