My 5-Minute Procrastination Hack

posted by Andrea | 03/3/2017
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Procrastination is something that affects ALL of usย at some point in our lives — often, at many points in our lives! Yes, some struggle with it more than others, but it affects us all from time to time.

Although I do try to stay on-top of my home, family, and business responsibilities, I’ve noticed that the easiest times for me to procrastinate are when I have one larger project or to-do looming over my head.

Quick, little projects are easy for me to “do it now” and be done — it’s the bigger, longer, more time-consuming projects I often want to put off until “later” (without a clear definition of when “later” will be).

Can anyone relate?

One VERY simple (and very effective) way I’ve helped myself reduce procrastination on these larger projects and to-dos is to “trick”ย myself to JUST GETTING STARTED.

I know from years of experience that getting started is almost always the most difficult and most overwhelming part of the project for most people, and I figure if I can at least get myself to start on my project, it will be much easier for me to continue working on it from there on out.

So I challenge myself to do 5 minutes!

If I’m procrastinating on pulling weeds, writing a blog post, making my menu plan, folding laundry, cleaning a bathroom, responding to an email, or any other number of tasks, I set a timer for 5 minutes and tell myself to just do as much as I can in those 5 minutes. After all, there aren’t many times in my life when I literally cannot spare even 5 minutes of time.

And you know what… it’s amazing what I often accomplish!ย 

  • I might not clear all the weeds, but I can easily weed a large section of one of our planting beds
  • I might not be able to write an entire blog post, but I can flesh out my ideas or edit a few pictures
  • I can usually make a full-week’s menu plan in 5 minutes
  • I can often fold one entire clothes basket in 5 minutes
  • I can wipe down the counters, sinks, and toilet with the disinfectant wipes I keep in each bathroom
  • I can respond to several emails

Of course, it’s great to cross a few things off my list, but the real beauty of tricking myself into getting started is that once I start, I’ve crossed the psychological barrier that so-often prevents me from getting started, and the task at hand instantly seems less overwhelming.

Plus, it’s so much easier to KEEP going once I’ve started!

Yes, there are times when I do actually stop after my 5 minutes is up; but there are plenty of other times when my 5 minutes motivates me to do 10, 20, or even 30 minutes more — and before I know it, my planting beds are weed-free, my blog post is written, the laundry is folded, my home is clean, and my to-do list seems much less overwhelming.

All because I just got started!

What can you do in 5 minutes?

Often… more than you think!

Sometimes… just a few things.

Always… more than you would have done if you put it off until laterย ๐Ÿ™‚

I realize this idea sounds rather juvenile (yes, it totally works with kids too) but I promise it has so much potential! If you can convince yourself to just get started, you’re usually past the hardest part!

What are the easiest projects for you to procrastinate on?

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21 comments

  1. Erin

    03/06/2017

    GREAT tip. I will use this! Thank you.

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  2. Mara Yager

    03/04/2017

    Definitely like this idea! Thanks, Andrea and happy Birthday to your little guy!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Mara ๐Ÿ™‚ So far, it’s been a great day for Simon!

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  3. Helen

    03/03/2017

    This was a great post by Andrea and I LOVE this phrase – “looks like a yard sale just vomited in there”. Between the tips in the post and remembering the phrase, I think I can motivate myself to try & clean out my closet. I’m very, very spoilt because we have his & hers closets. My husband keeps his own closet quite organized – I’m the opposite. Now I’m going to try the “just five minutes” approach. I have actually become much more organized and happier with my home since I started reading your column a couple of years ago.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Helen! Also, you are very lucky to have separate closets! I know MANY marriages that would benefit from this ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thankfully, Dave and I are both relatively neat (and we both don’t have too many clothes!)

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  4. Alissa

    03/03/2017

    I do this with exercise (running) sometimes. There are days when it is cold and yucky out. I tell myself just to run for 10 minutes and then I can turn around and go home if I don’t want to keep going. Most days I end up running how far I originally planned, but every so often there are days when after 10 minutes I do turn around and go home. Even on those days I get 20 minutes of fresh air and exercise in and that is better than nothing.

