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Why 15 Minutes?

number 15Hands down, my favorite productivity tool is a simple digital timer. I’ve written before at ProfHacker about some of the ways I use it for writing, for exercising, and for household chores. (If you don’t have a physical timer handy, you can use one of these online versions, or download one for your phone.)

One of the questions I frequently get asked is: how long should my timed interval be?

The answer depends on what you’re doing and how you want the timer to help you.

For instance, a quick five-minute clean up can be a great way to tackle a messy desk.  When I’m engaged in serious writing, I’ll often set my timer for 40 minutes for concentrated effort. But many tasks fall somewhere in between.

My go-to midway timer setting is fifteen minutes. Here’s why:

  • 15 minutes is familiar: you already have a good internal sense of what a quarter hour means since it’s an interval we use a lot in telling time.
  • 15 minutes is bearable: you can tackle even the most loathed chores for just 15 minutes.
  • 15 minutes is effective: you can workout with supersets, plyometrics, or Tabata intervals very effectively in a short time.
  • 15 minutes is a good start: you can write a few sentences, read a couple of pages, or review some data. That’s enough to get you back into a project you’ve been away from for a few hours or days and can help you build momentum for a longer work session.
  • 15 minutes builds consistency: spending 15 minutes a day on yoga, writing, art, or meditation — or whatever other activity you’d like to do more of  — can help you develop your skills and build a routine.
  • 15 minutes is a good limit: you can contain the time spent on email or Twitter so you have time for other things.
  • 15 minutes is enjoyable: it’s a good length for a relaxing break that doesn’t take over your afternoon. You can read a few pages of a novel, play a level of Super Mario, or throw a ball with your dog in 15 minutes.

I’m especially fond of what I’ve been calling The Friday 15: 15 minute sprints to empty my inbox, clear off my desk, or finish up miscellaneous things from the week. If you care to join me on this or any Friday, tweet what you got done in your 15 minutes using the hashtag #fri15!

What can you get done in 15 minutes? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Tom Newby Photography]

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