It’s Only 5 Minutes. Wrong.

It’s only five minutes.  That’s what we say to ourselves when we’re running late for an appointment or meeting. Five minutes really isn’t that much time in the grand scheme of things, right? Wrong. Five minutes is a lot of time. Here’s why.

Let’s say you work an eight hour day. Subtract a 45 minute lunch, you’re now down to a 7 hour 15 minute day. Now take five minutes off every hour. You’ve now lost another 35 minutes. Now 35 minutes over the period of a day, doesn’t seem like much, but that 35 minutes equals 8% of your working day.

Now, think about the number of times you picked up your mobile to make a quick check of facebook, or twitter, or LinkedIn, or to check your texts. I bet each time you do that it takes about 5 minutes. And, I’d bet that you do this more than once an hour. No wonder we struggle with white-collar productivity.

Thirty-seven percent of HR professionals in the York College of Professionalism study note an increase in the lack of focus among new university graduates, and 79% attribute this lack of focus to technology interruptions.

Now let’s consider the “leave before you leave” phenomenon. Every week in class, I see my students packing up five to ten minutes before the end of class. They’ve checked out before we’ve finished. Again, checking out before you’re done adds up. That five or ten minutes adds up to another 35 minutes a week. Imagine that you’ve actually paid attention to the discussion – what did you learn that you might have missed?

Now let’s consider the average work week. Using 5 minutes an hour to check your tech, and packing up mentally before the end of the day, you’ve lost 3.5 hours per week. Doesn’t that sound like time you would like back?  Wouldn’t it be nice to use that time effectively getting out of the office earlier? It’s not “only 5 minutes”.  It might be the most important 5 minutes of your day.

McCart, K. (2013). What’s in five minutes? Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning ejournal, Volume 6, Issue 3, is freely accessible at:


7 replies »

  1. You talk about those minutes like they’re being wasted, but if the objective of moving those extra minutes to the end of the day is so that we get to check out earlier, then what difference is actually being made? It’s still all about getting away from the work we don’t want to do.

    Let’s say I work effectively and do not sacrifice any minutes in my week so that I get back an additional three to five hours per week. I’m just going to spend those extra hours packed together checking Tumblr and/or Facebook all at once rather than intermittently. So what was the point if all I did was move around the times when I get things accomplished?

    I agree that technological advancement is a leading cause of distraction, especially for college students, but you have to ask yourself why. It isn’t just because the technology is present in the classroom. All technology has done is allowed students to illustrate their disinterest in the material at hand. If a student isn’t interested in the material, then it’s going to be incredibly hard for them to pay attention, and in my experience many students who did not have technology at hand would bide their time by practicing the ancient art of staying awake.

    My point is that students have to be convinced of the value of the material or work at hand. I’m not saying that every field of study needs to be radically changed to have an entertainment value, but they certainly need to express greater worth than is presented in the classroom at the moment.

    Few students go into a classroom with the belief that the information they learn will actually matter in the long run because, by the nature of our economic system and job climate (good or bad), it really doesn’t matter. Someone has to be on the bottom rung, and you stand a good chance at being that person regardless of your educational opportunities. So if students can’t be guaranteed success, they have to be guaranteed that education is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. Same with their jobs, which often seem to lead to nowhere, except a pay check that will continue to sustain their life until their bodies cannot.

  2. I think there is a balance to be struck here. Workers are not automatons that come in, work consistently for 7.5 hours and then go home. In my job I sit at a screen all day and I find I get concentration fatigue once or twice per hour. I either get up and walk up and down the office, or open up a web browser and do 5 minutes of surfing (like I’m doing now). While I do this my mind is still working in the background and I can often solve a problem without thinking about it.

    Its very different if I do physical things. I can do these for hours without a break (providing they are not tiring). Perhaps we are not built for taking in so much intellectual stimulation in one go?

    • Point well taken. Clearly we all need brief mental breaks to refresh ourselves.

      What I’m talking about is the 5 minutes of texting or surfing that accidentally turns into an hour. Or leaving the meeting mentally before it is over. While everyone needs a mental refresh, disengaging too much equals lower productivity and sometimes longer hours.

      We agree that there needs to be a balance. The real challenge is figuring out the balance, and monitoring our own behaviour.

      Thanks for engaging with the debate.


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