What could 20 minutes do for you?

Depending upon how you use the time, it might:

  • help you get you going with something you’ve been putting off
  • be a welcome break during which you might also learn something new
  • or stop you doing something else that you might regret later.

Allow me to explain….


Let’s start with getting going:

Sometimes what gets in the way of us starting with something is that it seems too big, too daunting, too difficult – or we think we don’t have enough time or we’re going to hate doing it.

I’ve written about ‘Mini Habits’ as a strategy before – the ‘20 Minute Rule’ is a variation on this theme.

By saying to ourselves that we’re going to spend just 20 minutes on whatever the task is we’re not making it onerous, we’re keeping it short and simple and we’re giving ourselves an ‘out’.

Quite often we then surprise ourselves at just how much we can actually get done in just 20 minutes. Other times, just having made a start helps  us feel better and more likely to either carry on or to go back and do some more later on.


20 minutes is also long enough to take a tea or coffee break and watch a TED Talk. I find these a rich source of ideas and entertainment, they’re usually highly engaging and enjoyable, and a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the world.

Two of my favourites (which I’ve mentioned before) are:

‘The Power of Vulnerability’ by Brené Brown (see my blog of the same name)

and In Praise of Slowness’ by Carl Honoré (in my blog Happier, calmer – and slower?’)

It’s also long enough to take a stroll around the block for some (often much needed) fresh air, exercise and to clear the head.


And now to stopping:

Lots of people find that applying the 20 Minute Rule’ in a different way helps them avoid acting on impulse.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and you feel hungry or have a craving for a particular food, the process goes: ‘I’ll get on with something else for now and if I still want ‘x’ in 20 minutes’ time then I’ll have it.’ 

Very often this allows time for a hunger pang or a craving to pass and we don’t need to have whatever it was.

This also applies to when we’ve eaten a meal and think we’re still hungry – research indicates that it takes about 20 minutes for food to reach our stomach and for the chemical reaction to let our brain know we’re full. So waiting 20 minutes before going for ‘seconds’ can be a really effective strategy.

I use it myself, not just with food, but also with books…

I love books and can be easily tempted to buy them. It used to be that if I heard one being discussed on TV or the radio and I liked the sound of it, I’d go straight to my phone or laptop and order it. And, let’s face it, online shopping makes this so easy these days. As a result I’ve got a pile of books that seemed like a good idea at the time but which I haven’t yet got around to reading…

These days I wait 20 minutes and, if I still want it (which I do for about 1 in 10, by the way), then I buy it – saving the money I would have spent on the other 9 books.

I have a friend who does the same with clothes shopping – she sees something she likes and walks on further down the high street. If she really wants it she walks back to get it later – but very often she completely forgets – so that says it all, doesn’t it?

I’ve known a similar strategy to work for people with gambling issues, preoccupation with checking social media and other addictive behaviour, too. And also for people who get very angry – to give themselves time to calm down and reflect before taking action which they might regret later on.

stopwatch-161283_1280So next time you’re tempted to do something that you know you might regret later on, think ’20 minutes’.

Try taking a 20 minute stroll around the block or a 20 minute coffee break with a TED Talk now and again.

And, if you’re having trouble getting going on a particular task, give it a go for just 20 minutes and see what happens…