Why It Only Takes Five Minutes to Help a Stranger

Five-minute favors are small — but create exponential returns

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King

I challenge you to give me a good excuse for not helping a stranger.

How many times do we walk away from someone in need? How many emails do we ignore when people request a small favor? How often are we too busy to give someone else a hand?

Time is usually the most frequent, yet useless, reason.

There really is no excuse for not carving out time to help a stranger. You just need five minutes to create an exponential impact on someone else’s life.

No One Else but You Can

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”
― Anne Frank

You might not consider yourself in a position of privilege, but we all are.

Regardless of how we are doing, we all have something others lack. You don’t need to be rich or an influencer to help other people.

Take a minute to reflect on your gifts.

Your network might feel small, but it’s reliable. The skills you underestimate might be precious to others. Your time, smarts, or resources can mean a lot for those who need help.

It’s a myth that to give back you have to achieve success first.

That’s one of the key premises of Adam Grant’s book Give and Take. According to the organizational psychologist, helping others drives our success.

Good guys don’t finish last — they travel in good company. The more you help others, the more progress you’ll make. Helping others opens new possibilities.

Paying it forward is a rewarding experience. Giving without expecting anything in return makes us feel happier and fulfilled.

“The most successful people are the ones who start giving right from day one.” — Adam Grant

You don’t need to be in a special position to help a stranger. Life creates unique opportunities — we must act upon. If you don’t do it, who else will?

There’s no excuse for inaction. Are you a giver or a taker?

The Power of the Five-Minute Favor

We don’t have time — we make time. Helping someone takes less time and effort than you imagine.

The “five-minute favor” is a small way to create a significant impact on people’s lives.

As John Bunyan said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

Made popular by Adam Grant, the concept is simple: practice carving five minutes of your time to help someone else.

The “five-minute favor” is a mindset. You are willing and prepared to help a stranger without expecting anything in return.

The idea of micro-favors was initially conceived by serial entrepreneur Adam Rifkin. He learned this practice by first-hand experience. When Rifkin was fresh out of college, many mentors helped him start as an entrepreneur. But they didn’t expect a quid-pro-quo.

Incorporating small, daily acts of kindness will only cost you time — five minutes to be exact.

Adam Grant suggests that a five-minute favor is like a micro-loan. You can help someone else at a minimal cost to you.

Helping others create exponential returns — some unexpected.

Giving is directly linked to longevity and happiness.

Small acts of kindness encourage you to think of someone else. They remove us from our self-centered world. “It kind of clears your mind for a bit,” Rifkin explains. “It is a form of meditation in a sense.”

Practicing small favors is not just beautiful but contagious. By helping others, you help spread the 5-minute favors practice.

Twyla Tharp wrote, “Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. It’s like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune.”

Your Turn to Pay it Forward

“If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” — Buddha

Don’t just do it. Do it right.

Five-minute favors are small but require intention and passion. You want to help people, not just get them out of your way.

Here are some tips to help you help others.

  1. Introduce two people via LinkedIn by leveraging something they have in common. Don’t just connect people, create the connection.
  2. Give candid advice. I usually get many requests from entrepreneurs or writers who want feedback. My approach: be honest by contributing not judging others’ work.
  3. Forget about the following/ followers ratio. Be generous. Follow everyone who follows you on Twitter — especially those with a small number of followers.
  4. Do you see writers struggling to spread his work on Medium? Recommend and share their posts. Link one of your pieces to theirs.
  5. Don’t offer something you can’t deliver. Choose how many five-minute favors you can take per day. Having clear priorities requires saying no too.
  6. When someone announces a side project, help them spread the news using your network.
  7. Did someone you know lose their job? Recommend them on LinkedIn.
  8. When you notice that two people have a shared interest, offer to introduce them.
  9. Don’t slam the door in people’s faces. Is someone trying to sell you something? Be polite. If their approach feels annoying, share some advice. Remember, we all have to promote our stuff from time to time.
  10. Ask people to do the leg work. They must help you help them. I’ve helped many people with their job searches. I’m open to making an introduction, but they have to browse my connections first. It’s up to them to provide the who and why.

It ultimately pays for you to pay it forward. People are wired with a drive to reciprocate. The five-minute favor is not a transaction, though. Never keep score.

You can change someone else’s life— it only takes 5 minutes. Be helpful. Practice giving and inspire others to be helpful too.

And, if you believe in karma, there’s always that.

Carve five minutes. Start helping a stranger now.

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Gustavo Razzetti is a change instigator who builds cultures that push organizations forward — not backward. He advises, writes, and speaks on personal growth, team development and culture transformation.

I help teams and organizations build fearless cultures. Creator of the Culture Design Canvas. Insights → www.fearlessculture.design/blog

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