Oswald Letter

Take control of your time in five minutes or less

Five Minutesby Dan Oswald

We live in a world where everything moves fast and is interconnected. There was a time when 20 miles may have represented an entire day’s journey. Now we can travel that distance in less than 20 minutes. And information moves even faster. We learn about things that are occurring halfway around the world almost as they happen. Yet despite the fact that we can get so much more done in a day than our ancestors could ever imagine, we still feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

All of us begin each day with exactly the same number of hours—24. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. If we don’t guard those hours, minutes, and seconds, we’ll waste them. That can happen in a number of ways. Often, because we are so connected, we allow others to dictate our day. We find ourselves responding to others instead of setting our own priorities. An e-mail comes in and we respond almost instantly—it’s what people expect. The phone rings, and we pick it up. Someone else is again dictating our day.

I think we all need to guard against wasting the precious time we’ve been given each day or allowing others to determine how we spend it. Because it’s what we do with the time we have each day that makes the difference. And that’s the question, isn’t it? Do we make a difference with the hours we are given?

Once we begin to guard our time and make sure we use it productively, it’s astonishing what we can accomplish. Consider the impact you can have on your own life and those around you by doing these five simple things that take five minutes or less:

  1. Write a “thank you” note. It’s not hard, and it doesn’t take long to jot down a few sentences that convey your appreciation for another person. But the gesture is significant. The other day I received a handwritten thank-you from a young boy. It was meaningful to me. Here, in a world where most communication requires an electronic device, is a simple five-sentence letter that speaks volumes about the person who took the time to send it.
  2. Walk down the hall and speak with a colleague you typically don’t see during the day. In just five minutes you can learn something about the person and what’s happening in her life. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but a few minutes of attention focused on someone who might just need it can go a long way toward establishing a relationship. You might be amazed to learn what you have in common with people you seldom see or talk to around the office.
  3. Set a goal. It doesn’t take long to come up with something meaningful that you want to achieve. In less than five minutes you can write down that goal and tack it on your bulletin board or slip it in a drawer you open every day. That written goal can serve as a daily reminder of something you want to accomplish. Maybe your goal is to write one “thank you” note a week for a year or to spend five minutes with every person in your office during the next 12 months. Whatever it is, jot it down.
  4. Find the answer to one question. We all wonder about things every day. Why is something done a certain way? What’s the definition of a word we’ve seen or heard? Who was the first person to do something? It doesn’t take long to learn something new. Type a few words into Google and spend five minutes discovering the answer to something you’re curious about. Knowledge is power, and in today’s world, it doesn’t take long to discover the answers to our questions.
  5. Quiet time. Take five minutes to shut everything out. As I said, we live in a world where we’re constantly connected. Our phones provide us with the ability not only to speak to others but also to text, e-mail, and browse the Internet. And that’s just scratching the surface of what these handy devices can do. But I encourage you to spend five minutes each day in peace and quiet. Put it on your calendar. Five minutes each day with the phone off, the computer off, everything turned off. Who knows what you can dream up in those few minutes when nothing or no one else is in control.

I’m sure you can come up with your own list of things you can accomplish in just five minutes. In fact, take five minutes right now and come up with your own list of things you can do in just five minutes a day. Then make it a daily habit to spend some of your precious time doing them. Five minutes represents less than one percent of your day. What are you doing with your time that will really make a difference?