There I sat, as usual, with a ton of things to do on my desk. Three major projects just staring me in the face. A committee meeting I needed to prepare for. Three articles I still had to write, deadlines quickly approaching.
So, why on earth was I watching Elon Musk's Saturday Night Live monologue on YouTube?
The answer is tied to the reason why many of us procrastinate (maybe even why you're reading this article right now). When faced with a difficult task--or many of them--we easily become overwhelmed. We seek solace in the form of more pleasant activities, those that distract us from that feeling of being overwhelmed.
The only problem is, the more solace we feel, the more we want to avoid doing the work.
The longer we avoid doing the work, the more anxious we get about the impending doom that awaits, should we not get all of our tasks done.
And, of course, the more anxious we get, the greater the chance that our tasks don't get done--making our situation a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
But I'm here to tell you there's a way to break this vicious cycle. It's a technique that's founded on the principles of emotional intelligence, the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions effectively.
Best of all, it's far simpler than you might expect--as you can tell from its name:
The five-minute rule.
(If you enjoy the lessons in this article, be sure to sign up for my free emotional intelligence course, where I share 10 similar rules that will help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)
What's the five-minute rule?
In the aforementioned situation, the brain is overwhelmed with the anticipation of trying to complete the task in front of you: How long it will take and how hard it will be.
But here's the thing: Huge, challenging tasks usually aren't completed in one sitting. Rather, they're best handled by chipping away at them, one small piece at a time.
Here's where the five-minute rule comes in.
It works like this: You force yourself to work on a task for just five minutes, with the understanding that you can quit after five minutes if you like.
With this new condition, the brain is "tricked" into now seeing your gargantuan task very differently.
It's as if the brain says to itself:
Oh wow. Five minutes is nothing. That's less time than the YouTube video we were about to watch. We can handle five minutes.
Of course, more often than not, once you complete the first five minutes, you'll be so absorbed by the task, you'll keep going.
But even if not, the five-minute rule has already helped you to cross a major hurdle:
So, the next time you find your task list angrily staring back at you while you waste the morning away, remember this simple little emotionally intelligent trick.
Because most of the time, five minutes is all you need.