“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.
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.
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