There was a study done that asked parents to think about the amount of money they would put away over 18 years or 6,574 days, give or take, depending on leap years. Which one was easier for the parents to think about? Yep, the 6,574 or so days. Even though the number is bigger, the smaller chunks of time seemed to smooth out the concept. It was easier for the parents to approach saving money with more chunks of smaller amounts of time. What does this have to do with productivity? EVERYTHING!
Let me tell you why. So, how’s that big project coming along? You know, the systems overhaul before the end of the year your boss is expecting? Or maybe it’s the promise you made to yourself to not begin any kind of holiday anything before you finish purging all the bedroom closets and dressers. And let’s not even mention the garage cleanout!
The reality is that our brains go into overload mode when faced with the idea of something so big that it can’t find an entry point. It just happens that 15 minutes is an excellent starting place. Yes, just 15 minutes!
Say a free 15-minute block in your schedule pops up. Your client is running late or there was no traffic this morning. Think you can’t get anything done with that surprise gift of time? Think again. There are 96 blocks of 15 minute increments in a day — if you can capture just four of those, it will gain you an extra hour of productivity in a day.
Here are five things to do in 15 minutes. I’m sure you can think of others, too. You’ll be amazed at what you can get done in such a (relatively) short amount of time. Now, go and get your timer.
(1) Start something. Just start anything. Why not that aforementioned looming big project? The one you have no idea how or where to begin. Set your timer for 15 minutes, and begin thinking it through. Scratch out an outline, and you’re on your way.
(2) Organize. Sift through a junk drawer, nightstand, car trunk, or the side area of your desk. Trash the oddball receipts, sort out the paperclips and rubber bands, and get rid of the expired grocery coupons and same with the pens that don’t work. Hey, there’s the earring you’ve been looking for. Whose tennis ball is that? And look, there’s the electric bill.
(3) Read. The average adult reads 250-300 words a minute, which equals 3,750 or 4,500 words in 15 minutes. Multiply that by 30 for an average of 112,500 or 135,000 words per month. According to Amazon, the median word count for a novel is 64,000. I’d say that’s two books for every 30-day period. And you thought you didn’t have any time to read!
(4) Return phone calls, particularly the ones you don’t want to make. The 15-minute parameter will force you to stick to the job at hand. It is the quickly-ripping-off-the-Band-Aid theory. Think how much better you’ll feel in 20 minutes with those calls crossed off your list.
(5) Power through your email inbox. A short, to-the-point reply is better than none, and, remember, not all emails need to be answered. They do, however, need attention. File, delete, forward, act! Unclog that inbox.
There’s no special key to these magical 15 minutes, though there are some favored tools. Mine is a timer. A timer will get you there faster than imagining 15 minutes. Setting a timer for a specific block of time gives you a sense of urgency and puts a stop time on the task. Once the timer goes off, make sure to move on or reset the timer for an additional specific amount of time.
I want to be clear that I’m not advocating every minute of your day be filled with doing, doing, doing. “Doing nothing” is also very important. In my book, “doing nothing,” such as meditating, strategic thinking, or breathing techniques, is a misnomer. You actually are doing a ton of very important work while “doing nothing.” Never underestimate recharging and rest and the power of a few focused minutes!
Sara Caputo transforms how individuals, teams, and small businesses navigate workflow and increase productivity. Her work has been featured in Working Women, Success, and Forbes, as well as other national and regional publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.