Guest Column: Steve Rigell

Mrs. Schloemer’s One Rule

By Steve Rigell

I learned the best productivity hack of all time when I was seven years old from the most unlikely source imaginable.

My mother had decided I would learn to play the piano and that’s all there was to it. And, she had decided that I would practice every day after school before going out to play. It didn’t matter that my friends and I were in the middle of constructing our best “fort” ever. There was no reasoning with her. She laid down the law and that was that.

I could tell Mrs. Schloemer knew I didn’t want to be there when Mom took me to my first lesson. She smiled at me and firmly closed the front door on my mother who clearly wanted to be invited in. She then asked me to follow her to the kitchen. I wondered if I was in the right place. There was definitely no piano in the kitchen. She puttered around at the stove for a few minutes and brought two steaming cups of hot chocolate to the kitchen table.

“I only have one rule,” she said as she sat down.

I didn’t say anything. I blew on my hot chocolate and watched the ripples in the foam.

“You only have to practice five minutes per day.”

I thought about this for a second or two. This was not sounding as bad as I had thought.

“Does my mom know about this rule?”

“I explained to her that she has to abide by this rule just as you do.”

I sipped my hot chocolate and tried to figure out what the catch was. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked, “What’s the catch?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “my friends Laurie and David take piano and they have to practice at least thirty minutes every day. That really cuts into their playing time.”

“Different teachers teach different ways,” she said. “Can you promise me you will abide by my one rule?”

“Sure!” I said without hesitation. “Just five minutes a day, right?”

“That’s right. Now let’s get started.”

For the next several weeks, as soon as I got home from school, I sat down at the piano and “practiced” for my obligatory five minutes. Not a second more. Then, I went outside to play with my friends, and no one said anything at all to me about practicing piano. Mrs. Schloemer never mentioned her one rule again.

At some point I stopped watching the clock so closely and just went out to play when I was done.

One day, I was shocked when my friend Al knocked on the front door and asked when I was coming out to play. I had been practicing for almost an hour. Al didn’t take piano, but he was curious about it.

“How can you sit there and play for so long?”

“I don’t know. I guess I just lost track of time.”

“You still only have to practice for five minutes, right?” Al asked.

“Yep, that’s the only rule. I don’t have to do recitals if I don’t want to. Mom can’t make me play for her friends. I just have to practice five minutes a day.”

“But most of the time you practice twenty or thirty minutes. How come?”

“Well, it’s like I get involved and lose track of time. Sometimes I just want to get something figured out. It’s weird.”

“Yeah, weird,” was all Al said as we jumped on our bikes and headed for the creek where we knew the rest of our crew was waiting.

It was not until years later, after I had graduated from college and started my first business that I fully appreciated Mrs. Schloemer’s genius. With every business, every job, there are things that we just don’t relish doing; especially when there are things we enjoy doing instead. There are tasks we avoid, activities we procrastinate about, and deadlines we push out over and over–the adult equivalents of practicing piano every afternoon after school.

These hurdles can be mastered with Mrs. Schloemer’s one rule. Just make a commitment to give them five minutes per day and stick with it.

Give it a try. You’ll be on your way to radically improved productivity in just five minutes.

© 2014 Steve Rigell

CEO, Preemptis Consulting

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