12 minutes of lost productivity is not how I want to look at my life

the things you can do in 12 minutes (and taking advice from Bruce Springsteen)

This is kind of like a budgie but not. It has legs and looks more like a bird than a sausage.

12 minutes. Apparently, this is the time it takes you to regain concentration on a particular task once interrupted, (some studies say it is double this so is more like 24 minutes, but I’m going with what my work manager at my day job told everyone in an all staff meeting the other week). This means you need to cut down or eliminate any form of distraction so you can ramp up your personal efficiency. This can be a challenge should you work in an open plan office environment, (and don’t have the luxury of a door), but, apparently, the results are totally worth it: we should all be striving to minimise those pesky 12 minutes of wasted productivity.

12 minutes is 20 percent of an hour. A lot can happen in 12 minutes. You can lie on the couch and watch half a sitcom. You can walk to the local cafe, get a take away coffee and be back home in under 12 minutes, (I live in Canberra, there is no-one else here). You can buy a new pair of shoes, (I did that last week in just under 12 minutes and am planning that the happiness will last for way longer than 12 minutes). If you are an Olympic athlete, you can run 5km. You can almost finish cooking one of Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals. (Actually I tell a lie. His 15 minutes never seem to equal my 15 minutes. ever. It’s like having a baby — you can’t do that in 12 minutes. I can’t anyway and I have tried three times.)

12 minutes is 720 seconds. Some of the weirdest things that have happened to me have taken precisely that amount of time.

One night, a rat fell on my head while I was sleeping. He had chewed through the roof above me. It took 12 minutes for me to: realise what was happening, (that it was a rat on my head and not a child’s hand, head, foot or bottom); to grab children and throw them to safety out of the room; to hysterically summon the guards outside to come inside to find rat in the dark; for Lionel, the expert rat catcher/guard, to locate rat in the corner of the room; and for Lionel to kill rat by belting it with a shoe of mine, (a brown clog that has never really recovered and now sits forlornly under my desk at work wanting to be worn again, which it never will be because it is tainted by the blood of a rat that chewed through the ceiling and fell on my head in the middle of the night).

Then there was the 12 minute bus ride I took a few years ago, from one quiet suburb of Canberra to another, equally quiet, suburb of Canberra to go to the gym. I had with me my gym bag, my handbag, and my Canberra necklace, (the security tag that accessories every public servant’s outfit). When I got off the bus I discovered that I also had a Budgerigar, (it’s like a mini parrot — yes, it’s a bird), down my shirt. Apparently, the Budgie, (Australian slang for Budgerigar), emerged from my shirt as I exited the bus. I say apparently because at no stage had I put (or felt) a budgie down there. I don’t like birds. Slightly aggressive lady, who accosted me seconds later, however, did not believe me and, on a suburban Canberra footpath, she demanded to know why I was abandoning “my” budgie, who was now sitting, nonchalantly, on the pavement. She proceeded to pick up budgie and, rather rapidly, stuffed that budgie back down my top, which was a little forward of her, and a little scary for me, and, presumably also for the budgie, who hurriedly left my bossoms — which I say proved my point that it wasn’t mine in the first place. I ran away.

How about 12 minutes of conversation? Yesterday, I spent 12 minutes on the bus with my neighbour and I learned that he has spent every night this week counselling a lady who thinks she wants to buy his cats that he has put up for sale on Gumtree (like Ebay). She is just not sure though, mostly because her current cat is dying and maybe it would just not be right to bring in new cats so close to the end, (no, it wouldn’t). I also had a 12 minute conversation with the coffee shop man about the virtues of reusable coffee cups (which ended in success with coffee shop man agreeing to discounts for customers who bring their own). And then I spent 12 minutes with a total stranger in the confines of his car.

I took a 12 minute taxi ride today. It was in a hotted up Hyundai with no less than 12 smelly tags, (a mixture of christmas tree pines, lemons and berries), hanging off the rearview mirror (both of these facts are totally irrelevant to the rest of this story). We weren’t going far. I needed him for the 12 minute trip to the car repairer, where my car was taking a rest from being bashed in the back by a lovely, rather tearful, woman who it seemed had got a bit tired from having her foot on the brake pedal and thought it would be more useful to brake by whamming into the back of my car one night the week before last in Canberra peak hour traffic (which, because it is Canberra, was more like peak 12 minutes of traffic). Here is what our conversation covered in 12 minutes:

  • life after death and life on other planets, (it exists and it is possibly the places we go to after we die);
  • religion, (churches exist for the sole purpose of controlling people);
  • luck, (some people are touched with the lucky stick);
  • transportation choices in Serbia, (armoured bullet proof Mercedes-Benz are legitimate);
  • brain power, (most people will only ever use 10% of their brain, if that, although there are exceptions, like Einstein, who used 30% of his brain);
  • wealth, (the man who invented “the facebook” is now the fifth richest man in the world and earns $270,000 per second); and
  • the power of Vicks Vapourdrops, (they work, especially if you pop them one after another obsessively over the course of 12 minutes).

All of that in just under 12 minutes (his hotted up Hyundai with 12 smelly tags went a bit faster than I think it was legally allowed to go).

How does any of this link back to 12 minutes of lost productivity? After work manager’s session on the importance of increasing work productivity, (she has graduated to a corner office with a door and, because she is the boss, she can close that door anytime she wants), and possibly also out of guilt, (having received feedback that we are considered the loudest pod on the floor and probably the entire department), my work team peeps decided that our cluster of carrels would embrace the concept of no interruptions. We called it “busy face” time. We placed a whiteboard at the front of our four person pod, writing on it when “busy face” time was on and we politely refused to engage with anyone who dared to approach us during these moments. All in order to save us 12 minutes.

I didn’t like the “busy face” policy. In fact, none of my work peeps did. I like quiet time but if that is what we are aiming for then everyone should work behind closed doors. It’s not though. Otherwise why are we all working together in open plan? Isn’t the idea to collaborate, to break down the walls, to share information, to be a team? Then you can’t count interruptions as wasted 12 minutes. Sometimes, in those 12 minutes genius will strike. Sometimes it won’t. But the point is — it could and you don’t want to miss out because of “busy face.” Spend 12 minutes in a hotted up Hyundai and you can discover the meaning of life. Chat with your neighbour about the virtues of cat buying, even though you hate cats. Have a rat fall on your head and get that budgie out of your shirt. Become an Olympic athlete and run 5 kilometres in 12 minutes, or just cook like Jamie Oliver. Bruce Springsteen wrote this about his 12 minute performance at the Superbowl in 2009: “You start here, you end there, that’s it. That’s the time you’ve got to give it everything you have…twelve minutes…give or take a few seconds.” And because he is The Boss I say embrace any 12 minutes of madness with your work colleagues because in those 12 minutes you will discover more than what you will lose. Anyway, it is just 12 minutes. You have another 1,428 minutes in the day.