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25 Productive Things to Do When You Have Just 5 Minutes

MeditatingI’m slow to do most things. Getting out of bed. Taking a shower. Getting dressed. Writing articles. Reading. Washing the dishes. Cleaning the house. So when I think of being productive, I think I need long stretches of time.

But in reality we can do quite a bit with just five minutes.

A few years ago, journalist and author Laura Vanderkam penned this piece on Fast Company about 17 productive ways we can spend five minutes — instead of checking our email yet again.

I like the idea of creating such a list because I often get sucked into the black hole that is my smartphone. This may be another reason why things take me so long (the other reason simply being that I’m slow).

In the article, Vanderkam includes such ideas as listening to music, reading in bites and writing a letter. She also includes stretching, thinking about our personal priorities for the upcoming week and taking a tiny catnap.

When I think of productivity, I don’t think of efficiency. I don’t think of jam-packing my schedule with task after task after task followed by a quick bathroom break.

Rather, I think of worthwhile things. I think of meaningful activities, and meeting our needs. I think of activities we can slip into our schedule that genuinely feel good. Or I think of taking an important (but quick) activity off my to-do list.

I wanted to challenge myself to come up with a list of 25 quick activities we can do. Because, sometimes, when we’re overwhelmed we forget that many tasks don’t require much time. And yet doing them can be very helpful.

  1. Practice a 5-minute meditation. Meditation helps us relax and reset our brains. This is especially helpful when our thoughts are racing or anxiety is high. Today, there’s a slew of meditation resources online. Try this mindfulness bell meditation or this guided meditation video. In this meditation video psychologist and Psych Central blogger Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D, guides you in bringing your awareness to different things, such as your thoughts and surrounding sounds.
  2. Savor a cup of tea or coffee. Making time for ourselves is absolutely productive.
  3. Buy a loved one a book. Have you read something especially poignant recently? Pay it forward by sharing it with a friend. Or think of another way you can make your loved one feel loved and appreciated.
  4. Reflect on how you feel about your day so far. Jot it down, if you like. Spend the last minute thinking about your intentions for the rest of the day.
  5. Make plans with your spouse or a loved one to do something fun tonight, tomorrow or the following week.
  6. Make a list of five things you’re grateful for, including the things your body lets you do.
  7. Get up, and walk around. If you’re at home, walk to your mailbox, or walk around the block. If you’re at work, walk around your office. Walk outside, and look at the sky.
  8. Outline the steps for a task you’ve been avoiding. Think tiny strides. Think so tiny that each step finally feels feasible.
  9. Give your hands a massage.
  10. Think of one thing you can say no to that’s draining you.
  11. Write down 10 things you see, smell, hear, touch and maybe even taste to reconnect with your world.
  12. Venture outside, and create the same list for your natural surroundings.
  13. Read lines from scripture or any sacred text that calms you and reminds you of what’s truly important.
  14. Close your eyes, and listen to the sounds of the ocean.
  15. Think of several compassionate statements you can say to yourself when you’re upset or your inner critic just won’t quit.
  16. Do something you need to do but don’t want to (such as pay the bills, call the credit card company, make the bed, fold the laundry, clear your desk). Remind yourself that it’s just five minutes.
  17. Read jokes, or watch a silly segment. Humor heals.
  18. Go through the overflowing pile of mail gathering dust on your kitchen counter.
  19. Just like you’d free-write, free doodle. In other words, take a piece of paper or use your journal, and doodle whatever arises. Swirls. Squiggly lines. Flowers. Faces. Let your mind wander and wonder.
  20. Make a list of five things that bring you joy. Schedule one of them, and put it in your planner.
  21. Plan out a delicious dinner you’ll eat this week.
  22. Learn a new word. Use it in a sentence.
  23. Learn about a historical event that happened today.
  24. Think about what you need physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Think about how you can meet each need this week. If you run out of time, spend five minutes on each type of need. These, of course, aren’t easy questions or answers.
  25. Sit in stillness. There’s so much wisdom swirling around in our minds and bodies. How often do we just pause? If you like, contemplate the question “What do I already know?” and wait for the answer. Or simply sit without any expectations or prerequisites. (So you don’t lose track of time, you can set a timer.)

Losing ourselves in our smartphones for a few minutes is totally OK. Tuning out for a bit can feel like giving our brains a break. But gluing ourselves to our phones can stop us from doing the things that nourish us (and can amplify our overwhelm).

What can you start or get done in five minutes? Create your own list of ideas. Keep it somewhere handy so it’s easily accessible — maybe even on your smartphone.

25 Productive Things to Do When You Have Just 5 Minutes

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 25 Productive Things to Do When You Have Just 5 Minutes. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.