Fine Tuning the 10 Minute Rule

The ten minute rule for changing habits is like time itself, relative. Ten minutes is not an absolute, rather it is an idea that you can do many things in a short time to change your life or organization.

Photo by David Bartus on

I introduced the 10 Minute Rule in my last post. I received some great feedback from readers through private messaging. The feedback caused me to reflect on some finer points not discussed in the original post that help make the rule most effective. This post will focus on using the 10 Minute Rule to build a series of habits into routines and improve retention. The important lesson in this post is that change takes time; whether you are making changes in your life or helping employees make changes in their work lives.

Recognize that during the change process there will be set backs. That is a normal part of change. Developing new habits helps build persistence and resilience but only if you are willing to begin again and forgive yourself and others when initial efforts fall short of success. Developing routines help improve success rates. It takes time to figure out what part of the habit cycle create the conditions for new behaviors to become ingrained habits.

As I began searching for ways to improve my life by changing my bad habits into good habits I found my first attempts failed. I would try to copy what someone I knew and respected was doing. The way they approached a problem was not always a good fit. Instead of throwing in the towel, I made small adjustments until the process was my own.

An early example of a ten minute habit I adopted was developing a time management system. I would often forget appointments, tasks assigned by my boss, and chores I promised to do at home. To be honest, I still do but far less often. After reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I started to carry my version of the Weekly Schedule shown at the end of the chapter on Habit 3: Put First Things First. This was ‘back in the day’ before reasonably priced laptop computers, cellular telephones, and even Palm Pilots. I used a word processor to create a version of the schedule, Xeroxed, and stapled a year’s worth of sheets together. It worked for some time but I found it just wasn’t right.

I began looking at alternatives and eventually found a commercially available calendar system I liked that was affordable. I used that system for many years, but eventually transitioned to a different calendar system that was easier to carry. I now rely on apps I can use with my phone and computer. I suspect I will be using something different in a few years as technology changes along with my preferences. The bottom line is I learned to control my time better which is the first habit you need to change to make other changes.

Calendars help you take control of time to accomplish important things. Find a system that works best for you.

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Not everyone works in an environment where their time is easy to control. If your business is managing crisis, your time is often controlled by others and circumstances. Police officers, emergency room doctors, snow plow drivers, and those in similar professions need to respond to the current emergency. However, even those types of workers have periods during the day when they have control of their time. Plan tasks or projects to work on in those periods which in turn will help you begin to improve your habits. Planning improves execution.

Regardless of the planning tool you use, it only works when you use it. In order to build a house you need tools like hammers and saws and ladders. Just because a person owns a hammer, saw, and ladder does not mean he will build a house or anything else. Nothing will be build until that person picks up some wood, saws it to size then connects it to another piece of wood by using the hammer to drive nails.

In an earlier post I talked about the importance of developing organizational policies. They are important because they establish routines people use to make decisions when confronted by simple and complicated problems. Those routines establish a standard and allow people to figure out how to creatively implement standard answers to common problems. In your personal life you do the same thing with routines. As I began to gain control of my time, I started to study the habits of successful people. I found many had morning routines that helped them become emotionally, physically, and psychologically ready for the day. A common morning routine includes some sort of physical activity, some sort of spiritual or reflective activity, eating a healthy meal, and analyzing and adjusting their schedule for the day.

Likewise I learned that successful people have work routines that help them prepare to do physical, mental, or group work. For example a person might grab a coffee, hit the bathroom, log off their email account, develop a list of tasks to complete during the work session, and shut off the ringer on their phone. A person could write each of those items down on their calendar every day using. Alternatively, one can create a checklist used every time a routine is executed. Using the checklist ensures a person follows the steps necessary to have a successful work session.

Each item on your checklists becomes a habit. Returning to the morning routine, you can decide that when you wake up you want to make your bed, do some sort of morning exercise like walking, or lifting weights, and then eat a healthy breakfast. Start by making your bed. Do that for several days then add the exercise for ten minutes. After several days of exercising in the morning add the healthy breakfast. In this fashion you create a healthy routine that prepares your for your day. By adding only one habit at a time each task sticks better. As you become better at each, you can adjust the time to for those days you have off or have to leave early.

Developing a series of morning habits help create a routine that makes someone more successful all day long.

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I little leadership tip here, you can apply the same activity for a group meeting. The checklist is called an agenda. They help keep everyone focused on the important tasks of the meeting and honor everyone’s time.

As you integrate new habits into your life using the 10 minute rule, understand that the ten minute time is a concept, not concrete. You can make your habits one minute habits like Ken Blanchard did in the One Minute Manager, or 20 minute habits if you need 20 minutes to successfully complete all the tasks of a new habit you wish to adopt. Not everything can be done in 10 minutes.

It is not really possible to prepare a 45 minute lesson for a meeting at work in ten minutes. You can however set aside 10 minutes over several days to prepare the lesson. You will still need at least 45 minutes for your rehearsals and it is essential to do rehearsals in order to be a successful speaker or trainer.

The Ten Minute Rule is a valid method to change and adopt new habits in your life and to help those you lead create change. Remember that the ten minute part is a guideline. That number is not carved in stone. You may find you need to complete several short tasks to develop a new habit. Each may only take a few moments rather than ten minutes. Gradually build each new task over time until each is its own habit and all the tasks come together in about 10 minutes. Some things need more time to complete than ten minutes. The Ten Minute Rule is nothing more than practicing small changes in behavior that make a big difference. The longest journey always begins with a single step. Remember, if you find you failed to maintain a new habit, in about ten minutes you can begin again! Persistence is the key to the 10 minute habit, not time. I challenge you to set aside ten minutes today to begin a new habit that will make your life better. Also take ten minutes to teach those you lead about the Ten Minute Rule.

