The Five Minute Rule to Procrastination

I’m actually utilizing this exact strategy right now as I type these words. And it is with this exact strategy that I intend on finishing this blog post within the next hour, if not much less than that. So, let’s start with a little context.

Procrastination Dominoes

We finished dinner about an hour ago. I went on to spend about 15 minutes listening to a chapter of an audiobook. Then, I sat down at my desk in my office with this exact blog post topic in mind. I went in fully intending to start writing right away.

But, then I opened up YouTube, because I remembered that a good friend of mine just uploaded a new vlog. I figured the video was less than ten minutes. What’s the harm in watching his video first, right? And while his video was playing, I reached for my phone, almost out of reflex, and fired up Dr. Mario. Just one quick stage, I told myself… which led to a few quick games, which led to more YouTube videos, which led to the bottomless pit that is social media.

All of a sudden, it’s an hour later, and I’m still staring at a blank page. Oh, the tyranny of the blank page. And it’s not like I have writer’s block either. I have this idea and I’m totally ready to write about it. If anything, I’m doing exactly the things I shouldn’t be doing when I have writer’s block (again, which I don’t actually have). It’s time to call in the five-minute rule.

Accountability Out the Window

I’ve brought up this point several times before and I’m probably going to bring it up several more times before I’m through. When you work in a more conventional kind of office, even if your supervisor isn’t literally breathing down your neck every minute, there’s a certain sense of untold pressure to do something productive. You’re at work. You should be working. Call it environmental peer pressure.

But, when you work from home, especially when you work for yourself, there isn’t the same sense of immediate accountability. No one is watching what you’re doing (except Mark Zuckerberg, of course, but that’s another discussion for another day), so no one is holding you accountable but yourself. Even if you have the best work ethic, you’re going to slip up every now and then. Inevitably, if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall down the rabbit hole of social media and YouTube with the rest of us. 

The “opportunities” for distraction are plentiful, try as you might to drown them out. If it’s not the allure of everything on the web, it’s the temptation of all the offline things around you. Maybe you want to pet your cat, play with your kids, or go for a walk around the block. Anything but the actual work you have on hand, even if it’s work that you otherwise enjoy doing. 

What you’ll find, though, is that this five-minute rule is even more effective when it comes to less desirable tasks. It can really surprise you just how effective this little work “hack” can be.

All It Takes Is Five Minutes

The five-minute rule just might be one of the best ways to battle procrastination. There’s a thing you need to do — like writing a blog post — but somehow everything else is far more alluring or attractive at the moment. That YouTube video sounds great. Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram is a dream come true. How do you get over this speed bump?

Five minutes. All it takes is a mere five minutes. If there’s something you need (or want) to do, commit to doing it for five minutes. If after five minutes you’d rather watch a YouTube video, grant yourself the permission to do that. What you’ll find, though, is that if you commit to just five minutes, chances are that you’ll end up working on it for much longer than that.

Take this exact blog post as a case in point. I committed to just five minutes. That might be enough time to rough out the introduction to this post. And yet, as I type these words, I’m about 20 or 30 minutes in (I haven’t turned around to proofread yet), and I have no intention of slowing down. 

Inertia exerts an incredible influence on us, both in a very real, physical sense and in a more mental or psychological sense. Once you get the proverbial hamster on the wheel inside your head, it’s going to start running. And once it starts running, it’s going to keep running. The hardest part was getting the hamster to start running in the first place. The five-minute rule is designed exactly to give you that start. 

As I said, this tactic is especially effective for less desirable tasks. Going through and doing your income tax return each year, for example, is hardly pleasant. I put it off every year. But, I find that once I sit down and get started with the process, I can usually end up doing most of it in a single session. I just have to get started. 

Beyond the Five-Minute Mark

The five-minute rule is a terrific way to overcome procrastination. If you want to apply the same principle and extend it further, you should try the Pomodoro technique. Basically, you commit to a sustained 25-minute work session to “earn” yourself a 5-minute break. Repeat this over the course of the day and you’ll get much more down than if you try to hunker down for hours at a time. 

If you’re looking for more ways to stay on track with your blogging or whatever else you’re doing to earn a living on the web, I encourage you to revisit my post with tips for more focused work sessions. Another strategy you might try is what I call a procrastination list. We’re all imperfect people, so sometimes we just need to have some tactics and systems in place to catch us when we slip.