A 10-Minute Habit = 1% of Your Life
How to "extend" your life by doing your daily activities just a few minutes faster
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This is Startup Builder by Henrik Angelstig. Every week I consume countless hours of books and podcasts on entrepreneurship to learn why some startups succeed while others don’t. 📚
I then distill the most non-intuitive lessons into short essays. Bringing you the most useful insights that fewest founders know.
Today’s essay will cover time spent on repeated activities – and how you can “extend” your life by doing your daily activities just a few minutes faster.
A 10-Minute Habit = 1% of Your Life
How much is 1 minute worth to you?
Probably not much. But 1 minute is actually a quite significant part of your day. If you sleep for 7 hours and 20 minutes, you have exactly 1,000 wakeful minutes a day to live your life.
10 minutes is actually 1% of your wakeful day.
One day may be a tiny part of our life. But if you perform the same 10-minute activity every day, you are actually spending 1% of your entire life on that activity.
When an activity is done every day, don’t allow yourself to think: “Well, it is only 10 minutes. It is no big deal.”
No. 10 minutes a day is 1% of your life. And you have only one life to spend. Do you want to spend:
5% of your life commuting to and from work?
5% of your life preparing food?
Only 5% of your life connecting with the people you love most?
A question I’ve begun to ask myself is:
“Would I spend 10 minutes on this activity if I had just one day left to live?”
Because until I change that routine, I am choosing to spend 1% of my remaining life on this activity.
A journey into getting my time back
When I first realized each day is only 1,000 wakeful minutes, I became much more intentional about how I spend time.
I also got curious. How many minutes did I spend on each activity?
I began experimenting with several time-tracking apps, and I finally settled on the app Now Then.
What I like about “Now Then”:
You can create any number of activities and sub-activities you want to time-track. (Eg: Exercise ⇒ Running/Strength/Stretching).
To start tracking a new activity, you simply click once on that activity and a new timer starts.
If you forget to switch activities in the app when you switch tasks, you can easily go back and correct the time log.
You get summary charts of how you spent your time this last day, week, month, and year.
After I used the app for several weeks, I discovered some surprising facts about how I spent my time:
It took me 15 minutes a day from waking up to starting my morning exercise.
It took me 9 minutes a day to prepare breakfast.
I often sat and worked straight for 2 hours, but I rarely got anything done beyond 90-minute sittings.
These were all instances of “waste time” between the productive activities I wanted to spend my time on. But until I started time-tracking my days, I had no idea just how much waste time there was in my day-to-day life.
When you add up:
15 min + 9 min + 4 work sittings × 15 min (lost productive time per sitting)
…It amounted to 84 minutes a day I was wasting on activities that didn’t give me any value.
And since 10 minutes a day = 1% of your life, these three activities were causing me to waste 8.4% of my life.
I have now optimized these daily habits to cut down the time I spend in unproductive territory:
Waking up to start my morning exercise: 15 min ⇒ 4 min. I was surprised to discover how many unnecessary micro-steps my morning included. From scrolling through notifications on my phone, fetching exercise clothes, going to the kitchen to get my water bottle, etc.
Drawing inspiration from Toyota’s “Lean Manufacturing” principles, I moved all physical items I needed to within arm-length distance. I also cut all steps that were not necessary for my goal of getting my exercise started.
By simply not looking at my phone in the morning, and preparing clothes and water bottle and placing them next to my bed, I was able to cut 9 minutes of wasted time.
Prepare breakfast: 9 min ⇒ 0 min. Instead of preparing breakfast in the morning, the time when my brain is often most productive, I began preparing breakfast in the evening instead while taking a short break from work.
This is when my brain is too tired to get any more focused work done. However, I found that routine, hands-on activities like preparing breakfast are great for recharging my mental batteries!
By moving this activity to the evening when I need to break a mental anyways, I free up 9 minutes of focused time in the morning.
Unproductive work time: 15 min per sitting ⇒ 0 min per sitting. I was frankly shocked to discover just how slowly my brain worked after more than 90 minutes of focused work.
I began using a Pomodoro app to remind me to stand up and walk about the room every 25 minutes, which has boosted my productivity immensely.
I can safely say that – for every 2 hours – I’m now getting back at least 15 minutes I previously wasted due to mental fatigue.
