As someone with ADHD, one thing that consistently prevented me from getting tasks done is starting them in the first place. I would know what I should be doing. I’d have everything all intricately planned. Yet I still struggled with enacting the perfect plans I’d made, whether it was studying for an exam or cleaning my room.
Over the years, I’ve tried several techniques that people recommended to me to stop procrastinating. However, none of them ever worked as well as the Five-Second Rule.
No, this isn’t the rule that germs can’t get on the pizza you dropped on the floor back in second grade. This is a mental habit. Once you train yourself to follow it, you may find your productivity and ability to get things done increase dramatically.
What is the Five-Second Rule?
The Five-Second Rule is a technique to get things done the moment they cross your mind. The rule is once you get an instinct or gut feeling to do something that you know you should be doing, start it immediately.
For example, let’s say you're on social media, and a thought enters your brain to stop wasting time and start working on that overdue essay. The Five-Second Rule tells you to start right away. The simple science behind this is that the less time you give your brain to overthink the action you’re going to do, the more likely you’re going to do it.
One of my biggest reasons for procrastinating is the fear of whatever I’m doing getting dreadfully hard. When I first heard of the Five-Second Rule, I noticed that the more time I give myself before getting to a task, the more likely I am to think about it getting hard and boring. The result? I’m less likely to start it. The Five-Second Rule stops you from overthinking.
Tell me more about the science
A fun fact about the Five-Second Rule is that it prevents the urge to do something important from getting transferred from your short-term working memory to your long-term memory. You can think of your working memory as your conscious thoughts that are on the front line of your brain. The things you’re thinking about at this moment.
Your working memory is extremely important for reasoning and decision-making. It only lasts for a few seconds. Whereas your long-term memory is more stable and can last for a lifetime.
This rule harnesses your conscious thoughts of whatever task you need to do, before these thoughts go to your long-term memory where they become less urgent. Hence the name Five-Second Rule.
A word of caution
People like me with ADHD can act without thinking, and you shouldn’t confuse following the Five-Second Rule with doing things impulsively. The types of actions that you should use this trick for are ones that you already know you should be doing.
To stay on track, it helps a lot to write down the important things that you should be doing, and use that to guide the actions you use the Five-Second Rule for.
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About the author
About the author
Shadi Abdalla “You’ll never unlock your full potential unless you accept your differences and learn how to manipulate them to your benefit.”
Roberto Olivardia, PhD is a clinical psychologist and lecturer in psychology at Harvard Medical School.