The power of five

Jackie watched the minutes tick by as she listened to her colleague, Ed, drone on and on. The board meeting in which she was invited to present her 2011 goals and make her case for an increased budget was nearly over.

She had been promised 20 minutes to present, but Ed had gone over his allotted time, leaving Jackie with only five minutes before the end of the meeting. As Ed stumbled over his closing, apologizing for taking too much time, Jackie made the decision to stop bemoaning to herself and accept her reality: she had five minutes to make her case. After four minutes and 25 seconds, she thanked the board members and sat down. The board voted. Jackie’s organization received the budget increase she had requested.

She called me after the meeting to tell me how clear her message suddenly became when she decided five minutes was enough: “I was specific, but concise. I felt energized, yet calm.”

In this frenetic world of multitasking and long to-do lists, it’s easy to dismiss five minutes as not enough time. But by doing so, we miss a great opportunity. Sometimes what we need to get clear on an idea or finish a task we’ve been laboring over is less time versus more.

Think of it this way: When people struggle to comprehend something they’ve just read, they reread it, but much slower, chewing over every word. Tony Buzon, author of Speed Reading, says speed up. When you’re so focused on the parts, it’s hard to grasp the whole. Even if you need to understand every detail, start with a quick read through. Chances are you’ll more quickly get the gist, which will then allow you to go back and better comprehend the details.

The same goes for analyzing problems or presenting information to others. Give yourself a time limit and see how quickly you get to the essence of the problem or the meat of your presentation. It focuses your message and your energy.

The COO of one of the world’s largest chemical companies adopted many of our behavioral strategies including, “the power of five.” He explained that it’s more than time management, it’s a deliberate commitment to view five minutes as more than enough time. He saw a dramatic lift in his own productivity once he changed his thinking and his employees delivered information to him in a more concise, effective way once they embraced the power of five.

The experiment: Try shifting your perception away from, “I only have five minutes.” Instead, embrace the gift of five minutes as more than enough time to communicate or accomplish something meaningful in the most effective way. This behavior is especially useful when applied to something you normally labor over. Five minutes may be all you need to quit wasting time and energy and move to completion. Sometimes what we need is less time versus more.