If Your Life Feels Overwhelming, Try The One-Minute Rule

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exhausted mom at desk

A heap of pillows takes up space on the floor of my bedroom. The bed sheets look like a whirling dervish spent the night. My sweet but desperate-for-a-bath dog is semi-sleeping on the faux fur throw bunched at one end of the mattress. I survey the scene with steely resolve and a pinch of excitement. It might be go-time in my house, which means we all need to scoot out the door in a few minutes, but right now, I’m way more focused on doing this one simple thing: making the bed.

I can’t adequately express how important making the bed is to me. It gives me a much-needed feeling of accomplishment that’s often missing from my stay-at-home-mom life. I know, I know, it sounds sort of ridiculous to pin so much power on a made bed, but my made bed makes me happy. And the best part? I can do it in a minute or less.

Focusing on one doable task for a minute is what Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, calls The One-Minute Rule and I’m here to tell you, it’s magic. The idea is to tackle tasks that only require a minute or less to do, and do them when they present themselves if you can. Don’t save them for later (read: never) just because they seem relatively inconsequential. They might not be the most important or life-changing tasks, but when we continually put them off they join forces to haunt us with their sinister nagging.

I’m one of those people who’s easily overwhelmed by the endless things that need doing, both big and small. I set lofty goals that aren’t easily reached in a day or a week or even a month and that feeling of falling behind often throws me into a funk. Add to that the predictable build up of useless clutter five people and one dog create, and I become an anxious mess. The enormity of it all can be paralyzing.

Enter the One-Minute Rule. There’s no need to prioritize tasks or overthink them. If you have a minute, just do what’s in front of you, whether that’s folding laundry, cleaning out the junk drawer, or answering that annoying Parent Association email with all the exclamation points in the subject line. The goal is to get shit done and it’s perfectly okay to start with the small shit.

I know you know what I’m talking about. Think of all the stuff you put off because you’ve got other more pressing stuff stressing you out: you blow off the stack of mail that needs opening because a Target run is more important if your people want to wipe their butts with toilet paper and not paper towels. You leave the dishes in the sink because you need to get to work. You step around the jumble of Legos, dried out Play-Doh creatures and slime in progress on the dining room floor because your taxes must get done, even if that means living with slime wedged between your toes.

I’m not here to judge your life or tell you your priorities are out of whack, but all the undone crap and clutter is probably making you unhappy. I know at a certain point it makes me miserable. In one study, women who live in cluttered homes showed elevated stress hormone levels and when you’re stressed, it’s even harder to deal with the big stuff. Can you say overwhelmed?

Let’s get back to the One-Minute Rule: what if you took one minute to do one task without worrying about doing something else? I swear, once you’ve finished even a single, seemingly unimportant chore, you will feel better. Whether you’ve put it on a to-do list or not, whatever it is you get done will lighten your mental load. And that, my sisters, will put a smile on your face.

I even use the One-Minute Rule with my three kids. When they whine about clearing the dinner table or feel swamped by homework, I tell them to give it one minute. I even set a timer. When all three of them work together, it’s actually three minutes of people power and, lo and behold, the dishes are cleared, the table wiped down and the leftovers put away. When it’s homework causing the stress, one minute is usually exactly what my girls need to get started. Sixty seconds later everyone’s mood is noticeably improved.

It’s no different for grown ups. The small stuff is easier to take care of and when you do, I promise you’ll feel that little jolt of satisfaction that will carry you on to the next task, and then the next. Getting something done in a minute is completely manageable and incredibly rewarding. And here’s a pro tip: if you have a task that needs more time, extend the One-Minute Rule to 5 or 10 minutes (yes, you can totally do that!).

We all need whatever tools we can get our hands on to sort through the chaos, whether it’s work-related, world-related or life-related. It takes one minute to answer an email, one minute to call your representative, and one minute to take a look-see at your kid’s take home folder and lovingly recycle the whole damn thing.

If that doesn’t get you grinning, I don’t know what will — except maybe making your bed.


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