Declutter your to-do list with the 3-minute rule

When your to-do list is a mile long, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You end up putting off minor tasks like picking up a prescription or starting a load of laundry, and what could be done in a few minutes stagnates at the bottom of your to-do list.

And the longer that minor task stays on your task list, the bigger of a deal it is that it isn’t done yet. Putting off your laundry is a minor issue on the first day—but after a week or two, that ignored task has snowballed into a major problem (and a wardrobe crisis).

That’s why the best way to declutter your to-do list and your life is to implement the 3-minute rule.

What is the 3-minute rule? 

The 3-minute rule is where you commit to doing a task for three minutes, and after that, you can stop if you want. In essence, it’s a strategy that helps you get over the hurdle of starting a task. It’s a small but mighty approach that can revolutionize the way you manage your time and boost your efficiency.

Many people procrastinate because they feel too overwhelmed to get started. This strategy is a low-pressure way to start a task—and once you do, you might find it much easier to keep going. 

Imagine this scenario: you’re scrolling through your inbox, and you come across a handful of emails that require quick responses or actions. According to the 3-minute rule, instead of procrastinating and letting them pile up, you tackle them head-on. Tell yourself you’ll take three minutes to clear as much of your inbox as you can. And before you know it, you’ve decluttered your digital workspace in 5-10 minutes.  

The 3-minute rule lets you take immediate action on tasks that would otherwise linger on your to-do list. And it isn’t just about managing emails—you can use it in many aspects of your life, like:

  • Getting in a workout 
  • Tidying up your workspace
  • Making a phone call
  • Writing a report for work or school 

The psychology behind the 3-minute rule

But why three minutes? Research suggests that our brains are wired to resist tasks that seem overwhelming or time-consuming. By setting a three-minute expectation, you bypass this resistance and trick your brain into taking action. It’s a small window of opportunity that can lead to significant progress.

According to Oxford University associate professor of psychology Dr. Jennifer Wild:

It is all too easy, when it is cold and you are watching television not to want to go out for a run, even when you know it is good for you. But when people are told they can go for a three-minute jog and stop if they don’t feel the benefit, that can get them out.

And once you’re out the door for that run, you may find it easier to keep going for three, six, nine more minutes—until you’ve finished a satisfying workout. 

The key to productivity: breaking free of inertia

The 3-minute rule gets you out of your avoidance mindset. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of a large project or task, tell yourself you just need to work on the task for three minutes. No pressure! 

It also encourages a mindset shift towards prioritizing action over perfection. As the saying goes, “done is better than perfect.” By embracing this philosophy, you can overcome perfectionism and move forward with confidence.

Related reading from Slothzero’s blog: