How You Can Apply the 5 Second Rule to Drive Productivity and Execution in Your Business

“Hesitation is the kiss of death. You might hesitate for a just nanosecond, but that’s all it takes. That one small hesitation triggers a mental system that’s designed to stop you. And it happens in less than, you guessed it, five seconds.” –  Mel Robbins, The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage

Acting on an idea, and fighting our feelings that push us toward inaction or compromise, can be one of the most difficult challenges in our lives. These little “tests” happen constantly from day to day, yet we mostly deal with them unconsciously – an autopilot response if you will.

These seemingly small decisions can add up to large and complex ones. For example, in response to why he chose to wear the same outfit everyday of the week, Mark Zuckerberg commented in an interview that he thought choosing clothes was a “silly” decision he didn’t want to waste too much time on. This creates a gap between Mark and other CEOs (think Steve Jobs with his iconic black long sleeve, blue jeans, and sneakers), from the crowds of individuals in the workforce, but only in their ability to execute meaningful decisions. In the same sense, the only meaningful trait separating the common employee from the CEO, is simply the letter “E” for “executive”, or in this case “Executive function”.

According to “Learning Disability Online,” Executive functions can be defined as:

A set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.

The skillset for training your brain to execute quickly and effectively is an important one to master. Instead of writing about ideas and theories, we will give you an actionable exercise you can try out today to jumpstart this learning curve:

The 5 Second Rule

When your instincts will you to do something to further your goals, or when temptation ebbs in to your mind, instead of considering how you “feel” about a decision, count backwards from 5 in your head (5-4-3-2-1-0) then physically move your body and act on your dilemma as the count reaches 0. This can be used whenever your willpower is too low to:

1. Get up in the morning.
2. Resist the lure of fatty foods.
3. Go exercise outside or at the gym.
4. Pursue what you enjoy, and resist what is bad for you!

By counting backwards from 5 and then physically moving, you activate your prefrontal cortex, simultaneously distancing yourself from “feeling-based thinking” and interrupting your autopilot response to stress. Our brain has these built in responses to stress that can often hinder our productivity and happiness in life, so why not short-circuit these with the 5 Second Rule?

At our innovation centre in Vancouver, we practice this daily to enhance our productivity, cut negative habits, and achieve a better work-life balance. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your to-do list? Our team member Michael applies this rule when his priority list starts giving him anxiety and he is unable to start any one task. He’ll say out loud “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go” and he’ll be off on coding the next project.

The 5 Second Rule can help break negative habits too, by making you pause a few seconds before acting on them. With an open office floorplan, it becomes habit to just walk up to a colleague’s desk for a quick chat. Rather than interrupting their focus and workflow, you can take those 5 seconds to consider the urgency of the matter and perhaps write them a short descriptive email instead.

In meetings, we encourage our staff members to speak up with whatever ideas they have for the current situation, no matter their “feelings” on them. One of our quieter members had difficulties speaking up in the past, but by employing the 5 Second Rule, he’s begun to voice his ideas, even in the most crowded meeting room. Incidentally, this helped us a great deal to build our Electronic Banking Statement, which you can read about here:

Now that the 5 Second Rule is so ingrained in our business ecosystem, we’re taking the next step and finding out how it can help not only our day-to-day work, but our interactions with clients as well. The team has come up with a few potential ways of integrating the 5 Second Rule in tough spots with a client:

1. Following up on an important client email when they haven’t responded for a week.
2. Inquiring about getting more time to finish a deliverable.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and perhaps discovered a new and innovative way to shift your focus away from feeling-based thinking to create actionable outcomes! If you have any ideas on how to use this tool in either a B2B environment or just in your daily life, please leave us a comment down below.

Thomas RautenbachArchitect
Thomas Rautenbach has over 20 years of diverse systems experience with a strong focus on system and integration architecture and software design and development. He has detailed technical, functional and system knowledge across the SAP technology platform, including extensive experience with the Finance, Supply Chain, Sales and Distribution, and Human Resources modules.

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