My friends frequently ask me how I manage to keep up with all the different events around campus and respond to the plethora of college emails and texts that vibrate my phone every hour. Initially, I don't have an answer because these actions are what I just do on autopilot without thinking about them too much. I realized the reason I keep my inbox below 10 unread emails is that of the simple rule: if it takes less than five minutes, just do it.
By following this rule, I get all the nitty gritty emails, texts, and other tasks out of the way so I can focus on homework assignments and other priorities. For example, if I am alerted by an email reminding me to pay a specific bill, I quickly pay the bill before I forget to do it later. I know it will only take me three minutes to pay a bill online. The longer I push it off, the more likely I am to forget about what I have to do and I continue to procrastinate doing the task.
As a result, this attitude displays itself in school and work. Most assignments do not take five minutes (though we all wish they would), so allotting a thirty minute limit on a task helps guide and focus your attention to what you need to do. After thirty minutes, you can choose to continue with the task if you fall into a rhythm or you can abandon it for another thirty-minute time slot. I always find that when I break up long study sessions for one subject to work on another subject with an easier task, I am able to accomplish more in a short amount of time.
Not every task is five minutes or less. If that's the case, jotting it down or adding it to your calendar as a reminder will allow you to plan adequate time for it later. It takes less than a minute to add to your planner or calendar, so there should be no excuse to not keep a reminder. Similarly, this rule can be utilized to avoid a messy desk or tons of dirty dishes. It takes a minute to wash a single dish, but thirty minutes to wash a sink full of dishes. Sooner or later, immediately washing a dish after eating will become a habit. The five minute or less rule will integrate itself into your life making jobs that pile up easily less of a burden.
The five minute or less rule has helped me not become overwhelmed with small, bothersome jobs that need to be done. Minutes, even hours are wasted complaining about everything you need to do or all the emails you need to respond to that you let accumulate in your inbox. By acknowledging that I can be done with a chore or job in five minutes, I am more efficient while doing the job.
So set a timer for five minutes and see what you can do.