Stop Procrastinating: The Five-Minute Rule

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One of the smaller, but important life-changing ideas I’ve brought into my life came from therapy (I think; I’m not entirely sure where I first heard it) and it’s the five-minute rule. It stems from cognitive behavioral therapy, so maybe I did pick it up in therapy.

If you’re not familiar with it, the five-minute rule is a way to counteract procrastination, brain fog and writer’s block. That is, if you’re procrastinating on something for work, school or something in your daily life otherwise because you think it’ll be too hard, take too long or whatever the reason is, the five-minute rule can help.

(As a digression, I did learn in therapy that procrastination is itself a symptom of, or the body’s response to, depression.)

The five-minute rule means taking five minutes to do that task you don’t want to do. Just do it for five minutes. If you’re still not feeling it, okay then, step away. But often, if you do it for even five minutes, you’ll realize it’s not so hard or overwhelming and before you know it, the task is complete. And that makes you feel good.

After all, the reason for procrastination is the getting going. Usually, once we’re going, we can let Newton’s first law of motion (“an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force”) manifest.

Take my experience today as an example. I had one cup of coffee, but as happens, I had that overwhelming desire to go back to bed anyway. It’s that sort of brain fog that feels all-consuming. I didn’t feel like diving into a story for the newspaper I knew was going to be a Big Undertaking™.

But I thought about the five-minute rule and opened up public records I needed to look at for reference, as well as my prior story on the matter. I began writing a few sentences. And no joke, before I knew it, I had worked for more than three hours and written 3,600-some words.

I didn’t reach for another cup of coffee. Heck, I wasn’t even downing water that much. I was in the zone. The writing and reporting zone. As in, one of the greatest feelings I know of where you’re completely immersed within it. You’re just vibing, as the kids say.

And I put that on the five-minute rule. It’s like dang magic! I pushed myself to push myself for five minutes and five minutes turned into three hours and getting a huge story done that I don’t need to worry about tomorrow. (I mean, I still have to edit it and clean it up, but I’d rather deal with a rough draft than an empty draft.)

If you’ve never heard of the five-minute rule to implement it in your own life, then I highly recommend giving it a shot the next time you’re procrastinating and not feeling something. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. Just do it for five minutes and see what happens! The magic is that I wasn’t sitting there watching the clock. Okay, it’s been three minutes. Two more to go. No, the zone came and I forgot about time.

All of life, especially the productive parts of it, are about tricking our silly brains into doing what we want them to do. I hope the five-minute trick can help you trick your brain, too.

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