How I Beat My Procrastination

Why the “10 Minute Rule” gets things done.

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I was a bad procrastinator for most of my life. I put things off day after day. I waited until deadlines were hours away before starting a project. I watched the clock and calculated to the minute how much time I had left to blow off before I really had to get to work.

For most of my life, I managed to make it work. Assignments often came right down to the wire, but in the end, I’d get them done in time.

My bad habit finally caught up with me when I went to law school. I had more work to do than I’d ever experienced before, and I quickly realized that I needed to improve my time management skills.

Thankfully, one of my professors recommended a technique that finally got my procrastination under control: Whenever you feel like putting something off, instead sit down with the intention of working for just ten minutes.

Why Ten-Minute Goals Work

Why bother working on something for just ten minutes at a time? At first, it sounds like an insane way to divide up a task. Something that should only take an hour could get drawn out into six different sessions.

To understand the technique, we have to understand why we procrastinate in the first place.

For me, procrastination comes from the feeling of being overwhelmed by the tasks that are set before me. When I think about an entire project at a time, the work involved feels enormous, and I end up not wanting to start it.

For example, when I had 100 pages of a textbook to read, I’d know that it would take me several hours to get through. The idea of spending hours reading through case law sounded so boring that I’d do anything I could to put it off.

On the other hand, spending ten minutes reading case law doesn’t sound too bad at all. It sounds like a task that I could easily knock out before getting back to relaxing. Knowing that I was only setting myself a quick and easy task made me far more likely to actually get started on it.

Tricking Ourselves

The real magic of ten-minute goals is what happens after you start on the work.

Surprisingly, even when I went into a project with the intention of only working for ten minutes, most of the time I’d end up working for far longer. Sometimes I’d even finish the entire project in one sitting.

The hardest thing for a procrastinator to do is actually get started. After actually getting to work on an assignment, it becomes much easier to keep going.

Of course, there were other times when I’d stop working as soon as the ten minutes were up. When that happens, it’s no big deal. I’d go back to relaxing and repeat the process a little while later. And the second time around, at least I’d have ten minutes less work to do.

Why Ten Minutes and Not Five?

This technique really does work best for me when I plan to work for exactly ten minutes.

If I plan for much more than ten minutes, the project starts to feel too big and I end up continuing to procrastinate.

If I plan for any less than ten minutes, I find that I’m much less likely to keep working after I get started. I think it takes a few minutes just to settle into the work I’m doing. By the ten-minute mark, I’m normally in the zone enough that I want to keep going. At five minutes, I’m still so unfocused that I’m happy to stop working and go back to doing something else.

The exact amount of time that works best can vary from person to person though, so I’d definitely recommend experimenting with it to see what works best for you.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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