The magic of 5 minutes

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Would you like to banish your writer’s block? Here is an easy-to-implement suggestion that’s guaranteed to work…

Clients of mine are sometimes surprised when I suggest that they write for only five minutes a day. “That sounds crazy, embarrassing,” they tell me. “What possible benefit could I get from that?”

Writing for five minutes is not only a perfectly reasonable goal, it’s the most sensible one possible, if you’re dealing with writer’s block or even writer’s resistance. I usually hear two big complaints about writing (listed below as A and B). Here are my answers as to how the short-bursts-of-writing strategy solves both of them:

Complaint A: I don’t have time to write:

1) Five minutes is such a ridiculously small amount of time that you can’t possibly not do it. So you wake up five minutes early and rush to do it before breakfast. Or you do it five minutes before going to sleep at night. Even when my triplets were three-years-old (the height of craziness in a toddler-run household) I could have managed it. Even the President of the US could write for five minutes a day if he chose to. Even you could write for five minutes a day, no matter how jam-packed your schedule.

2) If you commit to writing five minutes a day you’ve taken away the need to make a really hard decision. You’re not deciding whether to write (hard decision), you’re only deciding when to squeeze in your five minutes (relatively easier). Wouldn’t you like some more easy decisions like this in your life?

Complaint B: I can’t accomplish anything worthwhile in five minutes:

3) Stick with this practice for at least a week, and you will be astonished by your feeling of accomplishment. Yes! Even writing for five measly minutes will give you a great sense of satisfaction because of your ability to make a promise to yourself and keep it.

We all promise ourselves things all the time and fail to deliver. This sets up a stream of negative self-chatter in our heads: “I’m no good” “I’m so disorganized” “I can never manage to get anything done.” But if you commit to writing five minutes a day (and write it on a list so you can check it off) you will feel accomplished. Proud. Perhaps even master of your domain. (Although I don’t mean that in the sense Seinfeld did.) This feeling of accomplishment will be invaluable to you not just for your writing world but for the rest of your life, too.

4) If you’re writing for five minutes and have more to say, then you can keep on writing. This is the only tricky rule because it’s essential that you not view “writing more” as an obligation. It’s not. Your only obligation is to write for five minutes. Nor should you write so much that you risk burning out. For this reason it’s generally a good idea to limit your writing time.  But going a little bit over 5 minutes is okay. Many runners make it their rule to put on their running shoes and head out the door, distance be damned — and then end up running 5 km just because they’re already doing it. Similarly, you may find your five minutes turning into 50. But if they don’t, that’s okay. The rule is to write for five minutes. If you’ve done that, you’re a winner.

5) Over time, the five-minute rule will turn into a habit. It takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to develop a habit but writing for five minutes a day is so easy that I think it will fall closer to the 18-day end of the spectrum for most people. Once you’ve established the habit you can start gradually ratcheting up the amount of time (or not, depending on how you feel.)

As you may know, I used to suffer from writer’s block, although it’s been years since I fought that particular demon. My current Achilles’ heel is paperwork. I loathe and detest dealing with it, and I have a special contempt for the need to file it.

Recently, however, I’ve been spending five minutes a day taming my in-basket and I have to tell you this habit has miraculously transformed my attitude. Instead of feeling bowed down by paperwork, the five-minute daily time investment has convinced me this is a monster I can tame. I would never have predicted this.

When I wrote about the 7 habits of highly effective writers, several years ago, I hinted at the usefulness of writing in small bursts. But I don’t think I realized the absolute effectiveness of the strategy. If you feel any hesitation about writing, I urge you to take the five-minute trick for a test-drive.

How do you persuade yourself to write when you really don’t feel like it? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me. If you comment on my blog by April 30, 2014 I’ll put your name in a draw for a copy of the autobiography Open by Andre Agassi. (I’m not even interested in tennis and I loved this book!) If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.