15 Minute Increments for Productivity: How to Use Them The Right Way

Charlotte Seibert, April 12, 2024

15 minute increments

Our working day is often characterized by seemingly endless to-do lists, numerous meetings, and a never-ending stream of messages. Outside of work, we are supposed to get enough sleep, exercise, eat a balanced diet, and find a creative outlet to our working day - besides our household and family. Who has all that time?

We need strategies that keep us in control of our tasks and enable us to use our time as efficiently as possible. One of these strategies is managing your day in 15-minute increments. A method that brings a breath of fresh air when:

  • you feel overwhelmed
  • you feel stuck
  • you need a new perspective
  • you seek clarity
  • you need a sense of achievement.

Don't worry: 15-minute increments can easily be adapted to your personal needs. Even fans of the Pomodoro technique and single-tasking have something to look forward to.

In this article, you will learn all about this productivity strategy and get practical tips on how to implement it. You will also gain insight into how companies are taking advantage of the concept of 15-minute increments for time tracking. Find out how you can get the most out of your hours.

What are 15-minute increments?

what are 15 minute increments

The term '15-minute increments' refers to a time management method for increasing productivity. Each hour is divided into four 15-minute time blocks. In this way, a working day of 8 hours translates into a day of 32 units.

This method appeals due to its versatility:

  1. 15-minute increments are a low-threshold alternative to the Pomodoro technique. They can serve as an introduction to single-tasking.
  2. The daily structure of 32 units can be used as a planning tool. Tasks and projects can be assigned to specific time blocks.
  3. Or you can use such a grid for self-observation and self-reflection*. You can use it to record your daily work routine and habits, as well as capture distractions.

Either way, using 15-minute increments is a great way to visualize, be mindful of, and improve your daily work routine. Perhaps the best thing about this method is that, no matter how overwhelmed you are, you can celebrate a success every 15 minutes.

Why we get time wrong

It is not news that we are generally subject to biased perception and that we estimate our time poorly. Just think of the phenomenon of the planning fallacy. For example, do you remember at what time you did what task for how many minutes yesterday or last week?

At the end of a full week or a long day, we often ask ourselves where all the time has gone. This is usually followed by the question: How am I supposed to find the time to reach my goals on time? On the flip side, when it comes to particularly large projects, we barely seem to get off the ground. Our tasks and to-do lists can quickly become overwhelming.

However, the feeling of having no time doesn't always reflect reality. To regain control, we need facts. The first step is to take a look at your calendar: How much time do you actually have each week? On an average working day, in addition to around 8 hours of sleep and 7 hours of free time, we have a full 8 hours at our disposal. That is an impressive 40 hours a week.

How 15-minute increments can help

In the next step, dividing our working hours into blocks of 15 minutes creates additional clarity. Eight hours become 32 units, 40 hours add up to 160 units. This change of perspective alone can sometimes help us

  • to calm down and push through,
  • be more aware of our time,
  • bring structure to our day,
  • and gain insight into our habits.

A day divided into blocks of 15 minutes not only illustrates how much time we actually have. We gain clarity and can plan more realistically. Having a deadline can increase our motivation. We can resist procrastination and distractions more effectively.

In a culture of multitasking and a challenging workplace environment, our short attention span is becoming increasingly shorter. Phases of maximum concentration become a challenge for the human brain. Dividing our tasks and projects into short units makes them easier to digest.

Working in 15-minute increments or using the Pomodoro technique works so well because the 15- to 25-minute phases of focused work followed by 5-minute breaks align with our cognitive abilities and needs. This way, we work more efficiently, are more productive, and less stressed.

How to get the most out of your hours

getting the most out of hours

The following tips on using 15-minute increments for better time management are for anyone running out of time and in desperate need of a breath of fresh air.

1. Set a timer for 15 minutes

What could you do in 15 minutes? You don't have to dive straight into this method to benefit from its advantages. For a gentle introduction, just one 15-minute session of concentrated work per day is enough. Alternatively, you can divide one or two hours of your day into 15-minute blocks. Use a timer or your calendar notifications.

This approach works particularly well for challenging tasks and long-term projects. The challenge of getting started and procrastination can be overcome by telling yourself: It's only 15 minutes. This makes it easier to achieve a flow state.

Another strategy is to divide large projects into small tasks and divide them into 15-minute blocks. That way, you can celebrate a success every 15 minutes. This ensures more satisfaction, energy and constant progress.

2. Use 15-minute increments for planning

Divide your working days into 15-minute units in your digital calendar or a chart. You can then use this structure to plan your day or week. Plan an evening or a week beforehand to start the day with as much clarity and certainty as possible.

