Ten Minute Rule: Adopt Habits of Successful People

Ten minutes of daily practice is better than 60 minutes of practice once per week. Photo from pxhere.com. No other photo information available.

“Go play your horn Joseph!”

“Mom I just want to finish this level.”

“Shut the game off and go practice your horn NOW!”

“But Mom I’m almost done.”

Dad steps in, “Hey, you know Joe if you practiced your horn 10 minutes everyday right after school we wouldn’t have to fight like this every Sunday night.”

“Oh yeah Dad, then how come you don’t run a mile everyday after work instead of running three miles on just Saturday and Sunday?”


The story you just read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty father who told me this tale. The back story is that he has to complete a physical fitness test on a regular basis and struggles to complete the run in the time allotted. However after this confrontation with his son, he changed his habit. Instead of running six miles over two days which was not helping improve his run time, he did what he told his son to do, he started running one mile everyday after work but still ran three miles on Saturdays. On his next fitness test not only did he pass, but he cut five minutes off his run from the previous test. It took Dad less than ten minutes after work to run a mile but the improvement was dramatic.

I unknowingly started to develop the Ten Minute Rule of changing habits several years ago. As I continued my lifelong pursuit of continuous improvement by studying the habits of successful people I noticed that many of them had similar habits and rituals. They did things like exercising regularly, journaling, meditating, making new connections, creating paths for achievement, reading often, learning about new people and places, and taking time away from work to be with family and friends. I recognized that if I adopted some of those habits I would become more successful by accomplishing more and becoming a better leader by extending my influence.

The habit of staying in touch with connections keeps your personal and professional network alive, well, and growing. Keeping connected is an example of a habit that can be done in ten minutes or less and have a great impact on your life.
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I started simply enough by writing a card or email at least once each week to someone on my contact list (back then it was an address book) that I had not connected with for a while. I found that I reinvigorated my professional network by reconnecting with people as they responded to my cards. Next I tackled journaling. I had taken a class that talked about how reflective journaling could help leaders find patterns in their behavior and the behaviors of others that were counter productive. I figured I could do that in about 10 minutes a day at the end of each week. I continued to add habits here and there as I found 10 minute activities were easy to add to my schedule and made dramatic improvements. I even added running a mile a day!

Ten minutes a day can make a big difference in many things you do as a person and as a leader. As described above, some of those habits are for personal improvement and fall into the category that Stephen Covey called “Sharpening the Saw.” Other habits expand your influence that allows you to have more resources and power to accomplish things for yourself or your organization. Some of the most important habits as a leader involve investing time to develop others. The best way to change a habit is to replace it with another habit. When you add the ten minute habit of spending time with your followers you make them better employees and set the example of making small behavioral changes.

You may wonder how to begin accumulating a series of new “Ten Minute Habits” when your day is already full from morning until night. Like all journeys, you begin with a single step. Pick one habit you want to add to your day that will make a difference. Examine your day to find ten minutes you can consistently engage in the new practice. You do not have to do it every single day but the more days you do it, the quicker the new habit will take effect. Alternatively, you can find a ten minute period of time and decide to add a few new habits and do one or two each day during the week.

Regardless of how you start, write down in your calendar, your journal, the notes on your phone the days you complete the new ten minute habit. Writing down the days you actually do the habit begins to form accountability to yourself for making that important change.

When you develop a new habit you displace old habits. Charles Duhigg encourages people to identify the cue that starts a bad habit and the reward you receive for any habit you want to change. Once you know the cue and reward, you insert a new response which eventually becomes your new habit. Once you change one habit you will find others that do not serve you as well as they used to and want to change those as well. Taking a few minutes each day helps you make those small changes that make your life better.

Apply this to leadership by helping your employees change their habits. Ken Blanchard tells a story about an executive that is so busy helping her employees solve all their problems she never has time for her own work. As she works with her mentor she learns that she developed the habit of solving employees’ problems for them instead of helping them learn to solve their own problems. As she works with her mentor, she learns to teach employees how to solve their own problem, teaches them their decision making authority, and frees up time during the day to work on the projects she needs to complete. When employees develop the habit of going to the boss every time they have a problem they become dependent on the boss to solve all their problems. That is good for no one.

Spending ten minutes with an employee to teach them a new skill, progress on a project, or to check in on life events sets a powerful example. They learn they can be self reliant and still have your support. They know you care. They learn important habits do not have to be time consuming. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Like teaching employees to set goals, teaching employees how to establish new habits helps them learn to help themselves. As a result every employee becomes more productive, learns things to make them better employees, and begin the process to become leaders in the future. Remember the old saying that you cannot be promoted if you are indispensable in your current position.

Before I wrap up, I want to point out that the ten minute rule is a target. My morning routine is a series of ten minutes habits I developed from learning about other successful people’s routines. Some mornings are shorter because of life and I’ve learned that some of those ten minute routines can be done in one or two or five minutes instead of ten when necessary. Recognize that sometimes a few dumbbell curls is better than not exercising at all in the morning. The next day you can workout for 15 minutes to make up for the short day.

