How to Boost Productivity & Happiness in 5 Minutes
5 minutes isn’t much time, but you may be surprised what you can accomplish in short, focused bursts.
Having a clean kitchen makes me happy. But sometimes, a BIG MESSY KITCHEN feels like a monster I have to battle, wrangle, and tame, especially if Joe’s been cooking (Sorry, honey). Often irritated with the task, I started timing myself and discovered it wasn’t the monster my reluctant brain imagined. Each individual task—putting away clean dishes, loading the dishwasher, handwashing pans, cleaning the countertops—took less than 5 minutes to complete.
What’re five minutes? Committing 5 minutes to anything is NO BIG DEAL. Right?
So, I cut the monster down to size, tackling it five minutes at a time. And doing so, I felt less overwhelmed and more in control of my schedule. The kitchen no longer gobbled up large chunks of my time, just short, manageable breaks.
This made me think… what else could I get done in 5 minutes? And how might I apply the 5-minute-rule to other “monsters” shadowing my happiness and productivity? I see you, Gremlin!
Sometimes, we lack productivity because we’re too overwhelmed to start. Focusing on the idea of a project, especially one we don’t feel like doing, prevents us from taking action. Procrastination only gives these project-monsters fangs and claws, inflating them by causing more anxiety and irritation the longer they go undone.
But often, the idea of the task doesn’t match the reality. If we stop thinking about it and start doing it, we find that it’s not as bad as we thought. Even better, we create space and energy for the things we really want to commit our time to.
Everyone’s different, and it’s important for your happiness to go at your own pace. But here’s my list of 5-minute tasks to boost productivity and happiness.
To Better Your Environment:
Empty Dishwasher – Tackling a messy kitchen is easier with an empty dishwasher, so this action that takes around 4 minutes provides momentum for the next.
Load Dishwasher – Clocking in at closer to 5 minutes, this step is worth it for the pure satisfaction of hitting START.
Clean countertops – This task takes <3 minutes, depending on your kitchen size, but makes a huge difference in kitchen-appeal.
Water plants – Houseplants create a relaxing vibe in any home. Reward their efforts with a spritz and a drink.
Tidy a drawer – Tidy… not clean out—big difference. A quick fold of your underwear drawer or straightening of the office supplies in your desk helps relieve stress later when you might be searching for something you can’t find.
Clean out Fridge – For a quick wipe-down, keep cleaning wipes handy. Mayoclinic.org says to throw out leftovers after 3 or 4 days. Food poisoning definitely steals productivity and happiness.
Empty Trash – This takes <1 minute, making it one of the easiest tasks on our list, but it’s a nice touch, and it's good to stretch your legs.
Tidy the room – The small effort of folding a throw blanket, straightening books or magazines, or putting things away makes any room nicer to be in, especially if it’s a room you share with guests or housemates.
Clean out purse, backpack, or wallet – Avoid wallet-bulge and heavy-purse/backpack syndrome with a 5-minute purge. Do you even know what’s in there?
Sort Mail – Letting mail pile up creates stress and frustration, especially when you discover forgotten, overdue bills. Spare yourself by spending 5 minutes every few days to sort it. Like food poisoning, overdue bills steal happiness.
Make Your Bed – This is a biggie psychologically because it’s often the first task of the day, setting yourself up for more productivity. It's also such a lovely thing--getting into a made bed at the end of a busy day. For more on the importance of making your bed, read this amazing book, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World by William H. McRaven.
Organize your closet – Not clean… organize. Line up matching shoes. Hang up loose items. Put shirts with shirts and cosplay costumes with cosplay costumes.
Start Laundry/Put it away – Yes, laundry requires more than a five-minute commitment, but getting it started doesn’t, and that’s often the hardest part. Investing 5 minutes at the start forces you to get the rest of the job done.
Clean something often forgotten - Make-up brushes, pillowcases, throw blankets come to mind.
Dust your pics – Dusting your framed pictures will inevitably force you to think about the people and places in the images, inspiring happy thoughts.
