The 5 Minute Rule To Get Things Done

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The 5 Minute Rule To Get Things Done

Every individual has their own method for getting things done in their life. Whether it's through some online to do list application or through their own handwritten set of notes scribbled on a yellow pad on their desk. Once we get used to our method, it sort of becomes our de facto standard for how we run our day. It may work, it may not work. We won't be able to tell easily. My normal routine consisted of opening notepad and jotting down a list of the first 10-20 things that came to mind to accomplish for the day. Does it work? To some extent. 40-50% of the items on that list get completed, in no particular order. But is there a better method?

Depends on who you ask. A popular method for getting things done, practiced by both Elon Musk and Bill Gates, two of the busiest people on the planet I'd safely assume, is to break down your day to day activities with the following question in mind.

what can I do in the next 5 minutes?

Needless to say, most people do not live their lives in this manner. But then most people aren't planning trips to Mars and designing underground car transport terminals. However that's not to say that regular people can't take on seemingly impossible tasks and be successful at them. So today let's talk about what you can do in 5 minutes, and how that can correlate to a busier and more productive life.


Any task ever, no matter how complex or non-complex (it's relative), is comprised of many many smaller events. Building a rocket or an electric car follows the same principles as building a watch. It starts with an idea, followed by meetings, followed by design, engineering, prototyping, etc. Which will go through the same process again and again until it is completed. And if you followed the path from idea to conception, you could technically break the entire process down into millions of 5 minute events, in the case of a rocket.

Thinking on that scale, every single event or action that you would like to complete is doable. And it all begins with 5 minutes of your time. Which is why this method is designed for the busier individual.

5 solid minutes

Even in writing the top paragraph for this blog post, distractions were imminent. A 2 minute writing session ended with a 10 minute trip to Amazon to look for Ghee Butter for my coffee (look it up). This distraction was caused by one simple thing. I was making coffee, and looking forward to drinking it. And you could have other tasks which are pending in your mind. Maybe your waiting for a delivery to arrive. Maybe you're hungry and looking forward to lunch and will sneak a look at a food delivery app. So this is important. Because 5 solid consecutive minutes of work does not equate to 30 minutes of stuff, with 5 minutes interspersed in between of work. You'll get 2 different kinds of results.

So do the 5 minutes. Whatever it may be. And then, enjoy a cup of joe or have lunch after. But by the time you come back to your work, you won't have to start over or remember where you left off. You'll simply start the next 5 minute event.

Practice makes perfect

Or so they say. You don't just wake up one day and decide to split your day into 5 minute intervals. You're welcome to try, but you won't last more than 15 minutes before you forget what you're doing. This practice will only work once it becomes your second nature. Once you're not actively splitting your day up but more flowing through the life with the mentality of "this is next and it will take 5 minutes". Try it for an hour. Pick your task, then think about the very next step in order to get closer to the finish line.

For example, I'm working on an email newsletter currently. It's 90% complete. It isn't responsive and some layout issues are still rampant depending on the content being used. So to finish this, I need to fix the layout issues, and make it responsive, easy enough. First task to make it responsive. Google "Responsive email design". Once I have my research, the next step is to implement said rules into the template and test. And test and test. Until it is responsive. Maybe each test will take me 5 minutes. Maybe I'll be able to test 4-5 times in those 5 minutes. Whatever time it may take, those are the events and actions that can be done in that interval of time. Until it is complete.

The shorter the better

5 minutes is a pretty good sweet spot. The longer the time frame, the more time for distractions and second guessing yourself. But feel free to start with something more manageable to your schedule and current life. Maybe 15 minutes works better for now. Once you build up that habit and it becomes second nature, then maybe 10 minutes will be a challenge for you. And so you continue until you reach even a minute maybe. (too much?).

This sounds like a stressful and daunting task. To split up your day into 5 minute chunks? 5 / 60 = 12. 12 x 24 = 288. 288 events that you can do! If you don't sleep) Except that's not how it works, thankfully. It's not an actual measurable 5 minutes that you're looking to get to. The idea is to practice how to split some event into its most minute of details. The entire picture as a whole can be overwhelming. But if we can start to think of it as tiny events that in themselves aren't difficult, then we'll begin to realize just how simple many things in life are. Many things that we're normally afraid to take on, such as starting a business or planning a trip to Mars.

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.


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