Why the next ten minutes are the most important in your whole life

No watch on earth, no matter how expensive, is going to give you an extra minute of your life. No camera, no matter how elegant, is going to freeze time. When we talk about time management, we try to save time – but time doesn’t save, it passes.

We know this intuitively. That is why blog posts that tell you how to save time and get more time, for example by getting up early are so popular. I have cupboards full of gadgets that promised to make me more efficient. Oh well.

How I spend my time

I once spent two weeks doing a detailed time and motion study on my time. I learned three things:

  1. I flit restlessly between tasks like a child on hot sand, driven by interruptions and my need to tick stuff off a bottomless to-do list.
  2. Most of my time is spent on low-impact work: writing emails, tinkering with websites, project management, answering the phone and so on. You know what’s it like.
  3. Just occasionally, I did something important. Not necessarily big but definitely good like a seed or a smile.

If you’re lucky or careful, you work for fifty minutes an hour so you can spend ten minutes doing something like this: innovative, productive or exciting.

Just ten minutes

Here are some examples of things that take ten minutes but which have a high return on the time invested. I want to do more of this and less of the other stuff.

  • Find a life-enhancing new blog to read. Subscribe to it. (Try Brain PickingsSeth GodinThis Charming CharlieZen Habits.)
  • Listen to a podcast for a while and get inspired. (Try This American Life, Startup, Radiolab, 99% Invisible.)
  • Contact a friend that you haven’t spoken to for a while. (This is a good use for Facebook. Try also picking up the phone.)
  • Write someone a birthday card and actually post it. It’s a really nice thing to do.
  • Go on LinkedIn, find an old colleague, someone you admire, an exciting prospect and send them a message. You could end up with a new friend, a mentor or a new client.
  • Download a great game and enjoy it for a few minutes. Time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted time. (Try A Dark Room or the Internet Archive’s collection of 90s classic games. Look at SimIsle or LEGO Loco. I designed them.)
  • Write your diary.
  • Reflect on your new year’s resolutions. You know the ones you wrote LAST YEAR!
  • Turn ten minutes into an hour. Cancel a meeting. Take something off your to-do list. Email someone to say ‘No, I can’t help with that. Sorry.’
  • Pick one thing that’s broken in your company culture, business model, or working practices. Now brainstorm ways to fix it.
  • Write a blog post from the heart and share it with everybody. You get what you give, but sssh, don’t tell anyone!

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