These three measures were very simple. Yet they helped me trim away 80 minutes of unproductive time every day.
That is equivalent to extending my wakeful life by 8%.
Not a bad investment for a few hours of work!
Poor communication: The biggest time-waster of all
For every activity, there is a best practice for doing it.
All three activities mentioned above were very specific habits. And as such, they had rather specific best practices.
However, I recently started sorting my activities into general themes. And I found one theme engulfed nearly every moment of my wakeful day:
Regardless of what I was doing, it was almost always communication:
Meetings at work
Talking with family members on the phone
Creating design specs for a team project
You know the saying that: “Fish discover water last?”
Communication was my “water”.
It was so all-pervasive that I never noticed it.
Communication is hard to pinpoint as “one” activity because it is so general-purpose – it can happen in many different contexts, take many different forms, and for many different purposes.
However, even general activities like communication have best practices. And since every specific activity can be sorted into one or more general themes, finding best practices for these general activities offers the biggest time-saving opportunities of all.
I want to share two best practices that have made my communication much more effective:
When I start a new conversation
⇒ Then I use the GPS format: Goal, Problem, Solution
When I discuss a decision to be made
⇒ Then I write all ideas down so everyone can see them
1. When I start a new conversation ⇒ Then I use the GPS format: Goal, Problem, Solution
Have you ever had someone ramble on about a topic for several minutes, without ever getting to the point?
Unless you are surrounded by excellent communicators, you probably nodded in an emphatic “Yes”.
I have also been in this situation many times. (Though, sadly, I was often not the one experiencing the frustration – but the rambling idiot causing it).
However, this changed after I discovered the bible for starting conversations the right way – The First Minute: How To Start Conversations That Get Results by Chris Fenning.
The key takeaway of the book is to frame every new conversation using the “GPS” format: Goal, Problem, Solution.
Goal: A client prepaid for a shipment last month that didn’t arrive. We need to fix this.
Problem: I can’t find the shipment, and the refund is above the limit I can approve.
Solution: Can you authorize the refund and help me find the missing shipment?
This person could have started with all the details of how the shipment had been lost, and how she had tried and failed to find it.
But if she had done so, she’d have failed to get across the key point – a client’s delivery is lost and I help to authorize a refund.
Messy conversations start with background details.
Clear conversations start with a goal, the problem, and your solution to it.
Goal: The IT industry regulations have recently been updated. We are now required to have a Level-5 firewall to keep our customers’ payment data safe.
Problem: However, our current software only allows us to support up to Level 4.
Solution: We need to come up with a plan for upgrading the software and present it to the leadership team for approval.
Think of all the technical details this person could have started the conversation with. But had he started with the details, he’d have failed to get across the key point – we must upgrade our software to comply with the new IT regulations.
Starting with Goal, Problem, and Solution helps the other person understand how the details fit into the bigger picture.
I now use GPS for every new conversation I start. And it saves me precious minutes every time I need to get my point across.
Another surprise benefit is that GPS helped me write emails 2X faster. Before GPS, I would go back and forth about how to best structure my message. I’d create a new format for every email.
Now, I just use the GPS format every time. I hardly have to think anymore about what to write. GPS provides me with such a clear outline that the info in my head just falls into place.
2. When I discuss a decision to be made ⇒ Then I write all ideas down so everyone can see them
Another best practice of mine is when I discuss with others what decision to make.
I have found that the best way to create shared understanding is to write everything down – so everyone is looking at the same info and ideas.
Let me illustrate with a personal story.
I recently worked on a consulting project for a large hardware manufacturer. We were five consultants on the team. The task: help the company improve its sales forecasts to avoid stocking too much – or too little – inventory.
Our first Zoom meeting with the company involved 9 people – my team of 5 consultants, and 4 executives from the company.
With that many people in one meeting, you can guess how “smoothly” communication went.
20 minutes passed. Then 40. Then 60. And we were still not getting any closer to a shared understanding of what they wanted us to deliver.
Then I suddenly realized we were doing it all wrong
I opened a new Word document, wrote all key info down, and then shared my screen with everyone in the Zoom meeting.
Everyone was now looking at the same information.
Once the executives could say, they could immediately spot the misunderstandings and missing information:
“Hmm, point 3 is not exactly what I meant. Let me explain…”
“When we say ‘sales quotas’, do we refer to our monthly or quarterly quotas?”
