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Just Ten Minutes: a Powerful Trick for Tackling Tasks You Hate or Procrastinate

“It’s only January 7th, and I’m already behind!”

Do you already feel “behind” in the new year? Often, we begin the new year resolving to tackle tasks we’ve historically resisted and put off.

The bigger, scarier, more time-consuming, or more overwhelming the task feels, the more likely we are to make up and believe compelling stories (read: excuses) for why this is not the right time to get started—we’ll do it later!

We are very, very good at making up these stories!

What’s more, we do this not only with tasks that we don’t enjoy, but also with activities we genuinely like to do–things that we know would bring us pleasure.

Here’s a strategy you can use the next time you think “I should,” “I need to,” or “I want to” about a task and feel the urge to procrastinate.

Bring in my old friend the timer to help you out, and take on the task for just 10 minutes.

I have had clients make HUGE strides in mountainous projects using this trick. It throws your brain out of the powerful procrastination-inducing message of “I have to finish” and brings you into the much less scary, more proactive place of “When can I start?”

The task might feel overwhelming, but you can do almost ANYthing for just 10 minutes! Plus, once you’ve tricked yourself into starting, you’re likely to continue past the beepbeepbeep. (For a fantastic resource on overcoming procrastination, read The Now Habit by Neil Fiore.)

Here are some ways this trick might work for you:

•Falling behind on correspondence? People often tell me that when they feel behind in emailing someone back, they then wait even longer because they tell themselves the story that now the email has to be “better” or longer to make up for the amount of time that has passed. Others are just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of email!

When you’re so overwhelmed with email that you’re not responding to anyone, set the timer for 10 minutes and just write what you can in that time. You may find you can knock out many short responses in that time, or write a good bit of a longer email.

Do this every day once, twice, or three times a day and you’ll start to see that inbox clear out! It works for snail mail too. In fact, I plan to use this strategy today to write my already-overdue holiday thank-you notes…

•Overwhelmed by paper piles and clutter? Set the timer for just 10 minutes and do any uncluttering or cleaning activity you choose.

Maybe you’ll sort/recycle/shred mail for 10 minutes. Maybe you’ll weed out objects you’re ready to donate. Maybe you’ll recycle those magazines you’re never going to read.

When the timer beeps, you can stop. The next day, pick up where you left off or work on a different area. (Some people will feel greater satisfaction from completing one little project at a time; others will benefit from the freedom to jump around. Find what works for you.)

Do a little bit every day, and you’ll begin to see that clutter clear!

•Been meaning to call your mother/brother/uncle/friend who moved across the country, but never feel like you have time when you think of it? Too many people put off phone calls to the people who matter most to them, always planning to call later, later, later.

Pick up that phone and call. (Isn’t it weird that “pick up that phone and dial” is an anachronism now? Gone are the dialing days…)

Tell the loved one on the other end that you only have ten minutes, truly, but you wanted to check in and are making an effort to say at least a quick hi more often.

You’ll be amazed at the boost even a very short conversation can be for both of you. And once you’ve experienced the benefit and manageability of even a quick call, you’ll be more likely to stay in touch more often, not letting such long periods of time go by.

Last year my mom and I realized that if we waited to talk until we both “had time,” we would never talk! We started experimenting with more frequent, briefer phone conversations, and I feel much more connected with her as a result.

•Always wish you read more, but never feel like you have the time? If you’re like me, you have stacks of books and magazines on your to-read list.

Carve out just 10 minutes before you turn out the light at night, or over your coffee in the morning. You may find yourself longing for more (and perhaps you’ll even start making time for more), but at least it’s a start, and something to look forward to!

•Hate going to the gym? If you’re determined to exercise regularly, but having a hard time going, ask yourself what it is that you’re picturing or anticipating when you go.

If your image of going to the gym is of an overwhelmingly strenuous or lengthy workout, give yourself permission to jump on that treadmill or elliptical machine for just 10 minutes. It’s possible that once you’re on there you’ll want to keep going, but at the very least you’ve broken through the inertia and showed up!

I have gotten myself to the gym numerous times by promising myself I’d be “allowed” to leave after a short time. (Only once or twice have I ever cashed in on that promise!)

——

Turn on your procrastination sensor right now and try this strategy the very next time you have an opportunity. Then come back and tell me about it! What will you do for just 10 minutes today?

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There are 2 comments. Add yours.

  1. I LOVE the 10-minute rule. It’s a bit like Babson’s “just start” mantra. The seed of a wonderful idea or dream for a new project or adventure can’t start with commitment to the next 17 tasks, a year’s worth of savings, etc. You just start with one small action step, learn from there, and decide if you want to keep going. It’s the pilgrimage begins with one single step logic. I love this because you’re right, it’s SO much less overwhelming…

  2. YES! Well-said, Rachel! Great point–you always get to choose if you will continue or re-evaluate. When you start, you don’t have to know how it will all end up. Such an important concept–“Once I start I have to finish!” is a MAJOR source of procrastination.

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