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  • Writer's picturePat Birnie

Five Second Rule (no....not that one!) How to Really Get things Done!

Are you a procrastinator? Well really, who among us isn't, at least some of the time? I definitely have tasks that I put off, conversations that I avoid, and find that an unpleasant job is hanging over my head for days (sometimes weeks) on end. The really silly aspect of this is that I often put off a job because in my mind it will be terrible, messy, difficult or time-consuming. I finally force myself to do it and guess what? More often than not it turns out to be much less than I expected and all my time worrying and procrastinating was for naught!

No doubt procrastination is a problem for many of us. I'll share three of my fave strategies for getting stuff done (uh oh, I stopped halfway through this paragraph and did today's Wordle. Maybe I do have a problem?) First, we need to be aware of the stress that procrastination puts on our mental health. This New York Times article is enlightening. The author describes procrastination as "an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem”. Consistent procrastination can lead to feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and lower self-esteem. No doubt it's worth addressing!

In some cases, the magnitude of tasks is overwhelming and we just don't know where to start. I am a 'list-maker' from way back, and honestly find that's one of my best strategies. This past weekend for example, our family was coming for an early Thanksgiving dinner (just a small group of 19). My head was spinning with all the meal & house prep, shopping etc that had to be done. This isn't my first rodeo so I knew that once I put everything down on paper my brain could relax. I grabbed a sheet of paper, listed the menu (including the dishes others were bringing), then a shopping list. What could be done ahead of time & frozen? Organizing everything, including my thoughts truly energizes me and gets me in action. I used this same strategy almost daily when I worked in the corporate world. It is so effective, particularly when you have a lot to do. Plus, it's so satisfying to check off each task and see that list shrink! If there is a particularly unpleasant task hanging over my head, and it gets added to my list it will definitely get done, as I absolutely have to check it off! Looks like people who are list-makers tend to procrastinate less, according this Checkify blog.

A second strategy that ties into this, helping to stay on track and focused once you've started say, cleaning your kitchen cupboards, or working on your taxes, is to work in time blocks. Set a time for 30-60 minutes (no longer, as it's been proven that's the longest the brain can focus productively). When it goes off, take a break. Stretch, get a water or coffee, then get back to it, of course setting your timer again.

My final, and most loved strategy is Mel Robbins "Five Second Rule", first shared in her TED Talk. I read the book a few years ago and found the practice so helpful, particularly in starting difficult conversations. I dread conflict (yes a definite character flaw) and found that I'd sometimes delay a difficult conversation for days. This is NOT good for one's mental health. I find the 5-4-3-2-1 surprisingly effective in tricking me into action for my most dreaded tasks. Here's a quick summary of both the TED talk and how to use the 5 Second Rule.

Okay - now that I'm done here, it's time to go tackle a couple of overflowing junk drawers. Or perhaps I'll go for a walk in the sunshine and leave those drawers until tomorrow!

What are your best anti-procrastination strategies? I'd love to hear your wisdom.

Pat xo


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