Clean trash out of your car – There are few things more annoying than a loose water bottle rolling around in your backseat while driving. Spare yourself the annoyance.
5-Minute Purge - Stand in your closet (or any other cluttered place) and choose 5 things to donate. You won't wear that bridesmaid's dress or last year's cosplay outfit again, right? Do this three or four times, and you'll have a bounty to take to a local charity.
To Better Your Work:
Straighten your desk – A clean, spacious workspace invites productivity. Plus, you’ll be happier working in a comfortable, enjoyable space.
Update your calendar – Mark off spent days. Pay attention to upcoming events. Add in new appointments (perhaps from the appointment cards you just cleaned out of your wallet 5 minutes ago).
Review your goals – A quick review of your previously written goals reminds you of what you’re working toward. Don’t have written goals? Hmm… Perhaps that’s a blog for a different day.
Make a list – Listing is a helpful tool for getting things done and staying focused. In <5 minutes, you can map out your day, your shopping list, or your next steps. I keep cool pens, pencils, and notebooks handy everywhere for this purpose. Marking things off a list is fun, too.
Edit a Paragraph – Though aimed more at my target audience, writers, this applies to everyone. Oscar Wilde said, “I spent all morning putting in a comma, and all afternoon taking it out.” Well, writers can’t commit that kind of time to a comma and don’t need to, anyway (see next item). The point is to make quality progress. 5 minutes on an awesome paragraph is better than a day spent on a lackluster chapter.
Find an app – To streamline efforts, like worries over commas, take 5 minutes to research apps. From identifying plants to goal setting to compiling recipes—there’s an app for just about anything you want to do. A go-to for me is Grammarly. It hunts down writing mistakes and advises me on how to fix them. 5 minutes of researching what I needed and downloading it has spared me hours in editing time.
Reread/Update an old blog – Another one for writers, but taking 5 minutes to read a previous chapter, old blog, or another writing sample may inspire something new. For blogs, I keep an idea file to stimulate ideas. Rereading a blog from years ago (like this gem about hobbies for characters) motivates me to keep going. Plus, the Google “feelers” like it when writers update their old work—it tells them you’re still around. Cute, little Google feelers!
Clean devices/tools – Taking an alcohol wipe to your screens helps you see things clearly. Keyboards, pens, books—everything collects dust and pet hair.
Scrum – Joe used to have software development meetings called Scrums, in which his team would discuss their progress in a short burst to identify positives, negatives, and a plan to move forward. A 5-minute scrum with your work partner, life partner, or hell, just yourself at the end of the day, can help you identify what’s working, what isn’t, and where to go from here.
Me, scrumming with myself: Hmm, the blog work is slow-going. Really want to get back to my fictional characters. But wait, remember your goals include novels & blogs, and this one’s nearly done. Don’t break your weekly blogging streak now. Tomorrow, I’ll find some snazzy pics for it, and it’ll be ready to publish.
To Better Yourself:
Love on your pet – 5 minutes of playtime with your cuddly fur baby relieves stress and boosts joy.
Stretch – This article from healthline.com suggests 5 simple stretches to alleviate pain and posture issues and maximize workouts. Stretching and regular exercise are especially important for anyone with a sedentary job, like a writer.
Moisturize – A little hand lotion or facial moisturizer with sunblock takes only minutes to apply but works for hours afterward. Plus, you’ll be ready for an outside walk with your dog. A leave-on face mask will hydrate your skin while you’re typing away.
Take your Vitamins/Collagen – Popping your daily vitamins, adding powdered collagen to your coffee (like me), or mixing a quick protein shake will give you an energy boost while making up for something you’re lacking in your diet.
Start a Short-Journal – To feel more grateful, positive, meditative, or record your daily memories, try a 5-minute or less journaling book like the ones listed here. These will help you focus on good things while cultivating a positive habit. Bonus—you don’t have to be a long-winded writer to keep them, and they require so little time.
