The 5 minute syndrome – I see this almost everyday and to some extent, I am not exempted from it. I too have it to some degree.
- You are waiting on a shop. Shop owner: It will take 5 minutes. Again, you check after 20-30 minutes and again says just take 5 more minutes.
- Spouse asks when you are reaching home; Reply: just 5 minutes, I will start back home. It is not before 1/2 half hour and another reminder that he starts home.
- You call a cab; Cab driver is late. You check with the cab driver – he says – just 5 minutes sir. Reaches after 20 minutes.
- You are waiting for a friend (who is late) on dinner table. You call him. reply – just 5 minutes. Reaches after main course started.
This is 5 minutes syndrome. 5 minutes essentially means – I don’t know how much will it take? be patient! There is related 2 minute, 1 minute syndromes also but that for another time; It means I know it will take short time but don’t know exactly how much. Anyway but isn’t it harmless? For the incidences of kind above, it is harmless except that the person on the other end may lose his mind for minutes to hour. I had faced this recently at hospital where the lady at billing section kept promising 5 minutes – eventually taking 1.5 hours!
The subtle issue behind this is assumption – It’s ok to take more time as long as I am still invested in task and finish the task late. This can cause lot of harm & grief. Not everything can be delayed. For example – your project deliverables may not wait and may cause cascaded delay in overall project timeline. As a manager, I remember I have to keep two timelines internal (to team) and external (for partners) to manage team commitments. As a self employed person, I see myself falling in trap of “taking more time” and thinking I can still manage it.
While deadlines should not mean – I am dead if I don’t meet the timeline. but at the same time, It’s not ok – to not meet timelines – without serious reasons. It forces us to define the scope (instead of trying to solve problems like world hunger or make whole world a better place!) and finish the task or know/communicate affront what is not achievable in the given timeframe.
A timeline and scope are essential part of the goal and having a 5 minute syndrome may act counterproductive for me.