17 Productive Ways To Spend 5 Minutes Instead Of Checking Your Email (Again)

Sure, cleaning out your inbox can feel productive, but you’re really not accomplishing anything.

17 Productive Ways To Spend 5 Minutes Instead Of Checking Your Email (Again)
[Image: Flickr user Valeria P.]

The ubiquity of smart phones means we never lack for a way to spend time. Stuck waiting for the elevator for 30 seconds? Next thing you know you’ve got your phone out of your pocket, and you’re deleting newsletters you can’t remember subscribing to.


Cleaning out the inbox feels productive, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not all that fun. Nor is it accomplishing much. At the end of your life, no one’s going to talk about your pristine inbox. Here are 17 better ways to spend bits of time to bring bits of joy into an ordinary day:

1. Work on your bucket list

Pull it up, read what you’ve got on it, and start adding.

2. Listen to a favorite song.

Yes, you’ll need to use your headphones, but jamming out to Katy Perry for three minutes and 30 seconds will probably leave you feeling more energized than deleting marketing emails for a similar quantity of time.


3. Read a little bit

Want to read more? You don’t need free hours to make it happen. sends bite sized chunks of classics to your inbox, but you can also just keep a regular book in your desk drawer and read it, one page at a time. Books of poetry are good for this. You’re in and out (unless it’s The Wasteland).

4. Text your partner or your children

Tell them you’re thinking about them. Text a friend to ask her about her day. Call, if you think the person might be available.

5. Write in a journal

Jotting down a sentence here and there on specific moments of awesomeness can help you remember that your life is, in fact, awesome.


6. Write a real letter

Keep some note cards and stationery around and write a note to someone whose birthday is coming up, or a friend or colleague who did something intriguing. There’s no need to write more than three or four sentences, and you can definitely do that in five minutes. A random thank you note to someone who isn’t expecting one could actually make someone’s day.

7. Stretch

Assume some other posture than the usual one of your rear in the chair, and breathe deeply.

8. Lift some weights

Do some push-ups or sit-ups if you’re not self-conscious (or you’ve got a door). But even if the whole office is staring at you, you can suck in your stomach or absentmindedly do a bicep curl with a paper weight.


9. Study your calendar

What can you get rid of? In five minutes, you may be able to buy yourself hours by . As a corollary, what do you not see that should be on there?

10. Brainstorm personal priorities for next week

We’re pretty good about setting work priorities, but personal ones tend to get short shrift. In five minutes, you could decide that next week you’ll go to the library, watch a favorite movie with your kids, and make your famous banana bread recipe on the weekend. Don’t go overboard–you don’t want to stress yourself out–but planning in a few fun anchor events gives you something to look forward to.

11. Make a guest list for an intriguing dinner party

Who would be fascinating to have in a room together? Do they know each other? If not, make a note to introduce them as soon as possible.


12. Pop outside and take some photos with your iPhone

Take several shots of the same object to experiment with angles and lighting. You may cause your brain to think in whole new ways, but even if not, the fresh air will perk you up.

13. Say hello to someone

Not someone buried in work at his desk, trying to ignore the world, but someone wandering around the halls, grabbing coffee. Who knows, maybe you know this person by his email address, but have never actually met him in person! Nurturing social ties is incredibly productive–and key to human happiness.

14. Scroll through your photos on your phone

If you’re like me, they go back a ways, and can trigger all kinds of happy memories. Indeed, this post took much longer than expected to write because I just scrolled back to some August shots of my kids playing at the beach.


15. Color

Bring crayons from home, or take some from a restaurant’s kid meal stash, and create your own coloring book. It’s a quick way to zone out and decompress, even if you don’t put your masterpiece on the fridge. If you have a more elaborate array of office supplies, you can try making a collage with pictures from magazines and some rubber cement. If anyone asks, you can call it your vision board.

16. Watch a Khan Academy video

Economics. Calculus. Art history–what’s not to like? For a more silent way to acquire random knowledge, read Wikipedia’s featured article of the day.

17. Close your eyes

Fun fact: A recent survey from the BlueJeans Network (a video conferencing service) found that 6% of people admit to having fallen asleep while on a conference call. While that’s not recommended, a tiny cat nap could be just the jolt you need to get through the rest of the day.


Please add your favorite ways to use bits of time for bits of joy in the comments.


About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at


Call for Most Innovative Companies entries! Apply now.

500+ winners will be featured on Final deadline: 9/23.