The Five Minute Rule

Last week I could not get myself motivated. Swimming in mud would have been easier.

First I tried the gentle approach. I cranked up the music to get my energy flowing and gave myself permission to focus on whatever I wanted – even my uber-low-priority items.

No impact.

Adopting a sterner tone was no more effective. Pointing out to myself that I had way too much on my plate to be frittering away time made no difference. I stayed stuck.

95% of people are prone to procrastinate.

There are all sorts of interesting statistics to be found while cyber-slacking ;-). I have no idea whether that percentage comes from a credible source, but I do know most of us hit periods where getting motivated seems all but impossible. (And yes, I see the irony of researching procrastination as a way of avoiding what I should have been doing.)

After several days of profound inefficiency, I suddenly remembered – I know how to break through the unmotivated doldrums.

Apply the five minute rule.

Whatever you’re avoiding, do it for just five minutes. That’s it. Nothing complicated or dazzling; simply five minutes of focused time. And when the buzzer rings, you get to stop.

But a funny thing happens in that short time. You’ve created energy – and you’ll probably keep going.

Getting started is the hardest part.

Whether it’s a regular ritual like exercise or writing, or something different like launching a new project, sometimes your enthusiasm is nowhere to be found. It happens for lots of reasons … you feel uninspired, overwhelmed, or tired. It’s too hard or there’s not enough time. You’re afraid you’ll fail or get stuck.

So you stall, investing your time in getting ready to be ready or whipping yourself into a frenzy on other activities. Anything but the task that’s glaring at you from the corner, getting bigger by the minute.

I’ve had moments where cleaning the grout with a Q-tip is more appealing than tackling the project I’m avoiding. (And the project I’m avoiding is usually not that big a deal!!)

Hoping for the gusto to hit rarely works.

You need to create energy to break out of the procrastination cycle. And the best way to do that is to simply get going. Not forever … only five minutes. You can endure anything for five minutes!

And guess what?

You gain momentum. It’s suddenly easier to keep going. You’ve launched yourself into an upward spiral.

It works with anything, big or small.

Having a hard time getting yourself in a workout groove? Lace up your shoes and go for just five minutes. Stuck getting started on a large project? Perform one project-related task for just five minutes. Tired of looking at an office or house filled with clutter? Clear stuff out for just five minutes.

Your turn to get going!

What’s gotten stale or stuck on your list?

Pick one thing and go do it for five minutes.

And then stop … but only if you want to. My guess is momentum will keep you going!

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”



  1. Caryn on July 17, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I had a great example of this yesterday. I’d been putting off writing up some interview notes and looking at follow-up materials the person had sent me. When I finally got started, it turned out that I had gotten really interesting information to share with my client… although now two days later than I’d thought.

    Another hint I’ve recently learned on procrastination is to observe yourself doing and jot down what’s the underlying resistance. The act of consciously thinking things through can also help us get started with those first 5 minutes and keep going.

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