The 5-Minute Rule

So we all know that a day rarely goes by when we don’t have to add something to our choose-to list by mid-afternoon. That is all part of being flexible. However, in some cases adding something to the list is a bad idea. When a new task pops up during the day, if it takes less than 5-minutes, don’t add it to the list. Just do it now. You’re not going to feel any more like doing it later and it’s better to just do it right now before it sits on your list forever. These little few-minutes tasks are usually vegetable tasks, and as any 7 year old can tell you, putting off eating your vegetables doesn’t make them disappear! It just makes them that much more disgusting to eat.

This happens to me with paperwork at school all the time. I’ll check my mailbox and there will be some new tax form the district needs me to fill out, or a quality survey or some other sort of paperwork. It is really tempting to just grab it, put it on my desk, and add it to my choose-to list for another time. I know if this happens, it will just get covered up with other things and I’ll completely forget about it until the school secretary has to call me and ask why I haven’t done this simple thing yet. Since I couldn’t say I’ve been too busy, (because- let’s face it- everyone has at least 2 spare minutes in their lives to fill out a form) I’ll have to tell the truth and just say I didn’t feel like it. This makes me look really flakey and wastes the secretary’s time. Instead, I never let paperwork like this touch my desk. I fill it out as soon as I get it and it’s done. It never takes more than a few minutes, and I don’t have to worry about it.

The 5-Minute Rule is especially important if the task you need to do directly affects someone else’s ability to move forward on a project. For example, the other day I was working on some homework when I noticed a professor had emailed me asking if I could write a 2-3 sentence quote for a grant proposal he was writing. My first thought was to email him back and say that I’d have it to him by tomorrow. I’d finish my homework, have lunch and then sit down and figure out what I wanted to say. But then I realized that he was probably working on the proposal right now. It would only take me a minute or two to figure out something to say and send it back. Grant proposals can be lengthy and have firm deadlines and I didn’t want to hold anything up. So, I took a few moments away from my paper, wrote out a quote for him to use, and sent it off. Done. Now I can get back to my work and he can send off his proposal. Nothing is worse than having to delay a deadline because you’re waiting on things from other people. Especially when you know that the thing you’re waiting for doesn’t take very long at all.

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