15 Big Little Things You Can Do in 16 Minutes
After 15 years of yo-yoing up 15 pounds and down 15 pounds, I finally realized that the long, slow, low-impact exercise routines I’d been suffering through weren’t working. I needed something different—dramatically different—and I found it: CrossFit. CrossFit is an intense strength and conditioning class that drives you to work at your maximum intensity for the minimum amount of time needed to get your workout for the day done. How long is that? On average, about 16 minutes. Most of the folks in my class are firefighters and police officers, which means that I, as a humble management coach and corporate trainer, am at the bottom of the heap when it comes to physical fitness, emotional resilience, and overall heroism. Nevertheless, I am doing the same workout, scaled to my ability level, as our finest and bravest. And in six weeks of 15-minute workouts, I have dropped a size, increased my strength, and, most important, radically changed my perspective on efficiency.
CrossFit started me thinking: What other things could I—and my coaching clients—do more effectively in short bursts of 16 minutes rather than dragging them out over time, or even not making time for them at all? Where in our work and lives does our no-sweat approach cost us productivity, a competitive edge, and even our ability to renew and recover?
While slow and steady may sometimes win the race, at other times we need to condition ourselves to get more done in less time than we ever imagined possible. Here’s my list of 15 things you can scale to do in 16 minutes:
1. Tackle interruptions. Just because someone interrupts you doesn’t mean you need to handle it right now (unless it’s the CEO—then drop everything). In fact, it takes more time and energy to stop what you’re doing, deal with an interruption, and resume your original activity than it does to hoard and address your interruptions in a single block of time. Schedule one or more 15 minute blocks during the day where you can tackle a chunk of tasks that emerged from earlier interruptions. And do your best to keep that interruption time uninterrupted.
2. Decide what not to do. If you’ve got a to-do list, chances are, there are activities on it that don’t belong there. Maybe they’re items you should delegate, or actions that aren’t core to meeting your personal or work goals. Perhaps they’re on that list because they’ve always been on your list, and now you’re in the habit of keeping them there. In 16 minutes of time when you’re not trying to do something on that list, do something about that list. Remove any items that can belong to someone else, feel irrelevant, or have overstayed their welcome.
3. Calendar your to-do list. Once you’ve decided what should stay and what should go, move the items on your to-do list onto your calendar—not in list form but as scheduled activities. “Fill out paperwork for sleep-away camp” never budged from my to-do list until the camp called to threaten leaving the kids home with me, but it would have been far likelier to get done had it had a scheduled to-do time in my datebook.
4. Blast through paperwork (or any other task you dread). I hate paperwork the same way some people hate the Red Sox or Fox News: with a burning hot passion. Nevertheless, between tax forms, expense reports, my kids’ camp materials, client files, and so on, I always have some stack of paper giving me the evil eye. So I give it my attention in tolerable 15 minute blocks—no more, no less. And then I get a cookie.
5. Get out of your office. Woody Allen once said, “I am at two with nature.” Even if you have no interest in heading outdoors into the elements, just stepping away from your desk for 16 minutes is a great way to clear your head, connect with your colleagues, and maybe even get a new perspective on a challenge you’ve been working on. To quote the singer-songwriter Sheryl Crowe, “A change would do you good.”
6. Complain/get angry. When Homer Simpson went to purchase a gun and was told that there was a mandatory five-day waiting period, he yelled in protest, “Five days? But I’m mad now!” Like Homer, you may find it hard to delay or truncate feeling your feelings, but your disappointment, outrage, frustration, or moral indignation can be effectively experienced in 15-minute chunks of time. Rather than let your despair slowly leak out and poison an entire day, schedule time to struggle with it, yell about it, strategize about it, or write an e-mail you’ll never send—and then plan to move on.
7. Self-flagellate/engage in self-pity. See No. 6 above.
8. Acknowledge someone else’s accomplishments. It would probably take you only 10 seconds to e-mail a colleague with “Great job on the sales pitch today. You nailed it! EOM” in the subject line. So imagine what you could do in 16 minutes. You could pick up the phone and call her. You could walk over to her desk and tell her, while making eye contact. You could even send her that e-mail and cc a whole bunch of people who should know about your colleague’s big win, too. You could do all of that, make her day, and still have 10 minutes left to appreciate yet another person’s special accomplishment.
9. Decide the first thing you need to do tomorrow. Ever have those days when you wonder where the time went and what, if anything, you accomplished at all? Me either. But for those who do have that feeling, the best antidote is to take 16 minutes at the end of the day and decide the single most important thing you need to get accomplished tomorrow in order for that day to feel like a win. Then schedule it in your calendar for the very first opening.
10. Surprise someone. This doesn’t require an ice cream cake or flowers (unless my husband is reading this). In 16 minutes, you can e-mail an old college friend, pick up a caramel macchiato for your admin, or even pick up the phone when you know that your client was expecting the call to go to voice mail. You can do something that shakes up your routine—or anyone else’s—in 16 minutes.
11. Send a handwritten note. Remember in fourth grade when you learned cursive? It’s time to resurrect that dormant skill. Whether it’s a thank you note, a condolence card, or a just-because letter, you can put pen to paper in 16 minutes and make yourself memorable for a long, long time.
12. Breathe on purpose. My daughter’s swim team’s T-shirts read, “Oxygen Is Overrated.” For the rest of us who are landlubbers, oxygen is seriously underrated. Our brains and bodies require enormous amounts of it to function properly. If you’re huffing, puffing, panting, and holding your breath throughout the day, you’re robbing yourself of a vital (and free) resource. Take 16 minutes once a day, or even once a week, to breathe as if your life depended on it. It kind of does.
13. Attend to your network. Don’t ask what your network can do for you. Ask what you can do for your network in 16 minutes. You can send a reconnection message through LinkedIn to half a dozen connections, ask someone to meet for coffee, invite a colleague to come to an event of mutual interest, or pass along a job lead.
14. Solicit feedback. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was famous for asking folks, “How’m I doing?” If you’re not positive how everyone in your professional and personal life would answer that (or if you’re positive that you don’t want to hear the answer), take 16 minutes to ask someone who matters to you what you could be doing more of, less of, or differently that would make a difference to them.
15. Forward an article of interest to someone. Know anyone who could use some tips for what they can accomplish in 16 minutes? Then pass this article along!