Well, we are officially in a New Year! It is a time of promise for all of us, and I hope that everyone has their resolutions all lined up. Hopefully your goals won’t be too severely impacted by COVID-19 or the millions of other things going on in the world, but I am here to offer a bit of life experience to help if you plan to keep those resolutions!
First, a story…
Growing up, my dad always had this phrase “it will only take you five minutes.” I was a pretty lazy teenager (and also a lazy twenty-year-old), so this was his way of selling me on the idea to help around the house with little tasks. The only problem was the chores he wanted me to do were anything but five-minutes: Mow the lawn, pull weeds, do the dishes, etc. In fact, this became a running joke in my family for anything and everything (“Paint the house – it will only take you five minutes!“). At the time, I would just sigh and go do the job, but I later came to appreciate that phrase and implement it into many aspects of my life.
When it comes to doing things you do not want to do, many people are familiar with this quote by Mark Twain:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
A similar personal favorite of mine is by Desmond Tutu:
“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
Frogs, Elephants, and five minutes… what does it all mean?
For our daily tasks, many of us naturally procrastinate and make mountains out of molehills (I can already hear you saying “Alright, enough with the animal analogies!“). We tend to exaggerate and reason with ourselves about how difficult something is instead of just diving in and getting our hands dirty. What most of us find when we start to get dirty is, in fact, the job is not all that bad! The worst part was actually thinking about the task, not actually doing it.
How I started implementing the five-minute rule
When I had just graduated from college, I was working at a local music shop running their lesson program and sales floor. I wasn’t making much (I was your typical poor musician), but I had this dream of being a Renaissance man where I was not only a musician, but I was fluent in multiple languages, a polymath, etc. I actually ended up buying old textbooks on half.com (oddly enough, I wasn’t using the local library – I feel dumb for saying that now!) and trying to study them in my spare time. But, like many resolutions and well-wishes, I was only able to keep up the pace for about a week. I found myself excited to pick up a new skill only to get busy or lose interest almost immediately. I started researching how to learn anything new and that was when I learned about the 21-day habit-forming process. This has now been debunked as a myth since setting habits can take longer, but simply put, if you keep at a habit for roughly 3 weeks, you will have solidified that habit into a routine. Getting to that 21-day (or more) mark is not an easy fight, but I think most of us can tolerate it if it is for something we truly want and take a little time each day to work on it.
After absorbing this concept, I put it into practice. I started with a classic resolution: running to lose weight. I put up a calendar at my house and mark an “X” through every day that I ran – whether it was a mile or a couple laps around the block. Again, the first few days were easy. I was excited, I could do this for eternity, I am a machine! But then the soreness set in. The route became mundane. I was too exhausted to run. Not wanting to give up, I thought back to my dad’s phrase “it will only take you five minutes.” So instead of focusing on the run as a whole, I focused on what I could in 5 minutes – I could lace up my shoes, jog down the block and come back immediately. What ended up happening is as soon as I was in the groove (let’s imagine it was at the 4:59:59 mark), I clearly wasn’t stopping. What’s another 5 minutes? What’s another 10-15 minutes? With this mindset, I was able to run for almost 3 months straight, and I lost over 20 pounds! Not every day was stellar; Sometimes I stopped after 7-10 minutes. But I showed up, and that made the difference.
It will only take you five minutes.John Derbak, my father
To me, if there is something you want, something you need to do, just showing up is half the battle. No matter how big or unpleasant the task – the elephant, the frog – just getting it over with is an incredible feeling. Even today I do a lot of my daily habits by just setting a timer for 5 minutes. Sometimes I stop at the 5-minute mark like when I am studying Russian or trying to brush up on some math, but most of the time I push myself keep going. Doing this daily allows me to improve daily. Improving by just 1% daily means that I will be +300% better than I was at the beginning of the year! (Okay, that’s not realistic, but I think you get the idea.)
To give you an idea of my current routines, I use Habitica to track my habits like flossing, exercising, and avoiding soda; I use my iPhone’s Reminders app to set my priorities for the day; and I use Forest to set a timer for my tasks – usually 30-45 minute chunks (for 5 minute tasks, I use my timer on my iPhone). Some daily tasks are also set up in Habitica like working on Fuzzy Logic, reading data science articles on Medium, or making sure I spend some time programming and developing my software engineering skills. I do not penalize myself if I am unable to spend as much time as I would like working on my goals every day. Instead, I am extremely satisfied just by doing at least 5 minutes. To me, it is that incremental improvement and the system of development I am looking for, not just the end goal.
I am living proof that just a daily small habit can change your life. Through this method, I taught myself Multivariate Calculus, Linear algebra, and Statistics. I am able to speak some French, Spanish, and Russian. I taught myself Alteryx, R, SQL, and Python. I even lost 50+ pounds just by starting small and walking a little more each day! And I even typed up this blog post with this method. I guarantee you, if you give yourself a daily habit to work on each day, you will achieve amazing feats. It will only take you five minutes.
I hope you found this article helpful and inspiring! Please let me know your thoughts. Also, please consider signing up for my e-mail list to be alerted when new articles are posted.