    I also tell myself (often), “Anyone can do anything for 5 minutes.” The teenagers I teach like to list all of the things you CAN’T do for five minutes (hold your breath), but for the most part, this little mantra encourages me. Thanks for the reminder of such a good tip!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — this made me laugh (especially about holding your breath!) but yes, you are right. You really can do (almost) anything for 5 minutes and those 5 minutes are often just enough motivation to keep going for 5 more minutes!

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  5. Julie S-H

    03/03/2017

    All so true! Great post ;). It is also sometimes fun once I get started on something I dreaded. I don’t know why the anticipation of something can be negative when the experience isn’t so bad. Even folding laundry or decluttering a closet, there are many satisfying moments and the results are so great. I guess it’s like excercise! Once I’m doing it it’s fun, but the idea of it- no thanks!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yes! Although I still haven’t found any exercise I actually enjoy doing ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Cherry

    03/03/2017

    Too bad I can’t paint my living room in 5 minutes! That will be a multiple day project and so I have been perpetually putting that one off.

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    Andrea Reply:

    no… but you COULD get the paint and all the supplies out in 5 minutes — and if everything is sitting out ready to go, I’d assume you will be more likely to get started with the actual painting ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Michelle

    03/03/2017

    Sometimes I surprise myself with what I can accomplish when I don’t think I have the time. Such as unload the dishwasher while I’m cooking dinner. I can get quite a bit put away just waiting for the butter to melt in a pan or handwash a small sinkful of dishes while I’m waiting for potatoes to finish cooking, clean the sink while I’m waiting for the bathtub to finish filling with water, etc. Maybe that’s just multi-tasking but it’s so easy to walk away and think you’re too busy at the moment to get anything else done. Sometimes after putting dinner in the oven I’d rather just sit down while it bakes. The other night I just went ahead and washed the dirty dishes while dinner was in the oven and it felt so nice to only have the plates to wash once we were finished.

    Other projects that seem so overwhelming to even start I have to keep reminding myself it’s like eating an elephant…one bite at a time. I have a room in the basement that seems to be a catch-all. When it needs to be organized and I don’t want to tackle it because it seems so overwhelming, I set aside a small time block–say 1 hr.–and I am amazed by how much I can accomplish in that hour and then feel so much better. Even if I just break it down into smaller messes that I can more easily manage. Getting down there for another hour is another story. Ha ha.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    YES! Exactly!
    I think this works well for kids too — they see the toy room covered with a huge mess, but if I say “just pick up the balls” that seems more manageable for them. Once the balls are picked up, I’ll say “next, pick up the trucks” and before they know it, the room is clean!

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  8. Tracey

    03/03/2017

    Boy, did I need this today! Thank you!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    you’re welcome —

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  9. Candis

    03/03/2017

    I read a book recently and you came to mind several times, it’s called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It seems that quite a few things that I have read on your blog over the years were discussed in the book. The book is essentially about living a happier life, it’s based on research and very practical. The concept of just getting started is called activation energy in the book. I think the concept of living a simplified balanced life greatly contributes to happiness. The author does not phrase it in those terms but it’s certainly in the message. Just thought I would mention it! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    Andrea Reply:

    I’ve never heard of that book before, but I’ll have to check it out now ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks!

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  10. Dmr

    03/03/2017

    This is a great tip, thank you! I have two similar ‘tricks.’ I learned one from somewhere but I can’t remember the source.

    1 – I have a list of chores I can complete in 15 minutes. So, when I think I don’t have time, I CAN get something done even when I don’t have a lot of time.

    2 – When I have a big mess and it is overwhelming and keeping me paralyzed … I just do one thing. For example, if it’s the garage that has become the clutter catcher and it looks like a yard sale vomited in there … that is overwhelming to me. But, or I do ONE thing every time I go in the garage, it starts to get better. After a little while it starts to be not so overwhelming anymore and I can get it done. This works for closets, extra bedrooms and cars, too. It isn’t a quick fix but it is better to be moving forward slowly than not moving forward at all.

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    MrsD Reply:

    Love these tips!

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    Andrea Reply:

    YES! Great tips!
    I believe I’d written blog posts about both of those topics — and a favorite of mine is “just do one thing”. Because one thing usually leads to 2 things, and then 3 things, and before you know it, you’re motivated to work on your project… and then you’re finished!

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  11. Patty

    03/03/2017

    Great advice because it is so true!

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