The One-Minute Rule Could Change Your Life

Staying on top of chores, clutter, and other to-dos that can be completed in a minute helps keep life orderly and serene. numb3r/flickr

Imagine this scenario: You come home from work, throw your jacket on a chair and toss your unopened mail on the kitchen counter. After dinner you deposit your plate and glass in the sink to clean later and dump a pile of dirty clothes on the laundry room floor to wash when you can. A friend texts and you make a mental note to respond after you relax a bit.

It’s easy to put off small chores. They don’t seem urgent enough for immediate action.

Trouble is, by delaying these seemingly trifling tasks you often end up with a bigger mountain of to-dos and clutter that can be overwhelming.

One way to avoid chore overload and declutter your life is by following the One-Minute Rule. Very simply, the idea is that any task that can be done in 60 seconds or less should be handled right away and not left for another time.

Promised benefits include less household mess, fewer chores and to-dos clogging your life, a greater sense of accomplishment and more peace of mind.

Sweating the small stuff

Dealing immediately with things that only take a minute seems to have originated with happiness and lifestyle guru Gretchen Rubin. Others advocate a similar Two-Minute Rule.

Either way, the idea is to stop procrastinating on short, easy-to-accomplish tasks. After all, you’re only postponing the inevitable. You have to tackle it sometime, so you might as well tidy up as you go along rather than wait until things have mushroomed into a demoralizing, bigger-than-it-needs-to-be cleanup job.

procrastinating leads to messes
When you procrastinate on dealing with small messes, you may end up with a paralyzing pile-up. David Goerhring/flickr

Here’s a One-Minute-Rule redo on that earlier scenario. You come home from work and hang up your jacket as soon as you walk in the door. You open your mail right away and discard junk items in the recycling bin. Immediately after dinner you wash your plate and glass and throw those clothes in the washer. Finally, you tap out a quick reply to your friend while the message is fresh in your mind.

Think of it as a type of mindfulness practice – fully attending to and dealing with tasks happening now. A few minutes spent staying on top of little things can mean less household disarray, enhanced productivity, more time for fun, heightened feelings of satisfaction and Zen-like serenity.

Seem too simplistic? The Internet is filled with glowing testimonials from people who’ve given the One-Minute Rule a shot.

"Embarrassingly messy" writer Christine Williams describes how her room was once heaped with clothes that never seemed to make it to the hamper. Adopting the One-Minute Rule didn’t morph her into a neat freak, but things are definitely tidier.

"I no longer have a long list of trivial tasks that have piled up at the end of the day," she writes. "It’s amazing how quickly those small, insignificant responsibilities accumulate into an hour of extra work. Now I can spend my precious Saturday afternoons doing more important things ... like sleeping in."

The rule also works for more orderly types. As Jordan Dansky notes in a HuffPost article, "If you’re a little OCD like me, it lets you check some items off the (never-ending) to-do list!"

And another plug comes from BuzzFeed’s Natalie Brown, who lived and breathed the One-Minute Rule for a week despite her initial dread of giving up precious "me" time: "It's a habit I intend to keep, y'all. Here's what I discovered: Most tasks aren't as annoying as they seem. And the end result is worth each little minute ... If you're looking for a way to have a neater, cleaner space — and a shorter to-do list — without putting in much effort at all, I think the One-Minute Rule's definitely worth a try."

For more benefits hear NikkiVegan’s experiences in this video:

All-around productivity hack

Dealing with odds and ends in 60-second increments isn’t just useful for housecleaning. You can apply it at work, too. Answer emails as soon as they arrive so you aren’t faced with a crammed inbox at the end of the day. File away reports once they’re done instead of stacking them in scattered, random piles on your desk.

In fact, the One-Minute Rule can ease a lot of problem areas in life. Take an occasional minute to remove snack wrappers and gym clothes from your car instead of letting them accumulate. Pay bills online when they arrive so they don’t get lost or forgotten. Spare a minute to pull weeds as you walk by your flower bed to prevent them from multiplying. Write down that great idea as soon as it pops into your head so you don’t forget it. Get your kids involved, too, by challenging them to put away as many toys as they can in a minute. You get the gist.

If you handle manageable tasks in the course of your daily routine, "you don’t have to spend the entire weekend cleaning your closet," says Rubin in her podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. "You don’t have to take a week of your vacation time to deal with your garage. Stuff gets done without a lot of effort."

Best of all, she adds, "Outer order contributes to inner calm."

Listen to Rubin’s podcast on the One-Minute Rule here.