The three-minute rule: the scientific way to tackle your most-hated chores

Psychologists say the secret to stop procrastinating over tasks you dislike is to do them for a few minutes. Could it work?

Name: The three-minute rule.

Age: New.

Appearance: Brief.

I thought it was the five-second rule? The five-second rule refers to the length of time a foodstuff can spend on the floor and still be considered uncontaminated.

Wow. Does that have any scientific basis? None. The three-minute rule, on the other hand, is a strategy for overcoming procrastination.

How does it work? It’s simple: if you have a chore you’re in danger of putting off, try doing it for just three minutes.

But then it won’t get finished. That’s not the point. The first three minutes will snap you out of an avoidance mindset, according to the psychologist Dr Jennifer Wild. “Three minutes quickly becomes six minutes, or nine, and mostly, before you know it, the task is done,” she says.

Once you know three minutes is destined to turn into nine, doesn’t the chore become off-putting all over again? Apparently not. And it’s not just chores – the three-minute rule works for fitness regimes, phobias and even social anxiety.

What do you mean, social anxiety? Stressed about that big party tonight? Try going for just three minutes!

But it’s an hour each way on the bus. Don’t worry, you’ll probably end up staying for much longer.

This is just telling yourself lies. Procrastination is itself a significant source of stress. If you keep having the “success experience” brought about by the three-minute rule, daunting tasks will soon feel more achievable.

I remember people talking about something like this a few years ago, but it was called the five-minute rule. Yes, they used to call it that.

So why is it now three? In trials, three minutes was shown to be optimal – 98% of participants ended up persevering. Also, “the five-minute rule” happens to be the name of a different thing.

What different thing? The amount of time you should refrain from talking about people who have just left your company, in case they come back for something they forgot and overhear.

I see. But “three-minute rule” wasn’t taken. Actually, The 3-Minute Rule is also a book about a strategy for effectively pitching ideas to people with short attention spans.

I’m very confused now. Just remember: if it takes longer than three minutes, it’s too long.

And that applies to absolutely everything? There are some exceptions, but I’m afraid we’re out of time.

Do say: “I can’t believe I’ve been at this party for nine minutes – how time flies!”

Don’t say: “That’s 1/16th of the carpet vacuumed – time for a gin.”

The GuardianTramp

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