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The One-Minute Solution for Beating Procrastination

Eleanor Kay Southers


  • There are seven reasons for procrastination.
  • Analyze the reasons for procrastination.
  • Do not ignore the tasks or put it off. Instead make the task easy.
The One-Minute Solution for Beating Procrastination
Vidmar Fernandes via Getty Images

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I recently gave in to all the good hype about exercise keeping you young and bought an exercise bike. It’s a Schwinn, and it’s beautiful. It has most of the bells and whistles, but what is especially good is that you can sit upright on it, which I need to do. The best part was that I was able to do 30 minutes right from the beginning. Listening to what used to be known as “Books on Tape” (now “Audible”), I pedaled away with great abandon!

Because I live in a community property state and the bike was a significant investment, I invited my husband to heighten the seat and take a turn. After ten minutes, he had to dismount and take a nap. He does walk at least a mile every day, and we do weights and stretches every weekend, but I knew it might be a struggle to get him back up there. I had been reading The Pain Management Workbook: Powerful CBT and Mindfulness Skills to Take Control of Pain and Reclaim Your Life by Rachel Zoffness, MS, PhD (New Harbinger Publications, 2000) regarding different techniques in pain management, and I’ve been having some luck applying her techniques for my back pain. The book is filled with all kinds of suggested activities based on her expertise in pain management. One of the items she recommends to overcome resistance is to start out with the smallest goal and work slowly into larger ones. I had known and used this technique with numerous coaching clients with varying results. But her recommendation of starting out with one minute and adding to that was intriguing. It became interesting enough for me to start analyzing why this works and what factors need be in place for it to succeed.

Where better to start than with my handy, nice husband? First, you need to find out why he stopped pedaling. He was tired. Could he add one minute to his journey if I could persuade him to jump on again? If he had said he felt sick or was in pain, obviously, we would have to confront that first. But he was game, and in the next couple of days, he rode for 11 minutes, then 12, and today he got to 21. I asked him what his goal was, and he answered he didn’t know. But that sounded reasonable if he wanted to see how far he could go and, more importantly, how consistent he could be.

The One-Minute Solution for Procrastinating Lawyers

Seeing how effective the one-minute solution had been, I decided to give it more study time and see if I could devise some instances where it could help attorneys better overcome their hesitancy to get going on tasks that they were resisting. I thought the task must be one that was amenable to starting with one minute and adding increments of one minute thereafter. Or so I thought.

Coming up with those involving timing was easy: Walk for a ridiculously short time, like three minutes, and then add the one-minute solution. Going to bed or getting up one minute early sounds ludicrous, but just think, that means seven minutes in a week and 30 minutes in a month! Digging deeper, I decided that I needed to explore two related items: What are the reasons why attorneys procrastinate, and what are the reasons why the one-minute solution works while other suggestions fail?

In my book Be a Better Lawyer: A Short Guide to a Long Career (ABA, 2014), I set out the seven reasons for procrastination:

  • We fear the future if we make the change.
  • We really don’t like the task, although we know it is valuable.
  • We feel overwhelmed.
  • We get a rush by waiting until the last minute.
  • We have an unrealistic view of the time it takes to do the task.
  • We have a psychological or physical problems that makes it difficult to start tasks.
  • We strive for unrealistic perfection.

The bottom line, if you analyze the reasons, is that a task feels burdensome, so it feels best to ignore it or at least put it off as long as possible.

The carrot-and-stick approach has been used over time with varying results—usually not good ones. You should lose 20 pounds, you should exercise, you need to write that brief, and on and on. None of that looks easy. So, what if we made the task easy?

Isn’t that what the one-minute solution does? But does the one-minute solution work for all types of procrastination? It might not seem like it does, but would happen if we could make it?

The normal protocol is to set a timed goal: “I will lose 20 pounds in two months.” From there, shorter goals are set. “I will lose two and one-half pounds a week.” That sounds pretty reasonable, and many times that’s enough to get going. Countless times, however, by about week three, you’ve finished losing water, and the scale doesn’t show any or very little additional loss. Procrastination and doubt creep in. Pretty soon, the diet and extra exercise are given up, and the little weight loss is gained back.

What if we did a paradigm shift? What if we eliminated or cut one food item we ate in half at each meal or even at only one meal? The next day is the same. As you get more efficient and keep checking the scale, you will see a gradual loss in weight. You are not under any strain to lose a certain amount by a certain date. The exercise part of the regime can follow the one-minute solution and be increased by one minute each day.

How do I know this works? Using this method, I lost 20 pounds and forwent knee replacement surgery. That was four years ago, and still no pain and no surgery. Now for the downside: It took me five months to do it! I was unaware that I had made it easy to do, and making it effortless made me stick with it.

So, we can surmise that if we break down a task to the easiest (although maybe not the quickest) change, we can have greater success.

I ran these ideas past a coaching client and asked him what he thought would be a difficult situation to undertake in easy steps. He came up with contacting clients to let them know of a bad court decision in their case. How could we overcome the urge to postpone the conversation? How can we make this easier? One idea I came up with was to first write down what the choices are for the client to pursue now that the judgment was against her. The reason why this is easier than confronting the client unprepared is obvious. It is a shift in the attorney’s (and hopefully, the client’s) focus. It allows the attorney to proceed positively. Also, it can be divided into easy steps.

The key is agreeing to complete one choice immediately and then one more within a doable time frame. When a pre-arranged time has elapsed, the attorney contacts the client. The client is first sent an email setting out the court’s decision but, more importantly, telling her that there are choices concerning what to do next, which needs to be discussed. Making this sound as positive as possible, the attorney invites the client to make an appointment as soon as possible to consider her next step. If the attorney feels email would be inappropriate, perhaps have the secretary call and make an appointment for the client to come in to discuss. Because you may have statute of limitation worries or other time-related duties, it is important to get this set sooner rather than later. Changing the negative to positive actions makes the news easier to communicate.

Newton’s First Law of Productivity

An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion. . . . —Newton’s First Law of Motion.

Hopefully, by now you can see what the one-minute method is based upon. If we can find a simple and easier starting place and use it to tease our brain into accepting the call to action, we have got this thing beat. The trouble is that, like many answers, it takes preparation and thought. It is also helpful to take a deep look at your reasons for procrastination. Which one or two of the seven listed above fit your style? Simply identifying your reason for procrastinating is another clever way of beating it!

Take a look at your calendar. Is there anything on there where you are resisting starting the task? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Which one of the seven reasons for procrastination is true here?
  • What is the exact starting place of the task?
  • What does the end of the task look like?
  • How can I make the starting place easy?

Next, try the easy starting place you identified. Make it easier if there is still resistance. Play around with it. Don’t give up. This can make a significant improvement in your life.