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Mr Time Vortex : Why “5 minutes” is never just “5 minutes”
Mark Pratt

I’ve recently come to think that the longest phrase in the English language may in fact be “Have you got five minutes?”.

At just 21 letters (5 words), you could be forgiven for thinking that since gaining my GCSE ‘A’ Grade in Maths, it’s high time I invested in a new abacus. But I can assure you that “Have you got five minutes” is one of the longest phrases. Because we all know “5 minutes” is never just “5 minutes”.

You see, it’s a phrase often used by one of the toughest anti-heroes against time efficiency… Mr Time Vortex. 

Who is he?

Mr Time Vortex lurks in the shadows of your office. Near the water machine. Near the lifts. In the foyer or behind an oversized house plant – wherever it’s possible to catch you off guard. 

If you succumb to his tractor beam just a few times, he will grow stronger. He’ll start “dropping in” on you at your desk. He may disarm you with one of his superhero powers. Or he might whip out a “have you got a minute?” or “I just need a couple of minutes of your time” or “I just have one quick question.”

He has a unique knack for pulling this stunt right when you’re in the middle of doing something incredibly important — deep in concentration on a detailed piece of work. He won’t notice (or won’t care) that you’re busy, don’t have time, or just aren’t interested. Unfortunately, common sense is not that common and Mr Time Vortex definitely doesn’t have any. And you know “5 minutes” is never just “5 minutes”.

What does he do?

Mr Time Vortex can also use his powers when he’s not even physically present. The equivalent of loitering at your desk with “just a quick question” is a random email or text message. I say random because it is.

Any time he has a thought he sends an email. Every time he has a question (why not google it or figure it out?) – bang – he messages you. Unpunished, he’ll drop by this way three times, six times, 20 times a day. Unfortunately, “5 minutes” is never just “5 minutes” 

Each time he drops by, picture your dreams slipping away because if you give in to his “one quick question” too often, that’s exactly what will happen. It may feel rude and unreasonable to refuse him. But the truth is, he deserves no courtesy whatsoever. He is telling you that your time is less valuable than his, that whatever you’re doing is unimportant and easily interrupted. 

How do you defeat Mr Time Vortex?

But the good news is there is one small trick, a time-efficiency superhero power, which you can whip out whenever he shows up: “I’m busy right now. Let’s meet at 3:15 for 15 minutes, and tackle everything on your list in one go.” 

You may be thinking “I can’t say that!” 

But think about it… time is one of the most precious commodities, and should be protected at all costs. You can always generate more of pretty much anything – including money. But last I checked no one was making any more time! 

Using this technique freezes Mr Time Vortex in his tracks, and begins to “teach” him a new discipline. Of course, he won’t get it the first time. Or even the second. He’ll keep trying for a while. And it will be frustrating because “5 minutes” is never just “5 minutes”.

But if you persist every time, over and over again, eventually he’ll get the message. Someday, he’ll call you and say something like: “I have five things I need to go over with you. When can we get together?” After you pick yourself up off the floor, you can congratulate yourself on having defeated him. 

So, next time he shows up, stick on your metaphorical underwear outside your clothes, stand loud and proud, and let him have it. 

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