The five-minute workday

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Does a five-minute workday sound ludicrous to you? It shouldn’t. Not if you want to establish a sustainable writing habit…

Have you spent days, weeks, months, perhaps even years failing to find enough time to write?

Perhaps failing to find any time to write?

I have three suggestions for you. If you adopt them, they will change your life and “magically” make you able to write.

You might not like them.

You might even think they’re impossible for you.

But they work.

1-Start small. Start really small

I mean five minutes. Write for just five minutes, every day. But not a nanosecond longer than five minutes. Even if you feel like writing for longer. Even if you desperately want to write for longer. No more than five minutes. For at least two weeks.

I can just hear you complaining!

I can barely turn on my computer in that time, you’ll say.

I won’t get enough words to make a difference.

I want to write a book that’s 70,000 words. How will five minutes help that? 

The point of writing for just five minutes is twofold. First, it’s for you to prove to yourself that you can do it. It will allow you to build a record of success that will buoy you up and make you feel great about yourself — even though it’s just for five minutes. This will make it easier to write the next day.

Second, it’s to establish a habit. Habits don’t require willpower. Or sustaining. They take care of themselves. You want to have a writing habit just like you have an eating-dinner habit and a brushing-your-teeth habit and a watching-Netflix habit. You do these things without thinking about them. Without angst. They’re just habits.

And if you have any trouble with five minutes (some people do – no shame here!), start even smaller. Cut the time in half, to 2.5 minutes. And if that’s too much, drop all the way down to one minute. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s not. You’re making a commitment to yourself, and the commitment needs to be small enough that you don’t resist doing it.

Can you really look me in the eye and tell me you don’t have the time for one minute a day? Can you tell yourself that?

Now, let’s consider the other end of the spectrum. Let’s say you nail the five-minute objective and you want to increase your time. That’s fine. Just don’t increase it too quickly. You don’t want to set yourself up for a fall.

Once you’ve done your one-to-five minutes for at least two weeks, then, you can gradually start increasing your time. But only gradually. And only if you wish. It’s also perfectly reasonable to stick with the small amount of time into infinity. What harm could it do? It’s your writing habit.

Shape it any way you wish, but just make it something that’s manageable enough you’ll be able to do it for years.

2-Do it in the morning

I know, some of you are night owls who are going to tell me that night is absolutely the best time for writing.

You’re too slow in the morning. You sleep too late and you need to rush out the door after getting up. Your mornings are hectic while your nights are quiet and welcoming.

Still, I want you to find a way to write in the morning. For just five minutes. Why?

I want you to get your writing out of the way. I want you to be able to do it and then forget about it. If you spend all day worrying about the writing you’re going to need to do that evening, then it’s going to take on monster-like qualities. You’ll start to worry about it, even dread it. But there’s no need to get so worked up about five minutes of writing. Just do it and be done with it.

Did you know that you don’t even need to be wide awake to write? In fact, the dreamy quality of the morning is only going to help you. (Yes, you need wide-awake attention for editing, but not for writing.)

Now, others of you may tell me that you’re not night owls, but you have really busy mornings with small children and dogs and the need for exercise. If that’s the case, fine. But understand that by morning, I mean before  noon. Just so we’re clear, I’d never suggest setting an alarm for early morning writing — particularly if you’re not already a morning lark. No 5 or 6 am stuff is necessary! You can even do your writing on a coffee break, if you like.

The biggest benefit of morning writing is that you’ll actually get it done — before too many things start to go wrong in your day. Before your kid throws up on your feet, before your boss demands a report before day’s end, before your teenager gets into a car accident.

One other point — you’ll help yourself a lot if you take a minute or two to prepare for the next day’s writing, too. So on Monday, in addition to your five (or fewer) minutes of writing, also take a minute or two to plan what you’re going to write the next day. And if you need to do any research (it will be minimal if you’re writing for only five minutes) do that the day before as well.

So, we’re probably talking about a seven-minute commitment. (But the research part, if necessary, can be done at any time of day — as long as it’s after the writing.)

3-Stop evaluating the quality of your work

Step 3 is the secret weapon. And I’m serious about it. Stop evaluating the quality of your work. Just stop. Write to put words on the page. Write to express yourself or to make a point. Don’t write to get a gold star, or an A+ or a pat on the head. Because you’re not going to get any of those things from writing.

It’s impossible to evaluate the quality of your own work until it’s something like five or 10 years old and you’ve completely forgotten having written it. Why? You’re too close to your own writing right now. You’ve done all the thinking, planning and writing, for goodness sake. How can you possibly know if it’s any good? You can’t, because you have no perspective.

And when you try to figure out if what you’ve written is any good, you just tie yourself in knots. I know because I did that for about 25 years, and it made me miserable. And slow. Instead, just spit out the words as quickly as you can.

Stop editing while you write.

Stop even rereading what you’ve just written. (Rereading what you’ve just written  won’t really help you figure out if it’s any good — again, you have no perspective on your writing yet.) Just write. Get the words out of your head and onto the page. Then you’ll be able to edit them later. Much later.

You can write

Don’t entertain the thought that you can’t do it. Of course you can. Did you know that if you write just 200 words a day — the length of a shortish email — for 365 days, you’ll have 73,000 words in one year?

You can even write a 100,000-word dissertation this way. I’ve worked with clients who have.

Slow and steady always wins the race.

Speaking of people who know how to win races, let me take a moment to introduce you to a writing buddy of mine. Her name is Ann Gomez, and she’s the founder and president of Clear Concept Inc., a Canadian company that helps people become more productive. Starting tomorrow, Ann will be a guest columnist on my website, under the header The Productive Writer. I hope you’ll take the chance to check out her work. Here’s the link (note: it won’t be live until Wednesday.) Ann is also an engaging speaker and a USA Today bestselling author. Her latest book is the wonderful Workday Warrior.


My video podcast last week addressed readability stats, explaining how to use them. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Have you ever been able to achieve a five-minute workday? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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