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Make 2023 your most productive year with Mel Robbins’ ‘5 Second Rule’

Forget motivation or a color-coded to-do list – this productivity hack is the proven way to get things done.

Success is often a reflection of the small decisions that are made each day and how effectively we make use of our working hours. What’s more, the speed of our decision-making is something which top leaders and CEOs, like Jeff Bezos, have mastered to achieve success in their business endeavors.

Known as a ‘man of action’, Bezos’ secret weapon for getting things done and minimizing stress is his ‘Bias for Action’.

“I believe you can make good decisions without having all the information, if you’re willing to communicate what you know, listen to others, and iterate,” he says.

Research also suggests that leading with a ‘Bias for Action’ can make you a more decisive and courageous leader, which is noticed by people and sets a standard within an organization.

This approach explains how Amazon is able to consistently move at great speed. The company’s website describes its ‘Bias for Action’ in the following way:

“Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.”

The main benefit of adopting this leadership principle is that taking swift action with less certainty is a great way to overcome perfectionism and the fear of failure.

Leadership teams with a ‘Bias for Action’ execute decisions with a mentality of attempting new things and making progress without a 100 percent guarantee of success.

In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman launched their book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies in which they outlined the eight basic principles of management excellence.

Almost three decades later, Peters stated in an interview that a ‘Bias for Action’ is a key differentiating factor underpinning business success and growth.

“A ‘Bias for Action’ is the most important. It’s not only the most important. It’s arguably more important by an order of magnitude today than it was in 1977, when we started the research,” Peters emphasized.

The question is, how long should you wait to act on a decision?

In her book, The High 5: Take Control of Your Life with One Simple Habit, New York Times Bestselling Author and motivational speaker, Mel Robbins, explains how ‘The 5 Second Rule’ works. Robbins first shared this simple productivity hack in a 2013 TedX talk entitled, ‘How to stop screwing yourself over’, which received millions of views.

“You see you’re capable of being more productive, you’re just waiting to feel like doing what you need to do. And, guess what? You’re never going to crack the whip on yourself when you have a million other things that you need to do and you’ve got people that are making demands on you.”

“The 5 Second Rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it. The moment you feel an instinct or a desire to act on a goal or a commitment, use the Rule.”

It was while struggling to wake up earlier, that Robbins realized that it took around five seconds to stop herself from adopting this positive habit. Later, one evening, she noticed that rockets launch into space after a five-second countdown. It then dawned on her that she too could give herself the push she needed to take back control of her life – like the rocket.

“The moment you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count five-four-three-two-one-GO and move towards action. If you don’t move in five seconds, your mental habits take over and kill your instinct to change, innovate or step outside your comfort zone,” she adds.

From waking up earlier in the morning to initiating a conversation with a potential business contact, the ‘The 5 Second Rule’ helps people move out of thinking and into doing. With such a small window in which to act, fear and self-doubt don’t stand a chance of creeping in and sabotaging us from taking action.

It’s additionally a mental tool that leads to good habits that support your goals, in business and in life. “Counting backwards requires focus, and when you focus, your prefrontal cortex awakens, and by the way, that’s the part of the brain that helps you learn new positive behavior patterns,” Robbins enthuses.

“From the moment that you have the idea, you’ve only got five seconds to take action, otherwise it’s gone. Write it down, schedule it, send an email to yourself or make the request,” she suggests. “The moment you feel yourself wanting to give into distraction, you’re going to use the rule again.”

With only so many hours in a day, the rule encourages leaders to prioritize the most important tasks and exercise greater control over their thoughts and actions.

Productivity is not about blasting through your to-do list and doing more. It’s actually about doing less,” Robbins explains. “Productivity is the ability to make progress on the things that matter to you.”

Robbins also argues that internal resistance to change is often the only factor that holds us back from doing the things we dislike.

“You see you’re capable of being more productive, you’re just waiting to feel like doing what you need to do. And, guess what? You’re never going to crack the whip on yourself when you have a million other things that you need to do and you’ve got people that are making demands on you.”

When to use ‘The 5 Second Rule’:

  • To wake up in the morning
  • Before responding to an email
  • When hesitating to reach out to a new client
  • Before undertaking some form of exercise
  • When you think of an innovative idea
  • Before attending a social event
  • Before negotiating with someone
  • When you’re about to indulge in a bad habit

The benefits of using ‘The 5 Second Rule’:

  • Prevents overthinking and self-doubt
  • Gives you a greater sense of emotional control
  • Encourages you to trust your instincts
  • Increases your confidence and courage
  • Changes the way you perceive failure
  • Prevents you from holding yourself back from opportunities
  • You feel more empowered for taking actions that align with your goals

    Take a moment and think about the last time you had a brilliant thought that you failed to act on. What stopped you from taking action? In what ways would your life be different if you followed this rule more often?

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