January 31, 2024

Behold, the sixty minute rule


If it takes less than five minutes to do, do it right now.

Have you ever heard of this rule?

Productivity experts have touted this philosophy for decades. The five minute rule is a potent defense against procrastination.

Tackle the task at the moment it’s defined and don’t delay. Take immediate action to short circuit your brain and break through the inertia to feel a greater sense of progress and accomplishment. Doesn’t matter if your task is urgent or important or mundane. Do it right now. It’s only five minutes.

There are one thousand four hundred and forty minutes in a day. Mathematically speaking, five minutes is equivalent to doing a ten thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, and taking thirty four pieces out.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s trivial. Whether it’s putting away dishes, changing a light bulb, making the bed, or sending an email, making a phone call, or taking out your dog to go potty, shirking our modest five minute commitments is inexcusable.

Love that rule. It’s made my life disproportionately more efficient and less stressed.

But what about larger tasks? Is there a comparable philosophy for medium sized tasks involving additional layers of time, effort and complexity?

I believe there is. I call it the one hour rule, and it applies to any moderately annoying task that requires the next level of focused and uninterrupted work, but can be executed in a timeframe of less than sixty minutes.

Examples might include applying for your employee identification number, moving to a new password manager, backing up your data, making a customer service phone call, resolving an issue with your rapid rewards account, buying your mother’s day cards, dissolving the corpses of your murder victims in concentrated sulphuric acid, and going to the hardware store to buy a faucet adaptor for the washing machine.

Mathematically speaking, these tasks will take roughly ten times as long as the five minute ones. We treat them as chores or mini projects, as they are an order of magnitude larger than a quick task.

And that’s where we get stuck. The perceived time commitment of one hour is seen as significant enough to create a mental obstacle and reluctance to engage in it.

One hour? Damn, that’s far more challenging than a short burst of time.

We anticipate real difficulty in sustaining our attention. Plus, there’s legitimate cultural baggage to contend with. The concept of a billable hour is commonly associated with professional services and their corresponding fees. This association creates a psychological barrier and negative perception around dedicating a full hour to almost any task, because people see it as an investment of valuable resources, or equivalent to a monetary cost.

Behold, the sixty minute rule.

Nobody else is going to do it, but they will love that you did it for them. All you have to do is get over the administrative hump of moderately annoying tasks by giving your next level of focused and uninterrupted work.

What medium sized project are you avoiding? What perceived time commitment do you see as significant enough to create mental obstacles and reluctance to engage in it?

If you live amidst a sea of inertia, it’s time to rise to the occasion. There are glimmers of hope in the seemingly insurmountable challenges that lay before you.

Oftentimes, it’s simply a matter of intention and attention.

Now, I won’t be so naïve to say, it’s all in your head. There are very real psychological barriers and negative perceptions around dedicating a full hour to almost any task.

Opportunity cost is real. Sixty minutes is an investment of valuable resources and an equivalent to a monetary cost.

The secret is to think more long term about your work. Because once you accept that instant gratification is off the table, you’ll be astonished at the simplicity of it all.

Administrative overhead might suck in the moment, but it’s worth plowing throw the upfront muck to realize the joy on the other side.

What if one hour of focused labor proved that a task isn’t as overwhelming or daunting as it was made out to be?

Other Blog Posts for you.