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Five minute wonders: apps that change your life in short bursts

Do more when you’ve a spare five minutes, by using these apps on your phone

Five minutes. 300 seconds. That doesn’t sound like a long time. But you’d be surprised what you can pack into a short session – and how lots of meaningful ones across the weeks and months can positively impact your life.

In this round-up, we look into 16 such apps that can make a real difference – and yet won’t eat into your day. Whether you always wanted to learn a new language, make a ringtone, discover new art, or take time to relax, there’s something for you here.

Relax and unwind with Oak

If you’re pressed for time and regularly stressed, install Oak. The breathing exercises can clear your head in minutes, and both the unguided and ‘loving kindness’ meditation routines have five-minute versions. The app will track your progress and handily provides fast access to recent exercises through shortcuts at the top of the screen.

Download Oak (free)

Learn a language with Duolingo

The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in a place where it’s spoken. The next best way is regular practice. Duolingo is great for the latter, with bite-sized ‘gamified’ sessions that get you started on dozens of languages, whether you want to read, write, speak or just listen.

Download Duolingo (free + IAP)

Expand your vocabulary with Drops


Like Duolingo, Drops helps you to learn new languages, but it’s mainly concerned with words and short phrases. Daily exercises last precisely five minutes, and are broken down into intuitive game-like challenges that gradually cement what you’re learning deep into your brain.

Download Drops (free + IAP)

Read the classics with Serial Reader

Not got time to read the classics? This app begs to differ, carving up your selected tomes into bite-sized pieces delivered to you daily. It’s a smart idea and the reader itself is solid. Chapters sometimes strain at our five-minute rule, but you can always opt to cut the longer ones in half yourself!

Download Serial Reader (free)

Catch up on news with Alfread


This app can connect to a read-later service (Pocket; Instapaper) or you can send articles directly to it. On launch, stories are presented as cards, forcing you to focus and make decisions on what to read. Gamified streaks push you to spend a few minutes daily catching up on your reading.

Download Alfread

Knowledge hack with Uptime

Uptime wants to achieve the impossible, imbuing you with the knowledge from important books in just five minutes. It does this by cleverly condensing key points into a short read or slice of audio. The subscription’s pricey, but you can always opt to stick with the daily free entry.

Download Uptime (free + IAP)

Learn instruments with Yousician

Originally aimed at guitarists and since expanding out to other instruments, Yousician ‘gamifies’ learning to play. Lessons are akin to Guitar Hero turned 90 degrees, but using real-world audio input as a source. For free, daily lessons are limited, but that works well if you’ve only a short time to spare every day and a longer-term target.

Download Yousician

Learn to code with Mimo


If you tried to make Duolingo for programming, it would look a lot like Mimo. Simple exercises give you a grounding in logic and techniques to get you started in writing code. Importantly, Mimo’s friendly demeanor ensures learning to code does not intimidate and instead comes across as fun.

Download Mimo (free + IAP)

Exercise with Streaks Workout

This app reasons you don’t need much time or any kit to have a workout. You select exercises you’re comfortable with and then kick off a routine. The shortest built-in one lasts six minutes, but you can create custom workouts of any length. Stats are saved in-app and to Health for later perusal.

Download Streaks Workout ($3.99/£3.49)

Log gratitude with 5 Minute Journal

Based on the paper diaries of the same name, 5 Minute Journal invites you to log positivity. So rather than ending up with a record of your ills, you acknowledge and can reflect on the joys in your life – large and small. Integrated mood tracking and inspirational quotes further build a pathway to cultivating gratitude.

Download 5 Minute Journal (free + IAP)

Make a ringtone with Figure

Most music apps take time to master, but Figure is far more immediate. Loops take mere minutes to compose, comprising a beat, bass and lead. Plenty of sounds are built-in, and your creations can be exported to GarageBand and converted into a personalized ringtone that no-one else in the world will own.

Download Figure (free)

Explore cuisine with Tasty

There’s something to be said for the immediacy of well-edited video. Tasty has that in spades, leading you through the process of cooking dishes in very little time. Although each recipe will of course take more than five minutes to make, figuring out how to do so easily fits into those tiny gaps in your day.

Download Tasty (free)

Try drawing with 5min Sketch

This app’s interface is… idiosyncratic, but the underlying idea is sound. The screen is split, with an image to the left and drawing space to the right. A five-minute timer forces you to make quick decisions. Draw the same image across multiple days and you should soon see progress. Note that although the app is best with iPad and Apple Pencil in hand, finger scrawls on an iPhone can still do wonders for your drawing ability.

Download 5min Sketch

Brush up on maps and flags with Seterra


If you’ve ever embarrassed yourself by not being able to point at France on a map or recognize the flag of Australia, this app’s for you. Select a subject and a quiz and you get a semi-randomized set of questions that keep challenging you until the facts stay in your head.

Download Seterra Geography (free)

Absorb new ideas with TED

TED Talks are renowned for helping people expand their world with new ideas about everything from science and politics to love and health. Even the longer talks are fairly brief. But by using the search field, you can set the duration to 3–6 minutes, giving you access to dozens of interesting yet bite-sized pieces of knowledge and insight.

Download TED

Discover new art with Daily Art

If you’ve always wanted to know more about art, DailyArt gives you an accessible daily dose in the form of a masterpiece alongside a short write-up. Links are provided to artists and galleries alike, and within five minutes you should be able to get through all of these things on a daily basis.

Download Daily Art