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5-Minute Tricks to Make the Most of Your Downtime

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What can you do with just five minutes? Actually, way more than you think! Introducing Food52 in 5: your cheat sheet for speedy, delicious recipes, fun mini projects, and more.


I think I may have learned to stretch time—and not just a little bit, but a lot, like saltwater taffy.

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I discovered this skill recently, over a few busier-than-normal weekends that made me realize it's the days that look craziest on the calendar—the ones where I squeeze in a trip to the diner, a farmer’s market run, an out-of-town hike, a for-the-heck-of-it dance class, and a date with the newspaper, all back-to-back—that last the longest. I don’t know if it's the fun of having so many to-dos on the daily roster, or the Sunday-night satisfaction of thinking about everything I banged out in two, too-quick days, but it’s reason enough for me to want to jam. every. last. moment. with some kind of plan.

This principle of time-stretching doesn't just apply to weekends, and my plan-making isn't limited to bigger activities (like taking a day trip) either. Sometimes they take no more than 5 minutes, hardly big enough to call "plans," and manageable enough to slip into any spare moment of downtime. Respond to a personal, totally-non-work-related email you've been meaning to get to, or make a playlist, or jot off a postcard to your college roommate/pen pal/parents. Devoting a few moments of free time to any one of these teeny tasks makes a 5-minute window (one that I'd probably otherwise fill with a glazed-over slide down a social media feed) feel like a happy expanse.

Let’s start with a drink!

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Fancy, No-Fuss Cocktails for This Weekend (or Anytime)
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Fancy, No-Fuss Cocktails for This Weekend (or Anytime)

1. Find your perfect classic cocktail.

No more um-uh-ing at the bar, no more staring down your own little collection of bottles before reaching for a cold beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with a cold beer. But James Bond had the martini, Carrie Bradshaw had the Cosmo, and maybe you want a drink—Your Drink, the one your friends know to order you and any bartender can make. All it takes is a few minutes of “research.” Learn how to make it just the way you like it.

A Small, Surprising Way to Brighten Someone's Day
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A Small, Surprising Way to Brighten Someone's Day

2. Write a postcard to someone just because.

Nothing makes me feel more like a little kid than getting a letter, something totally unexpected, in the mail. It totally makes my day, so why not make someone else’s: Pick out a fun postcard at a bookstore, or take the one that comes with your receipt from your next dinner out, then slap a stamp on the back and jot anything that comes to mind. A poem! A heart as big as the postcard! A narration of whatever funny thing you see on the street! Send it to whoever you think of first.

Give Your Sink That Spa Treatment It's Been Waiting For
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Give Your Sink That Spa Treatment It's Been Waiting For

3. Give your sink a spa day.

Cleaning your sink is one of those little things that you think won’t make much of a difference and then you wonder, aghast, what you were possibly waiting for. (Right up there with cleaning your glasses.) A quick but thorough scrub, something bright and citrusy down the disposal, and a few moments of attention dedicated to a pesky clog gets you to a whole new world.

4. Make a 5-minute dessert.

Maybe part of your weekend plan involves baking elaborate desserts that require plenty of prep and active time. Or maybe it involves spending 5 minutes and minimal thought on something sweet to enjoy. Enter the mug cake: a tiny personal cake you make in the microwave, in a mug that you can snuggle with your hand while slumping onto the couch. This one’s good for when the chocolate cravings threaten to shake you silly if not acknowledged.

How to Clear Your Head in 5 Minutes or Less
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How to Clear Your Head in 5 Minutes or Less

5. Get outside.

Ever feel like you went morning to night without seeing the light of day? Like there's a distinct possibility you didn't get outside once? We've all been there. Make a daily “appointment,” if you have to—put it on your calendar. And then devote yourself, totally, intentionally, for just 5 minutes, to being outside and listening to the birds chirping.

What do you devote 5 minutes a day to? Tell us in the comments.