The 10-Minute Start

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and thought, “I don’t feel like doing any of this”? Me too. That lethargic, self-absorbed thinking often kills any momentum or inspiration I might have mustered to get things done. The job is made all the harder by my mental anguish over how long it will take, how much energy I might have to expend and whether the reward is worth the inconvenience. In a just a few seconds, I find myself avoiding/ justifying/ defending my decision to skip out and find something more entertaining or enjoyable to do. That is, until  I  began playing a little mind-game that is having a huge impact on my productivity: The 10-Minute Start.

I learned this technique from John Stanton, the Canadian entrepreneur who started the Running Room enterprise. Knowing that even seasoned athletes have “down” days, his running clinics all advocate that when an inevitable loss of motivation hits, you can decide to give yourself permission to just run for 10 minutes – nothing more. That is the game-changer! If you are like me, the first 10 minutes of anything challenging (writing, working out, cleaning…) is the hardest. But, once I am past the first 10 minutes I am in a much better place to decide whether to continue or call it a day and pack up. (Full disclosure: I have done both on different occasions!)

The trick for me is catching myself in the situation and setting the timer on my phone for the 10-minute marker. Telling myself that when the alarm goes off I can make a new choice is enough to coax myself into getting something done: a brainstormed outline, a couple yoga stretches or a short errand. Some days I hit the repeat button because in just 10 minutes (without the pressure of a long-term obligation) I can get past the inertia and start to settle into the work for a bit longer. Ten minutes is not that long and as John and his team know, it is enough time to get past the mindset of it being” too hard”, “too long”, “too boring”, “too – whatever”! Once you are moving forward, a little momentum is frequently all it takes to keep things rolling.

This seemingly simple exercise has big ramifications – it sets us in motion and sets us up to accomplish more than we can envision at the onset. In the words of Martin Luther King:

Even when the climb feels like it will take too much time, require too much energy and the summit is out of sight, there is value in taking the first step.

In coaching, one of the exercises I often use in closing a one-on-one session with a client is to ask, “What one-action would get you closer to your desired outcome?” or “What’s one thing you could do in less than an hour that would move this project forward?

It’s pretty simple to connect the dots and see the similarity between the exercises: they both start with the invitation to find the first-step and then just keep checking in with yourself over and over again. I invite you to play with this tool: see if a little 10-Minute Start might shift your thinking about the time, the effort and the rewards of whatever is on your to-do list. Who knows, once you get started, you might just be unstoppable!

Photo Credit: J Waldon