Bogged down by a hectic to-do list? After taking a deep breath, look at what can be done within a minute.
Welcome to the one minute rule. If a task takes you less than one minute to complete, finish it then and there. It might sound minimal, but it is said to be quite beneficial for our well-being.
When you apply the one-minute rule, you deal with the smaller tasks first. This includes bigger tasks broken down into smaller time capsules – eventually the big task is no longer a big task, but something that will finish in a minute.
This rule was initially described by author Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Happiness Project and later The Happiness Project blog. She noted that when she keeps all these ‘nagging’ tasks under control, she felt more ‘serene and less overwhelmed’. With this rule, she said that she didn’t have to think about priorities. “When I stop to think, ‘Should I tidy up the playroom or pay bills?’ or ‘Should I answer emails or run my computer back-up program?’ I sometimes end up feeling that whatever I’m doing is the wrong thing,” she had written in her blog. She further explained, “But with the ‘one-minute rule’, I do anything that presents itself, right away, as long as I can do it in a minute.”
This rule is beneficial for tackling procrastination and enhancing focus. Jasmine Navarro, a Dubai-based wellness expert explains, “The technique involves a timer where you start by setting a time for one minute and focus on your task fully until the end of the minute. Once you have finished, you can take a short break. You can continue working for another minute.” By breaking down tasks into smaller manageable chunks, you are better enabled to achieve your objectives.
How to optimise the one-minute rule
Forty-four-year-old Leanna Newman, a British senior Human Resources professional at The People Agency, Dubai has found the rule quite effective in her personal and professional life. “It teaches you to deal with small tasks and deters you from procrastination. You are less stressed, which supports your overall well-being,” she elaborates.
Newman mentions that it does not require complex discussion and ‘deep’ decision-making with anyone. “You ask yourself, can you do this in one minute or less - yes or no? If the answer is yes, then you get it done. The key is the consistency of habit; this helps to ensure that you maximise the benefits of better time management and keep your never-ending to-do list lighter.”
The technique involves a timer where you start by setting a time for one minute and focus on your task fully until the end of the minute. Once you have finished, you can take a short break. You can continue working for another minute
The rule motivates you to do more easily completed tasks quickly, bringing you a better sense of achievement and control over your life. You free up time for bigger, more important tasks, says Bahjat Balbous, psychiatrist at Euromed Clinic Dubai. You need to finish the task as soon as it arises, professional or personal. She cites examples, “These include placing dirty dishes in the sink and washing them after you have eaten, answering emails or messages as soon as you receive them, opening the mail and filing important documents away from it once the mail has been delivered.”
By completing these seemingly small and insignificant chores, your to-do list won’t look so unmanageable and overwhelming.
Preventing the Zeigarnik Effect and enhancing psychological well-being
There’s a panic when we see lengthy to-do lists and schedules.
When your mind sends you constant reminders, it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect. Unfinished tasks remain in our consciousness and tend to nag us till we do it. While it has its benefits, it causes a lot of mental effort and stress on the person, along with a build-up of anxiety. With the one-minute rule, you are clearing the frequent reminders in your memory.
“You ask yourself, can you do this in one minute or less - yes or no? If the answer is yes, then you get it done. The key is the consistency of habit; this helps to ensure that you maximise the benefits of better time management and keep your never-ending to-do list lighter
“This emotional stress plays on our minds and worsens with time. Attending to smaller tasks immediately will allow you to feel more in control, less stressed and ultimately you will be much more productive,” explains Balbous.
When you enforce the one-minute rule, you will also learn to manage your time better, as Newman notes from experience. It contributes in reducing stress and anxiety. You can relax and spend time doing something more enjoyable as well.
It’s a blessing for many in the workforce. Dany Cherfane, director of sales and marketing at Grand Plaza Movenpick Media City, Dubai, has a demanding profession. Noting how his practice of the one-minute rule has helped him and his employers at work he says, “With many distractions and interruptions, small tasks easily fall through the cracks and pile up over time. By practising this, colleagues can remain on top of their workload, preventing larger problems in the future.”
When does the one-minute rule not apply?
The one-minute rule is beneficial for enhancing productivity, but not all the time. If you are working on something that requires your creativity, the one-minute rule will not help you, unfortunately. “Creativity often requires longer periods of time to get into your flow state for you to come up with new ideas,” says Navarro. If you are at the stage of burnout or mental exhaustion, you would need a longer break altogether. You require rest, especially if the complex task requires your focus, she explains.
The one-minute rule is a handy tool for ensuring productivity, but it is important to note that it isn’t the best approach for all individuals and tasks.
On the other hand, Denis Murphy, UAE-based author and high transformation coach finds the one-minute rule a ‘quick fix’. Acknowledging its benefits, he asserts that it only addresses a part of a much larger problem. Focusing on the idea of ‘self-honesty’, he says that one must address the deeper issues that underlie their behaviours. He poses the question, “Do you feel motivated to finish tasks of any size that you simply don’t enjoy doing? The truth is that we have come to accept the fact that we must do things we don't want to do in order to survive in our modern world.”
He explains that this has led to a culture of ‘instant gratification’, where we constantly seek quick “wins” to feel productive. “While these little dopamine hits may provide a temporary boost, they are not a sustainable strategy for long-term success.”
By looking inwards and scrutinising ourselves, he says that we can create a life that aligns with our desires and values, rather than ‘settling’ for mere survival.