  1. Identify your priorities.
  2. Use focus times to minimize distractions & disruptions.
  3. Group similar and related tasks together or next to each other in blocks.
  4. Reserve fixed time blocks for recurring tasks to create routines.
  5. Take into account when you are more and less productive.

Use automatic time tracking software for precise planning. Memtime, for example, records all your activities down to the minute and displays your day as a chronological timeline. You can learn all about our process here. With this information, you can easily see how much time you need for your tasks, what distracts you the most, and when you are the most productive.

A precise structure and careful planning can help you focus on your goals, avoid multitasking, and increase your efficiency and productivity. With a clear intention, we are more persistent in pursuing our goals.

3. Plan enough breaks

planning breaks

Think about breaks when planning in 15-minute units. Concentrated work costs a lot of energy and effort. With "only" 15 minutes, it's easy to skip breaks. However, they are not a waste of time! Breaks give us the rest and refreshment we need to maintain our productivity in the long term.

Incorporate short breaks to keep your rhythm going. With a timer, for example, you could work for 14 minutes, pause for 1 minute, work for 14 minutes, pause for 1 minute, and so on. Or you could work with an interval structure, where you schedule a 5-minute break after two 15-minute increments or use one interval as a break after 4 intervals. You can adapt this according to your needs and capabilities.

4. Stay flexible

Well-intentioned attempts at optimization can sometimes do more harm than good. A strict division into 15-minute increments can create pressure and high expectations. At worst, this ends in frustration, disappointment, and even more pressure. 15-minute increments serve to make you more aware of time and increase productivity. Perfection is not the goal. Some tasks take longer than 15 minutes despite careful planning. Unforeseen events can throw a day into disarray.

Plan a time buffer for busy days as a precaution. You can use the structure of short intervals to avoid falling into the perfectionist trap and helping yourself to just get things done. The division allows you to identify priorities and a functioning workflow. As relatively small blocks of time, individual 15-minute increments can be rescheduled in an emergency or pushed somewhere else in between. By remaining flexible, you can learn to forgive yourself and keep going when things don't go according to plan.

15-minute increments in business

time clock rounding

15-minute increments are by no means new in the professional world either. However, most companies think of 15-minute increments as time clock rounding.

If an employee who gets paid by the hour starts working at 9:02 a.m. and finishes at 4:57 p.m., for example, the time is rounded to the period from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

For 15-minute increments, you round down within a quarter of an hour below the 8-minute mark and round up above this mark. For example:

  • 8:53-9:07 to 9:00
  • 9:08-9:22 to 9:15
  • 9:23-9:37 to 9:30
  • 9:38-9:52 to 9:45

The advantages and pitfalls of time clock rounding

Time clock rounding simplifies the calculation of salaries. This saves both small and large companies work and time in payroll accounting. Ideally, this prevents employees from being paid too little or too much.

The method dates back to the days of time clocks and handwritten timesheets. A much more precise alternative is the use of automatic time tracking. Memtime even displays your workday in 15-minute increments. And with Memtime's 100% free trial period, anyone can try out automatic time tracking in 15-minute increments.

Often the question arises as to whether time clock rounding is still up to date and whether there are specific legal regulations. There is no general answer. Different rules apply depending on requirements, industry practice, and the law.

In principle, however, the following applies:

  • Working hours, payroll accounting, and minimum wage are generally regulated by law. If working hours are inflated due to excessive rounding, employees may be threatened with warnings and, in serious cases, dismissal.
  • Employers, on the other hand, may face dissatisfaction, mistrust and even legal action.

The main purpose of rounding working hours is to create a satisfactory and clear process for both sides. Transparency, precision and fairness are key to building mutual trust in this matter.

Wrapping up

15-minute increments are versatile and particularly useful. As a working method and time management tool, they increase productivity. Anyone feeling overwhelmed by their day-to-day work and treading water can use this method to gain clarity and make rapid progress. In a business context, the concept of 15-minute increments is the practice of rounding working hours to simplify payroll.

You may find that 15-minute increments are not enough for you to complete your tasks. You may also feel that working in 15-minute intervals doesn't suit your workplace. Nevertheless, there might be something in it for you.

15-minute increments can be used as a clean-up or a learning opportunity. With them, you can gain insight into your way of working, your pace and your biggest distractions. Ultimately, you can use the information gained from this process to make lasting improvements to your work.

Meet the author:

Author - Charlotte Seibert

Charlotte Seibert

After studying humanities and working in the cultural sector organizing and programming bigger events, Charlotte Seibert immersed herself in the world of marketing. For Memtime, Charlotte writes about productivity topics and the benefits of automated time tracking.

Outside of work, Charlotte can usually be found with a book, her analog camera, or planning her next trip to the theater.