The 5 Minute Rule and Other Hacks to Getting Things Done

Do you ever feel like you can never catch up on all of the small tasks that seem to riddle your day? I'm talking about little stuff. Responding to that one email that should take you five minutes but you don't want to sit down and actually write. Taking out the garbage that has the disgusting smell coming from it. Filling out that form that needs to be returned by next Monday.

Little things tend to go unnoticed until it is absolutely the last minute. You haven't responded for so long it makes responding even more awkward. The trash fumes have run you out of your own house. The form says it's due tomorrow. The problem is that we don't want to devote the time and brainpower to confront an issue that we imagine to be a difficult task. Our minds drive the negative expectations through the roof! It's only once we hike up our britches and tackle the problem that we realize that it wasn't a big deal and all of our worry, stress and procrastination was generally unwarranted.

Here's what you must do.

1. Make a comprehensive list

Create a list of every small task that is weighing on your mind. It could even be things that you don't necessarily NEED to do but you've been wanting to do for so long and just haven't. Anything and everything, write it down. No particular order. No filters. No rules.


2. Eliminate. Automate. Delegate.

First, eliminate everything that isn't important to you. This means those little whims that you thought were good ideas three weeks ago that you don't care about any more (making a mixed CD of your favorite 90's pop songs), the to-do's that don't actually bother you but you put on your list because everyone else does (arranging your bookshelf alphabetically), the things that you would like to do but aren't super important (that Pinterest DIY bookshelf project) etc. Just cross these suckers off the list and forget you even had the idea in the first place. They don't add a lot of value to your life so don't waste time, energy and resources on them. Maybe once you have some free time you can entertain the ideas again.

Second, automate anything that can be automated. Automated payments, email auto-responders etc.

Third, delegate tasks that anyone else can do to the people who can do it. Get your son to mow the lawn, ask your spouse if they will pay the bills this month, move a to-do to your co-worker's to-do list. Your goal for this exercise is to get as much off your plate for this present moment as possible. Even if it's just this one time, get other people to take as much as they can. This will give you the breathing room to then take each task in stride as they are slowly added back onto your schedule.

Here are 15 tools that highly organized people use to get and keep their lives in order.


3. D-Day

Choose an evening or a weekend to DO (hence, D-day) all of the small things on your list. Spend thirty minutes in the morning to block out what needs to be done when and what you'll need in order do each task. Then, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Give yourself permission to get dirty, potentially offend people and forget to eat. Don't let fear have any room to breathe by moving on from one task to the next without hesitation. After each task, cross it off your list with a pen. The physical task of crossing an item off your list gives you a hit of dopamine which is a neurotransmitter triggered by reward-motivated behavior. This small hit will give you the optimism, energy and motivation to move on to your next task quickly.

Aim to work as hard and as long as you can to complete your list by the end of the day. I guarantee you will have the greatest feeling when you lay down in bed that night. You'll feel free.


4. Use the 5-minute rule

All of those little things that keep popping up in your life seem to never get dealt with even though it wouldn't take long to handle. To put a stop to this slow accumulation of to-do's, begin using the 5-minute rule.

If something can be done in 5 minutes or less, do it immediately.

I generally extend the time frame in my own life because I hate seeing tasks build up, but you can adjust it to whatever works most efficiently for your lifestyle and your common to-do's.


5. Implement fun systems for larger tasks

You've done it. You've successfully cleared out your life's inbox. Now this is where the fun begins. Start putting into place small, easy systems to help you tackle each new task as they pop up in your inbox.

Allow yourself to watch a TV show while you fold clothes or buy a new audio book every time you mow the lawn. Even the irritating things can be simplified so that they don't seem so big and scary.

For example:

Got a bill in the mail? Place it in a dedicated bill box that is stocked with envelopes, checks, pens, labels and stamps. On your calendar, set aside a specific amount of time on the same day each month to pay all of your bills. When that day/time comes, grab your bill box and methodically work through paying each bill. Hopefully, you'll have either eliminated or automated many of your bills already so this task won't be as tedious as it used to be. Attach the task to a reward. Maybe you allow yourself to eat a bowl of ice cream while you pay the bills or you allow yourself to enjoy a movie date with your significant other that night. Whatever it is, tie your task-completion with something enjoyable that you look forward to.


The key is to keep the weeds down - knock out the small stuff as it comes along. Only then will you feel empowered to take ownership over the larger, more daunting tasks.