In my last post, I promised to share my Five Minute Rule for changing any behavior. Here it is. Live. In real time.
I’m taking five minutes right now to work on this post. Maybe I’ll finish it, and maybe I won’t. But that’s not the point.
My goal for this exercise is to start developing a new habit: writing regularly. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog more often, maybe once a week. So if I want to become a more prolific blogger, I have to build the habit of writing.
OK, I’ll admit this was one of my resolutions last year, too. Not unlike most people, I seem to recycle my resolutions.
[There went five minutes. I will pick this up again tomorrow.]
I actually managed to post once or twice a week for a while until other obligations got in the way. Then I fell out of the habit and found it harder and harder to start up again
So I’ve decided to commit to just five minutes a day. I don’t need to find an hour’s worth of time for writing. I don’t need to feel inspired. I just have to sit down and write. For five minutes.
You can apply the Five Minute Rule to any type of activity you’d like to initiate. Exercise? Take a five-minute walk. It won’t get you in shape, but it will be a start. Later you can extend the time. Organization? Take five minutes a day to clean a drawer or sort through stacks of papers.
We tend to get overly ambitious with our plans to change and then have trouble either starting or sticking with them. But convincing yourself to do something for five minutes isn’t too hard.
So take five and get going.
I’m setting my stopwatch. I plan to write this post in 30 minutes or less.
Why the rush? This week I’ve heard from more than a few stressed out students, my own kids included, who’ve been in the throes of end-of-semester panic. Classes ended yesterday for GW and Georgetown undergrads, and the law students are already in the middle of exams. I’ve been dispensing advice about minimizing distractions, organizing time, and setting reasonable goals to deal with overwhelming volumes of work. So I thought it only fair to test it out myself.
Of course, a blog post doesn’t come close to a 30-page academic paper or a 90-page outline for a Constitutional Law final. But I still have to focus my attention, quiet the internal critic, resist the urge to get a snack, and get the words down.
Only 15 minutes left. (It took me 15 minutes to do just this much? How will I ever finish? This isn’t very interesting. I’m not sure what else I have to say. Why did I decide to do this? What a stupid idea!) I’m noticing some tension in my neck and chest. The words aren’t flowing very quickly. My mind is going blank!
(OK, take a deep breath. Close your eyes and take three calming breaths. You can type with your eyes closed.)
That’s better. Still don’t know exactly where I’m going with this. (I should have planned it beforehand. It would have been easier with a plan.)
The urge to stop right now is getting stronger. But fair is fair. I’ll keep going until the 30 minutes are up.
I’ve learned something from this experiment. Telling yourself you have to get something done in just 30 or 60 minutes, or even two hours, isn’t the best way to approach a deadline. Better to leave yourself some leeway because the extra pressure of the clock raises your anxiety and clouds your thinking. Keep that in mind for the next time.
But if you’re already in a bind and have no choice, set the clock for a half hour and push through. Ignore the inner monologue and keep going. Then take a break. That’s what I’m going to do now. Because my 30 minutes are up.
Full disclosure: I did go back and make two-minutes’ worth of edits. (Not too bad! This may not be my most brilliant piece of writing, but I’m OK with it.)
Another important takeaway lesson: every effort doesn’t require perfection. Sometimes you just have to get the job done. So just do it.
Have you ever noticed that the more time you have, the less you get done? When the unscheduled hours are scarce, I’m much more efficient in using them. But give me an open weekend, or the extra hour gained with turning back the clocks, and I start wasting time like there’s no tomorrow.
In my practice, I treat many people who are organizationally challenged. They typically underestimate how long it takes to complete a task and get sidetracked along the way by other activities. Having a poor sense of time makes managing it difficult.
So does having too much time. The extra hour yesterday fooled me. “No hurry to start the day,” I thought. “Plenty of time for everything.” Until there wasn’t. How did it get to be dark so fast? Where did the time go?
I think it’s healthy to forget about the clock on occasion. A day with no plans and no agenda can be like a mini spa retreat in our hectic lives. But allowing time to slip away from you can be frustrating. And losing track of the hours can create problems if you can’t accomplish what’s necessary or if you’re chronically late for work.
Here are some suggestions for better time-management: take stock of your To Do list and keep it to the two or three most pressing items you can realistically check off in the time you have. Then give yourself permission to do whatever you want when you’re done without feeling guilty about not using every minute productively.
As for me, I’m already planning how I’ll spend the Sunday when Daylight Savings Time returns and we lose an hour. I won’t waste a minute.
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