Think about a task you wish to or must complete, and imagine how long it should take you. If you are a right-thinking person like myself, the answer is “20 minutes.” A 10-minute task is hardly a task at all, more of a minor interruption, and anything that takes 30 minutes invites the thought that you could have watched a half-hour episode of television instead. Twenty minutes is, objectively, the ideal amount of time — the Goldilocks number when it comes to doing things.
I realized this recently when I was once again running late to an event — only one train ride away — because I had assumed it would take me 20 minutes to get there. I was bewildered and then upset that it took 40. There were no facts or previous experiences or reasons behind this assumption, just the bone-deep certainty that it should take 20 minutes, because that is the correct time for everything.
A 20-minute commute? Delightful, unobtrusive, enough time to feel like you really committed to the idea of going somewhere else, but not so long that you need a very good reason for it. Twenty minutes swiping on Tinder makes me feel as though I am putting in a good-faith effort to remember what sex is like without becoming intolerably tedious. Yesterday I spent 20 minutes talking on the phone with my sainted mother, who probably disagrees that this is the perfect amount of time spent on the phone but she is wrong. My dog enjoys a brisk 20-minute walk, and this is yet another sign of her moral superiority.
“Aha, but what about drinks with friends? Surely 20 minutes is not sufficient to bask in the glow of amiable companionship?” Easy — each drink should take 20 minutes, multiply as necessity demands. This works for eating out as well: 20 minutes for an appetizer, 20 minutes for the main course, 20 minutes for dessert, etc.
In fact, all longer endeavors should be broken down into 20-minute intervals to make life more bearable. If you must write a book, and chances are you should not but that hardly stops people, you should do it 20 minutes at a time. Do 20 minutes of cardio then 20 minutes of some other gym thing. Allow yourself 20 minutes to reflect on the times you have embarrassed yourself by saying something stupid in front of smart people, and then move on to 20 minutes scrolling through the Instagram of a now-bald ex-boyfriend, for balance.
The only things that justify spending more than 20 minutes on them are the ones you do to avoid putting in your twenty minutes doing something unpleasant. Read for as long as you like, binge television to your heart’s content, but eventually you must spent exactly 20 minutes cleaning your bathroom. The only thing that should take less than twenty minutes is sex, which should take 15.
It has now taken me 18 minutes to write this blog, so it’s time to wrap things up. To paraphrase the esteemed Dominic Toretto, we should all be living life 20 minutes at a time.