“We need to change order of these steps. If the consultants talk with our IT manager before they talk to sales, they will better understand how our sales data is processed.”
“What is the deadline for this deliverable? Don’t we need this data for the board meeting next Monday?”
“Oh, I see now that I forgot to add…”
We no longer had 9 people interpreting each word separately and creating different pictures of the project in their heads. We were collaborating on the same page to create one shared picture.
In just 10 minutes, we had full agreement and ended the meeting. The executives even thanked us for being so clear in our communication.
If you want different people to be “on the same page” – then you literally need to be writing down all information on the same page.
WAT: How to create best practices for general activities
Notice how both of my two best practices above follow the same structure:
When I start
A new conversation
Then I use the GPS format: Goal, Problem, Solution
When I discuss
A decision to be made
Then I write all ideas down so everyone can see them
The mad libs “WAT” – When, A, Then – provides a structure that can be used to create a best practice for any general activity:
In the WAT mad libs above, “concept” refers to non-tangible things, like “idea”, “task”, or “instruction”. It’s only by referring to an abstract concept that the best practice gains general use.
Had we instead used tangible items like “phone”, “car”, or “street”, the best practice would lose its generality.
However, an abstract concept alone is often too broad to be useful. You probably don’t want to take the same practice for handling a big and unfamiliar problem as a small and familiar one. That’s why you need a descriptor to specify the concept. Is the best practice meant to handle a:
Now, once you have chosen a general situation, how do you decide what action to take?
This is the hardest part. Fortunately, I can offer two solutions:
Look to others who have solved the same challenge: This was how I found the “GPS” format for how to start conversations clearly. I looked to others who had already solved the same challenge and chose the solution I liked best.
Look for examples where you solved the challenge well: This was how I discovered the power of writing down all information when discussing a decision. I didn’t plan to come up with a new approach to doing meetings. I just decided to try something new and was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked.
In both approaches, you are looking for bright spots – specific examples of when someone handled the challenge exceptionally well.
Once you find such a bright spot, study what specific actions they did differently from the average to find the actions to adopt as your own best practice.
(To read more about how great founders use bright spots to succeed despite overwhelming challenges, see my past essay Bright Spots: How to Sail to Success Despite an Ocean of Obstacles).
How many extra days do you gain by saving 1 minute per day?
Let’s do the math. How many days does saving 1 minute per day amount to?
Going with our earlier notion that 1 day = 1,000 wakeful minutes, we end up with:
This is the magic number: 1.1 / 3.
To know how many extra days you gain by saving 1 minute per day:
Take your estimated remaining number of years,
Multiply by 1.1 (same as adding 10%)
Divide by 3
For example, I am 24 years old and expect to live to at least 80.
I have 56 remaining years.
Add 10% to 56 ⇒ roughly 61.
Divide 61 by 3 ⇒ 20.33.
I extend my life with 20 days for every 1 minute per day I save.
I could devote 5 whole days to a solution that saved me just 1 minute per day – and it would still be a great investment of my time.
I do value the time when I’m young more than when I’m old. But 4X is a great return for me. And the extra days won’t come only later in life. They will be spread evenly throughout my life.
If you enjoy a routine for its own sake, by all means, keep doing it.
But if you only want the outcome, seriously consider adopting a best practice to gain more of your life back.
A day may seem long, but it’s only 1,000 wakeful minutes.
10 minutes = 1% of a day.
And an activity that takes 10 minutes every day is 1% of your life. This is we must be mindful of the activities in our life we do repeatedly.
If you also want to discover how much time your daily activities take, I can recommend the app Now Then. Then, you can adopt best practices to trim the “waste time” between your productive activities.
However, the greatest time-saving opportunity is to adopt general best practices for areas like communication. Then you are not just saving minutes, but hours of time each day.
To create a general best practice, consider using the WAT mad libs:
“When I ___[action]___
A ___[certain type of] [concept]___
Then I ___[do X]___.”
Don’t try to dream up the best action by yourself in a vacuum. Look for bright spots that have solved the same challenge exceptionally well. Then, study what specific actions they did differently from the rest – and adopt those actions as your own.
Which daily activities will you optimize to extend your life?
Thanks for reading,
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