The best lesson I learned in high school – the value of 20 minutes

When I am at home and my boys are up or I’m hurrying from home to the office sometimes it feels like I can’t get ANYTHING done.  So, when I have 20 minutes – I use it.  And I NEED it.

Utilizing 20 minute blocks of time is my lifeline as a working mother of twins.  It keeps my mind clear so that I can be more PRESENT and really ENJOY it when my boys are full of energy and ready to play. 

So what’s with this 20 minute obsession anyway?

My high school utilizes a modular (“mod”) schedule.  This is a unique schedule that was popular in the 70’s.   It’s uncommon today but it’s still around at my high school.

The school day is divided into 20-minute periods.  There are not set periods or bells.  Classes are scheduled into the mods, with some classes scheduled for two mods every day, while others are every other day for three mods and science labs are 4 mods.  There are mod breaks scheduled throughout the day for lunch, studying and socializing and the cafeteria is open all day.

It’s actually quite simple after the first two weeks of freshman year.  And free mods at the end of the day?  Senior privilege – early dismissal 🙂

My high school advertises that it’s similar to a college schedule where each day is different and students must plan their own lunches, leisure time, study time, etc.  I would take that a step further, it doesn’t just prepare you for college, it teaches you a valuable life lesson – the value of 20 minutes – and ever-important practice of time management.

After spending four years navigating this unusual schedule, it was clear that a lot can be accomplished in 20 minutes. 

  • Grab a bagel and cream cheese from the café and finish your math homework before class
  • Meet with a club committee to practice a school assembly skit
  • Socialize in the cafeteria and play several games of euchre after a chemistry test
  • Read a chapter of your current English lit book
  • Run to the bathroom, stop at your locker, fill up your water bottle and drop off forms for a community service trip
  • Enjoy a bowl of spiral pasta and sauce on the coveted Wednesday pasta day

Today when I have twenty minutes, the list of items often looks quite different, and sometimes it looks eerily similar, and one constant holds true – a lot can be accomplished in 20 minutes. 

  • Grab coffee and a yogurt and check your email before your first morning meeting
  • Meet with a coworker to clear a lingering item
  • Socialize and catch up with a friend during your commute (hands free of course)
  • Read the latest entries from your favorite blogs and check Facebook
  • Run to the bathroom, make grilled cheese for the kids’ lunch and clean up toy trucks and dolls strewn in the walk ways of your home
  • Enjoy a Chick-Fil-A sandwich on the coveted Wednesday office catering day

Your living space can go from – it looks like a bomb went off – to house guest ready (with maybe stashing a few items quickly into a closet).  You can prep a gourmet meal in stages by measuring, thawing, chopping, and cooking during mini breaks throughout the day.

And socializing, resting and reading are valuable uses of time! It’s not all chores and to do lists.  Sometimes just a few minutes peace to get into a good book or to text a few friends is the best possible use of your time.

I still schedule my time and think about it in mods today, a high school tradition that lives on.  Now I use Outlook rather than a meticulously decorated paper schedule, yet…

…whenever there’s an extra 20 minutes I treat it like a gift.  I gratefully accept it and I use it fully.



Editor’s Note: Leslie Michel attended high school at Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The wonderful teachers there taught her many other valuable lessons in addition to time management skills.

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