Clients 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. Here is 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 squeeze in your writing before breakfast—or you do it five minutes before going to bed at night.
Even when my triplets were 3 years old—the height of craziness in a toddler-run household—I could have managed it. Even the president of the United States could write for five minutes a day. 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 that 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. Writing for five measly minutes will give you a great sense of satisfaction because you made a promise to yourself and kept it.
We all promise ourselves things all the time and fail to deliver. This sets up a stream of negative chatter in our heads: “I’m no good.” “I’m so disorganized.” “I can never manage to get anything done.”
If you commit to writing five minutes a day (and write it on a list so you can check it off), you will feel proud and accomplished. 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. Still, going a little bit over five minutes is OK. 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 kilometers just because they’re already doing it. Similarly, you may find your five minutes turning into 50. If that doesn’t happen, it’s OK. 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, back in 2007, I hinted at the usefulness of writing in small bursts. 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.
The article appeared originally on LinkedIn.