Three Ways to Improve Employee Performance

Locker doors showing repetition.  The idea is to repeat new knowledge and skills to create better habits.
Repeating new skills and knowledge helps develop new habits and improve employee performance.

Spaced repetition is a concept from Know, Can, Do by Ken Blanchard. It is a simple method instructors can use during training to help students retain what they learned. Few organizations have the money necessary to keep outside trainers available indefinitely. Organizations must rely on supervisors to identify ways to have employees repeat what they learned during training, to increase the return on the training investment. Here are three simple ways supervisors can engage employees and increase behavior changes desired from training.

The first method requires employees to verbally report what they learned to the supervisor. The second method is to requires the employee to type their classroom notes. The third way requires the employee to present the information and methods learned for other employees. Each way engages different learning strategies, increases retention, and reinforces desired behaviors.

When employees return from training they are excited about what they learned. They often do not have time to process how to connect what they learned with their job. As a result, desired changes in behavior do not occur. Plan time to meet with the employee after the training. Require the employee to tell you about the information and techniques taught in the class. Ask the employee to demonstrate the skills taught. Allow the employee to watch you do at least one of the tasks taught and correct your performance as appropriate.

Ask the employee questions about ways to implement the lessons learned into work routines. Ask how the skills can be taught to other team members. Before you end the meeting, task the employee with the second method of spaced repetition, note preparation.

Person typing notes to improve learning.
Typed class notes permits sharing knowledge with others, ensures you can read them yourself in the future, and creates an opportunity to present what your learned by using your notes as an outline

Preparing class notes is an important way to reinforce learning. Students should take up to a page of notes for every hour of class. More than that and they are not listening. Less and they have nothing to refer to after class. Typing the notes after class creates another repetition of the learning. Typing notes allows the student to share what they learned with others. Typed notes are easier for others to read. Typed notes can be stored in a file folder in a drawer, or digitally on a computer. Weeks or years from now anyone who was given a copy of the notes can pull them up as a reference.

Another great reason for preparing typed notes is to share them within your professional network. Teaching employees to share notes with their network provides an opportunity to communicate with people they do not see everyday. Their notes provide a reason to open a professional discussion with their peers and expand their influence. Your employees derive benefits when they share their notes with others.

Notes do not have to follow a formal outline, but do need an easy to follow format. At the top of the first page of note place the title of the class. Include the name and contact information for the instructor. Recording the instructor’s contact information allows the student the ability to contact the instructor in the future. It also provides the instructor credit for the ideas presented. Include the date(s), length, and location of the training. Tell your employee to take credit for the notes by including his or her by-line and contact information. People are more likely to contact the employee with topical questions before the trainer. Good notes establish the employee as a subject matter expert. When the employee presents the information, another repetition occurs strengthening the important lessons learned.

After the credit and training information, arrange the notes so they make sense. The note taker may find it make sense to rearrange some information. Create topical groups regardless of the order presented in class. Often instructors and classes deviate from the instruction model creating situations where information is presented out of order. Making those changes makes the notes are useful. Use topic headings if appropriate. Use different fonts or bold for topic headings. If the trainer used a slide handout, refer back to it rather than typing out all the points from the slide. This is especially helpful for diagrams.

Carpenter showing how to drive a nail.  The picture shows how allowing an employee to show others new skills, the employee's new skill improves, and others learn too.
Allowing the employee to show others what was learned presents another repetition of the skill and creates an opportunity for others in the organization to learn new skills and knowledge.

An added feature of the typed notes is that it allows the employee to prepare for the third step in the supervised, post-training, spaced repetition; the presentation. The employee uses the typed notes as an outline for the staff presentation at a selected time in the future. Schedule the presentation close to the date of the original training. The notes are the work of the employee and not subject to any copyrights by the presenter. That means the company can reproduce and distribute them without seeking additional permission. An exception is if the student’s note are direct quotes from the instructor or training material. Avoid plagiarism accusations by requiring the employee to use his or her own words.

During the presentation, the employee tells the others what he learned in the training. He tells how he has applied the lessons in his work and personal life and the results he observed. He shows others how to complete one or more of the skills. He provides each an opportunity, either individually or as a group, to practice one of the skills. Using this method expands the knowledge of the whole workforce for the price of sending one employee. Even if other employees previously attended the same training, this event serves as another spaced repetition, reinforcing the skills and knowledge learned. The presentation develops confidence in the employee and establishes them as a subject matter expert.

Pink flamingo pattern repeated several times to remind readers to repeat new knowledge and skills.
Spaced repetition is the secret for employees to develop new habits and improve performance

Too often organizations send people to training to learn but never follow up to reinforce those lessons. The three steps outlined here provide a model for supervisors to follow to ingrain those lessons. These three steps spaced over time reinforce learning. Meeting with the employee in a few days after the training allows them to show you what was learned. Requiring the employee to type class notes and provides another repetition. Sharing those notes allow employees to expand their sphere of influence. Conducting a brief training event reinforces the learning for the employee who attended the training, and also broadcasts some of those skills and knowledge across the organization. Using spaced repetition is a great way to increase your company’s return on its training investment.

Photo Credits

  • Lockers by Jan Laugesen from with Upsplash license.
  • Typewriter by rawpix from with Pexels license
  • Carpenter by rawpix from with Pexels license
  • Flamingos by Designercologist from with Pexels license