A simple rule that (surprise) makes time and saves time for you

Updated to Habits, Productivity on January 21, 2021.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I was doing some math the other day and realized something pretty remarkable. I’ll share that discovery in just a minute, but first the problem.

If you have a list of To-Do’s longer than your minutes, you have a problem. It sounds something like this:

“As soon as I get through this project, I’ll feel more organized”, or

“If I just had one free day I could finally get caught up”, or

“Next week will be better. Then I’ll be able to get on top of this workload.”

I’ve got news for you. It ain’t gonna happen.

I know because I’ve had all those conversations and still nothing changed. If your days were packed last week, and they’re full again this week—good chance next week will be more of the same. (You can learn more about how I attack procrastination in this post.)

That’s why my somewhat-simple discovery is so important.


I always promote small wins. Get a chunk of your project done and see progress. Cross tasks off your list and enjoy a sip of dopamine. Success leads to more success, n’est-ce pas?

Success leads to more success, n’est-ce pas?

But I needed a simple way to promote this to my audiences. That’s when I discovered a simple rule (drum roll please):


I know, it’s not as exciting as the secret formula for Coke or how to lose weight by eating carrots, but bear with me—it’s a game changer. (This formula fits in with my Plan Like A Pilot time management model – read about PLAP here).

Roughly speaking, if you do some 10 minute task every work day it’s like committing a full work-week to that goal. The math is boringly simple: 10 minutes a day is 50 minutes a week which is 41 hours a year, or about one work week (you can argue about holidays and work weeks, but you get the point).

TWEET THIS: Small wins matter: 10 mins a day on a project means a full work week toward that goal in a year

That means 10 minutes every day making sales calls, coaching staff, learning Powerpoint, writing your book, stair climbing, or organizing your priorities is like investing a full week in that one result. Holy flying minutes, Batman – that’s huge!

My simple rule also works in reverse.


What if you were to shorten a meeting by 10 minutes, or spend 10 minutes less on: email, looking for files, procrastinating, or waiting in line for a coffee you don’t need. Boom! Bam! Zam! You just got one week in the bank.

You can use your new-found minutes to jump on that phone call you’ve been procrastinating about, or to do nothing. Sometimes a few minutes to put files away, review your Flight Plan, and get clear about what really matters this week is the best investment you can make.

If all you value is ‘doing’, you’re no different than the person with only a hammer who sees everything as a nail. Stop doing, be present, breath, think, and ask yourself “If this was Friday, what absolutely has to happen before the weekend?”

But, not so fast, Robin—there’s a trick to making it happen.


A routine, like checking your email every five minutes, shuffling through tasks (rather than completing a task), or procrastinating on sales calls can be ingrained and hard to change. It’s what neuroscientists call a neural pathway.

Enter a competing routine.

Your old routine (shuffling paper, reorganizing your list, checking email) wastes time, but keeps you busy. A competing routine still keeps you busy, but also moves projects forward, 10 minutes at a time.

It’s like the nail biter who keeps her hands busy when she feels the urge to nibble, or the smoker that chews gum, your competing routine gives you more of what you want.

Here’s how I use a competing routine.

What a 5 minute video where I explain the 10 minute rule and how to use it.


When I’m working from my office, there a couple of times in the day when I can easily fall off course: around 10:30AM after going strong since 5:00AM, shortly after lunch (low blood sugar and the warmth from the afternoon sun), and just before leaving to head home. Three times (at least) when I need to rely on a competing routine to stop from wasting times. (Learn about my slightly-strange morning routine in this post – Why I Joined the Morning Club.)

So, I make small wins. They’re always there on my list, I just need to pick one, do it, and before long I have momentum again. Some small wins include:

  • follow up on a keynote enquiry.
  • book a flight for an upcoming presentation.
  • send query email to media for a future article.
  • open envelopes and file mail.
  • pay a contractor on our SOS team.
  • pick image for my next blog.
  • promote 2-3 blogs that colleagues have posted.
  • check my performance dashboard on (our new favourite tool for seeing everything at a glance).

None of these take more than 10 minutes and all create progress. Like picking up a wheelbarrow – the hardest part is starting that next task and getting the first push in.




So, there you have it: a simple rule that actually saves and creates minutes. And my question is: what will you do today, and every work-day after, to make minutes in your life?

I want to know! Tell me in the comments below (I’ll write back).