Using the ten minute rule can be a powerful way to develop habits that create success personally and professionally. Leaders adopt habits such as journaling, meditating, reading, etc. to become better leaders. As they learn how to integrate ten minute habits into their own routines, leaders can begin to teach others how to benefit from the the ten minute rule. Not all change is fast like adapting to the new normal of corona virus. Change that sticks takes time as people learn new habits. Using the ten minute rule creates slow, small change that increases the likelihood the change will be lasting. Try the ten minute rule. If it does not work it only costs you ten minutes. When it does work the return on, your ten minute investment is enormous.

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  • Blanchard, Ken. The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do
  • Covey, Stephen. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit

3 Steps Leaders Use to Teach Ethics

We have all been there. In that dreaded conference or classroom for the mandatory training on ethics. People drag themselves in at the last moment with a look of boredom before the instructor has even shown the first slide. We all know what is coming, the boring text based slides, the monotone speech, the guy in the back row who, while leaning back in his chair falls asleep and falls over bringing a few minutes of excitement and humor.

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Ethics training is important. The only way people in the organization understand its guiding principals is to received both classroom and hands on training. But the training does not have to be like that described in the first paragraph. In fact, there are so many ways to approach ethics training that it is unethical to have bore people during training. Leaders should be prepared to conduct ethics training on three levels. The first demonstrate by training ethically. The next provide ethical training. Finally identify organizational behaviors that require change and train to change that behavior. This post presents a few ideas about how leaders can accomplish each of these goals without having to speak above the din of snoring in the classroom.

The first step, train ethically seems like a no brainer. Well if this statement was true, few of us would know the dread of sitting through one of those classes. Leaders tasked with providing ethics training have an obligation to use time well. Presenting instruction in such a way that students fall asleep and take away nothing to help them do their jobs better just is not ethical. In fact, it may not seem like much learning happens in classed like that buy employees learn their time is not valued and the organization does not value them as people.

If part of the reason organization train ethics is to avoid civil liability, then this kind of training encourages law suits. You can pull out sign in rosters and lesson plans but if students do not take the lessons with them into their workplaces you failed. Leaders should train employees to do the right things the right way for the right reasons. That is the best insurance against torts. Well trained employees help organization avoid liability. Value is added to employees when they understand how to apply guiding principals in their daily work habits and routines.

Good training is valued by employees. When employees know they will receive important lessons taught in an interesting way, they look forward to training. Everyone despises the torture known as Death by PowerPoint. The point of presentation software is to help make critical points powerfully. By showing everything you are going to say on the slide the importance of the points are lost. Be prepared to speak the ideas, not the slides.

Helpful supervisors have greater influence by living organizational values – Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Now you have demonstrated the ethics of the organization by valuing the time of people and keeping the engaged. That is great but content is still important, teaching ethics. Teach organizational standards, orders, policies or other written documentation governing behavior in your organization. Teaching does not mean reading. Have war stories to share related to when things both went well and when they did not. Such stories show why certain rules and expected behaviors were established. If the training requires students read organizational documents, assign them to read the documents before class. Formulate a series of questions that invites the employees to discuss how those rules apply. Good questions lead to the students sharing their own stories for others to evaluate. As students share their examples others can chime in about the nature of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Facilitated classes are great opportunities to share ethical theory with students and show how their biases effect their reflection of organizational standards.

If the point of training is to change behavior then leaders need to include some exercises employees can execute to learn those new behaviors. Repetition is required for this training to be successful, but do not teach the exact same class to the exact same audience time after time. Both you and your students will become bored quickly. The point of this training is to focus student attention to voluntarily comply with the organizational mission, principals, expectations and norms. Use this time to explain what the mission statement means to their section. Talk about how the organizational principals support the mission. Express your vision for the future of the organization. Even if you are teaching the newest, lowest level employee remember that as some point that person may be selected to lead. Share your vantage point with others so they understand the why doing the right things the right way is important to them as well as the organization.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

As you work through the exercises and activities, employees will become aware of how the behavior of good leaders in the organization aligns with it guiding principals. As a leader people are always watching you. When you are doing the right things the right way for the right reasons employees notice. Every time you engage in desired behavior you are teaching others what is acceptable. The boss that uses the sea gull technique of leading will be shunned as they take about guiding principals.

You never heard of a sea gull boss? He or she is the one that is always hovering around above everyone else waiting for someone to make a mistake. When they see the mistake they swoop in, make lots of noise and then fly away pooping on people as they stream skyward.

On the other hand, the boss that is always around but not into everything also notices when employees make mistakes. He or she may watch the employee struggle a bit to see if she can figure out how to fix the mistake. Just before the employee does something harmful, this boss calmly arrives and coaches her through the process.

One of these two bosses will be listened to in ethics class. The other will be ignored. The one that act respectful receives respect. Employees in ethics class taught by that person begin to understand that the positive behaviors are aligned with the organization’s guiding principals and they try to change their behavior accordingly. They have a positive model to follow.

As you develop training for each of these areas, you will soon find you have far more material to cover than the time available. Newer leaders assigned to train will curse and try to squeeze everything into the allotted time. Experienced trainers recognize the opportunity to provide follow up training without repeating previous classes. This provides those leaders opportunities to improve attention and retention in subsequent classes. Focus on the three areas, ethically train, train ethics and change behavior. When you do, your followers will clamor for more.