The 5-Minute Rule

Photo by John Davies.
Photo by John Davies.

Someone asked me recently how I’ve managed to slowly tame my email inbox.

First of all, I should say that this is still a work in progress. I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve had a lot of success with the 5-minute rule.

The whole thing started earlier this year when I began exercising regularly. The hardest part about getting into that habit was convincing myself to do it. It’s really easy to put stuff off if you feel like you have to do the full 30 minutes of cardio or completely empty your inbox every day. Eventually putting it off a few days morphs into a week without any progress, or a week becomes a month.

Rather than give up or wait until I had the motivation to do everything I thought I should do in these areas, I made myself a promise:

Do it for 5 minutes. Once that time is up, you can stop for the day.

You can do anything for 5 minutes…unless you’re trying to hold your breath.

Some days I counted down every last second. When my time was up, I stopped replying or lifting weights or whatever it was I’d been working on as soon as I possibly could.  What I’ve found is that the motivation to keep going often becomes much stronger once you’re already doing whatever it was you’ve been putting off. If it doesn’t work that way on a particular day, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with throwing in the towel after 5 minutes. Over time that has been happening less and less for me, but I don’t beat myself up when I can’t do any more than that.

Exercise is the easier habit of the two now because I’ve been doing it longer. I was sick last week and actually really missed weightlifting while I recovered.

Email is getting there. As I said earlier, I’m still not 100% settled into my new approach to it yet. The amount of time it takes me to reply has gone down, though, and I have gotten a lot better about clearing stuff out of my inbox that I no longer need.

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