Listen to a song – Music energizes and inspires. Right now, I’m listening to my favorite songs on shuffle. My House by Flo Rida is playing, and I’m swaying in my seat as I type. It takes <5 minutes to open your music app, pick a playlist, and listen to most songs.
Set-up an easy exit – According to the book Everyday Tidiness: 365 Ways to a Decluttered Life, we spend 6 minutes looking for keys in the morning, on average. Instead, spend <5 minutes setting up an easy exit—a space for whatever you take with you when you leave home. We have hooks near the backdoor holding our purses, masks, and keys.
Set-up for goal-success – Take 5 minutes to consider your goals and how you might encourage yourself to achieve them. For example, to ensure working out, I dress in my workout clothes in the morning, even my shoes. That way, when the time comes, I’m ready. Another example, to read more, I strategically place books wherever I relax, giving myself more chances to pick them up. Whatever will push you toward your big tasks, take 5 minutes to set up.
Meditate/Pray – Quiet time to connect, center yourself, and concentrate on others is an excellent way to start or finish the day.
Connect – It only takes a minute to send a text or ask someone in your household about their day, their plans, how they are. Connecting with loved ones refreshes both of you.
Read an article, blog or a chapter in a Patterson novel, maybe – A friend once shared that she loved James Patterson’s books because his chapters were only a few pages meaning she could get through it in between caring for her young children. She sped through his books, reading them 5 minutes or so at a time. Similarly, short reads are an excellent way to spend 5 minutes. News articles, Facebook posts, blogs…
Decide on Dinner – Taking 5 minutes to plan dinner is better than standing in your kitchen at the end of the day, tired and hungry, with no idea what to make. Frustration squashes productivity and happiness.
Make an appointment – What’s something that needs to get done that you keep putting off? For me, it’s always the dentist. Whatever it is, take 5 minutes to make the stupid appointment. You’ll feel better once it’s booked, and more than likely, you’ll keep it.
Make a decision – If a choice has been hanging over your head, then make it and let it go. Make a quick pro/con list if it’ll help but decide and be done with it. Being wishy-washy is an enemy of productivity and happiness.
Discover your next great show – I watch TV during workouts. When there’s nothing good to watch, working out becomes more brutal, especially after finishing the last episode of Outlander. Ugh. I’m slumping into an entertainment depression. 5-minutes of research and review-reading might introduce me to my next awesome show and workout. Also, planning what to watch in the evenings helps you look forward to your downtime, too.
To Better Others:
Leave a good review, blog comment (hint), or positive feedback on a social media post – If there’s something you like out there, tell others about it. Everyone likes to be appreciated or just… noticed. Leaving a good review or comment is a quick, easy way be generous and helpful.
Donate money to a good cause – You probably already know a cause you’d like to support. Why not take five minutes to make a donation? You know you want to.
Drop-Off Your Stuff - Take the goods you've collected from your earlier 5-minute purges and pack them in your car. Then, when you're already headed somewhere else, take a 5-minute detour to your local thrift store, charity, or donation bin.
Send a friend a funny meme or inspiring quote – Letting someone know that they’re on your mind will brighten their day, and bring you joy, too. Outlander GIFs are always appreciated.
Sign-Up - Workplaces, civic organizations, and churches often circulate or post sign-ups for volunteering, providing meals, or even who-brings-what for a birthday celebration. It only takes a minute to commit (though, yes, longer to do the thing, but that's okay). It helps others to be a team player.
Make something better for someone else – There’s a little wiggle room for interpretation here but think of one small thing that’ll make someone’s day better. Joe knows that taking out the compost, recycling, or trash isn’t something I enjoy, so he often does it for me. He also makes the bed. Small considerations mean a lot.
What quick task makes your life better? What can you do in less than 5 minutes? Share all your happiness and productivity tricks below. It's yet another thing you could do in <5 for others. I’m also taking TV and book recommendations. Please... need good workout TV and can't-put-down reads.