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Time and time again, as I help people tackle lifelong issues with procrastination, I find the same thing: the first five minutes of anything is the hardest part. People who often put things off until the last minute… or worse, have the most difficulty with getting started. About 4 out of 5 people who procrastinate find that just working on this one piece of the puzzle solves the majority of their procrastination problems.

Procrastinating in some way is a natural tendency. We avoid doing what we anticipate will be unpleasant. Avoidance provides a sense of relief from what we don’t want to experience. The more relief we feel, the more often we avoid. Ultimately, this can lead to a strategy in which avoidance is the sole component, which can be very problematic. Moreover, the longer we avoid a specific task, the more anxious we feel about continuing to put it off. The more anxious we feel about it, the greater the urge to avoid. It’s a negative feedback loop that for many people, can easily spiral out of control. Increasing the ease with which you start a task can do some serious damage to this procrastinating cycle. Enter the 5-minute rule.

The 5-minute rule is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique for procrastination in which you set a goal of doing whatever it is you would otherwise avoid, but only do it for five minutes. If after five minutes it’s so horrible that you have to stop, you are free to do so. Mission accomplished. Done. However, what most people find is that after five minutes of doing something, it’s easy to continue until the task is done. Setting the intention and starting is usually the hardest part. By thinking about the task as something that may take only 5 minutes, it feels much less overwhelming and a lot more doable. Consequently, there’s little reason to procrastinate.

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