How much do you believe you can get done in one day? What is the shortest period of time you can complete a particular job? Are your beliefs around time and productivity holding you back?
We generally think of time in five minute increments but I totally disagree with this. I approach the hours by assuming they are broken into 20 three-minute segments of potential productivity.
For me, three minutes became the new five when children came along – and I entered the parenting time warp…
Pre-children, I firmly believed that I needed 20 minutes to achieve even the simplest task.
- Tidy the kitchen: twenty minutes
- Check my emails: twenty minutes
- Take a shower: twenty minutes (and longer to wash my hair!)
If I had less that twenty minutes, I would waste it and basically do nothing.
I was wrong…
Well – after I had my girls, I soon discovered that this pre-conceived idea was all wrong. Actually – all I need to make a very solid start on anything is three minutes. This led to my life running in three minute increments.
If I catch myself faffing and procrastinating I now implement my Three Minute Rule.
If I am short on time (or resisting the next thing on my to do list!) – I decide what to do next. Then I immediately put a three minute alarm on my phone. The secret is you have to move – and fast!
Jump up from where you are. Start to run round to do whatever you need to. Achieve more in a very short space of time.
It may feel a little silly at first to actually run from one room to the next when you’re in your house – but believe me – it will change your energy, and therefore your physical and your mental state. And when you see such quick results, it can become addictive!
For example – I have a head cold today and have been moving about at tortoise pace. But I used the Three Minute Rule to do what was necessary. A loaf of bread prepped for cooking – three minutes. Sweet potato soup in the pan – two consecutive Three Minute Rules: the double whammy (aka 6 minutes.)
Added to which, I procrastinated for the last few hours about writing this post – but Three Minute Rule – and boom! I sat down, opened the “New Post” tab on my laptop – and here I am – about half way through the post in just a few minutes!!
An end to procrastination
The key thing with doing any task is just to get started. Before you start you can only see the unpleasantness of a complete task that you have yet to begin. Once you start – you can see the end and moving quickly gives you the momentum to finish – and finish fast!
To be clear, this isn’t the same as the excellent and well established productivity rule that if a job will take less than two minutes, you should do it immediately. This isn’t about taking a two minute job and finishing it in three minutes. It is about challenging yourself to take ten, fifteen or 20+ minute jobs and not only completing these tasks immediately – but also much quicker!
As such, the Rule is particularly powerful for getting things done that you don’t want to start! For example – you walk into the kitchen and it is a mess. You mentally resign yourself to the clear up taking the rest of your evening. Then you procrastinate and create a self fulfilling prophecy!
Alternatively – if you put a three minute alarm on your phone and race against yourself – you create a sense of adrenaline and competitive spirit. Then you can achieve so much more! Huge amounts in the time you would previously have spent just considering what to do next.
Single tasking is the key
The critical thing is to single-task.
Pick one job and do that without getting distracted. (Similarly – don’t get sidetracked by WhatsApp notifications when you go into your phone to set the alarm in the first place!)
For example, if you want to tidy the lounge and don’t know where to start, just pick a corner – any corner – and start there. Work your way around the room systematically dealing with every item as you come to it.
However, if you come across something which triggers a whole new job – like a pile of filing or some dirty laundry – don’t get distracted and divert onto the next job. Those tasks need their own Three Minutes. Finish what you are doing and you can focus on those jobs next.
You see, the Three Minute Rule is about getting each job finished and off your list. It isn’t about starting several jobs in quick succession.
Continue to focus on the job in hand, move the filing or pile up the laundry up in the corner – and then spend your next three minutes focused on the next job.
What is really stopping you?
Critical to this approach is identifying what is actually stopping you from making progress in the moment.
If you aren’t getting something done – why is that? What is the first step to making progress?
A friend recently texted to say that she had so much to do but was sat on the sofa and couldn’t get going. I suggested she use the Three Minute Rule – to which she replied “but – everything I need to do is outside of the house – shopping and errands. I can’t do any of that in the next three minutes.”
So, I suggested she reframe this and just work out what was blocking her from getting off the sofa. That she really needed to use the Three Minute Rule to get herself ready and out of the house.
I didn’t hear from her again for two hours when she texted to say all the chores were done and she was on the way home! Just focusing on the immediate task in hand made all of the difference.
I find that is so often the case – you need to find out what is blocking you from taking immediate action. It could be that you want to go out but are still in your pyjamas. Or at the back of your mind you know that the boots you want to wear out are covered in mud from a walk last week and need cleaning – and you can’t be bothered to sort them out. But – Three Minute Rule – jump up and take a shower in three minutes. Or get your boots cleaned quickly. The energy from getting that first job done quickly will help you move on to the next task – or get out of the house!
What if it takes longer than three minutes?
Obviously – not every job can be done in Three Minutes. But setting that intention to complete as much as possible quickly will make everything so much quicker and easier.
If you need more time after three minutes – go for the Double Whammy. Just hit the repeat button and keep the momentum up.
If that still doesn’t finish it, go for the Triple! After nine minutes you will find you are committed to finishing immediately anyway so may not even need a further alarm. But that first Three Minute Rule got you well on your way!
Lighten the mental load
The Three Minute Rule isn’t just good for large tasks. It is a great technique for releasing some of your low level frustrations and mental load.
For example – you come home and go into the kitchen. It isn’t a disaster – but there are crumbs scattered across the sideboard. A used teabag sags by the kettle, untidy paperwork on the table and the children have left out their bowls…
You could spend the next few minutes rolling your eyes in frustration that no one else notices this sort of mess (much less thinks to clear it up) – and then mentally adding the tidy up to your ever-increasing to-do list.
Or – you could save that mental energy and just get things done.
Three Minute Rule.
Run round the kitchen and the job will be finished before it has a chance to weigh you down mentally. Clean and clear from clutter: you are free to move on. In my experience, this approach is far less draining in the long run.
As a bonus, as you move around really fast, your family members may even notice more of what you actually do for them. Well, maybe.
Spend more time relaxing
After Christmas dinner my Mom and I surveyed the damage in the kitchen: it looked like a bomb had hit it. With our favourite Christmas movie starting shortly – we had a choice: resign ourselves to missing the start (if not all!) of the film – or run round the kitchen, get the job done fast so we could sit down and relax.
My Mom gave me some serious side eye as I suggested we could get things done in three minutes. But once she saw I was serious – and getting things done fast – she joined in. Between us, we had cleared the whole kitchen – and got some drinks ready – within six minutes (so 12 in total with the two of us!)
Without the Three Minute Rule we’d have been in there slowly drudging along – and resenting every minute of it – for at least an hour.
Get the Children involved
For tasks around the house – this also works brilliantly with children who love to work against the clock. If they see you working with urgency they will learn to do the same. And it will make Tidy Up time so much less painful (and time consuming!) for all of you.
So – why don’t you commit to trying the Three Minute Rule today! I’d love to hear how you get on. What do you have to lose?!
To really use the rule to your advantage – find the loudest, most annoying, grating alarm on your phone.
You don’t want the one that plays gentle harp music which you can happily hum along to for a minute after the alarm goes off…
Pick the jarring ring tone. The one you hate and you don’t want to subject others in the vicinity to!
This will give you extra impetus to finish the job and switch off the alarm with seconds to spare, before it goes off!
If you’d like to read more about time management – have a look at my guide to productivity here.
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