How To Be Productive When You Only Have 5 Minutes

by Meredith Lepore

No matter how efficient I try to be, I usually feel like there is never enough time for anything. Sometimes, just thinking about the lack of time I have ends up overwhelming me so much that I waste time being anxious about that, instead of productively using the time that I do have.

But human beings can actually get a lot done throughout much of the day — even in very short amounts of time. Augosto Pinaud, author of the e-book 25 Productivity Tips , told Bustle, "It is possible to be extremely productive in spaces of five minutes, if you plan for the possibility of those. But if you don't plan them and hope that you will use them productively without any planning, what's going to happen is that you will waste a lot of those moments. The most curious thing is that many will not even notice that they waste an incredible amount of five-minute blocks. That is another trick." Any five minutes can change your day. Here are some expert tips:

Skim That Inbox

A flooded inbox is overwhelming, but to deal with it, you need to get the root of the problem. The average person who uses email for work sent and received a staggering 110 emails per day in 2012, according to The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm. And that was two years ago — the average volume of email may well have gone up since then. That said, a lot of the problem may be you. How many subscription emails and newsletters are you signed up for? Do you really need all of them? Do you write too many emails that could just be handled with a quick call, or by walking down the hall to ask the person? If you cut out nonessential emailing, it's much easier to tell what in your inbox really requires immediate attention. There are some great email apps (Boxer, Sanebox) that will help you get really organized, but it has to start with you.

Once you've got the volume under control, you need to make email triage part of your routine, especially when you have no time. Career blogger Amy Lynn Andrews advises dividing your emails into three categories: ones to respond to immediately, ones to be put on your to-do list, ones to be archived.

Straighten Up Your Desk

It's easy to let your desk become a bit of a home away from home (who else has eight pairs of shoes under theirs?), but clutter can slow you down dramatically. A 2013 OfficeMax study found that office clutter undermines productivity and motivation. Your desk doesn't need to look like a fashion blogger's, but you do need a clean workspace for the sake of efficiency.

Prioritize Activities

Career Coach Elaine Cafasso suggests figuring out what projects and activities you need to prioritize for the rest of the day, and how long they'll take. "That way, when you have your next free space in your schedule, you can choose the one that fits best in the time allowed," she told Bustle.

Plan Downtime

Peacock told Bustle that sometimes, the best motivation for productivity is thinking of the moment when you can relax and revitalize. "Having a goal in mind can definitely fuel productivity!"

Figure Out What Is Slowing You Down

Sales and Marketing expert Lisa Barber advises becoming aware of what is taking up space in your head. She told Bustle, "Most of your thoughts will typically be about things you are unable to influence at this moment in time. Perhaps you are dwelling on a past experience you don’t have closure with, or a future situation that doesn’t yet exist. If you have a bunch of things on your mind, it helps to offload them elsewhere. Jot down anything you need to act on that you haven’t yet added to your to-do list. This instantly creates space by freeing your mind from having to remember it over and over again, and allows you to review and take action at a more convenient date."


Believe it or not, you can do a lot of networking in a little bit of time. Try posting an article on LinkedIn or Twitter that may catch the attention of some people in your industry. Or write a long-overdue thank-you note, or a followup note to that person you met a couple of weeks ago. Or just chat up a co-worker you don't talk to much.


Pinaud advises trying this exercise for a week: Set a timer for multiple five-minute intervals so you can learn to be comfortable with the time period. This will help you learn what you can really accomplish in five minutes, which will help you become way more productive in the long run.

Take A Walk

If you are starting to feel overwhelmed by work, take a five-minute walk. Recent studies show it can do wonders for your health, but it can also really help your mind. Even if you can't get outside, just walk around your office floor, or up and down the stairs. It breaks up the monotony of your routine, and can give you a real refresher.

But if you can get outside, preferably to a wooded area, it is a little better. In 2009, University of Michigan researchers found that subjects who strolled through a nature setting saw a 20 percent improvement in tests for attention and focus. Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds. And if you don't work in the middle of a nature preserve, don't worry — according to the researchers, certain urban environments will get the job done. Walking on a slightly quieter street with a few trees can work, as can a stroll through a park. Even maybe looking at potted plants may help you concentrate better.

Photos: Bad Robot Productions, Giphy, CBS