Kevin Systrom, the billionaire founder of photo-sharing app Instagram, has revealed his ultimate life-hack to beat procrastination.

In an interview with news website Axios this week, the 33-year-old - who sold Instagram to Facebook in 2012 for US$1 billion - said he was a fan of the "five-minute rule".

"If you don't want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it," he said. "After five minutes, you'll end up doing the whole thing."

As psychologist Andrea Bonior explains, among all the various forms of self-sabotage, procrastination stands out as "a favourite modus operandi for making ourselves miserable".


"We procrastinate for a variety of reasons - anxiety, perfectionism, lack of motivation, guilt, poor decision-making skills - and some of us wear our procrastination like a badge of honour," she writes in Psychology Today. "It's not always a bad thing, of course, especially if you work well under pressure and you always end up meeting your deadlines in the end."

The five-minute rule is an old trick in cognitive-behavioural therapy based on the fact that "often, for procrastinators, starting is the hardest part".

"You pick the task you want to work on, and you vow to work on it for five minutes, and five minutes only," Dr Bonior writes. "Yes, you must stop after just five minutes. 'What can I possibly get done in five minutes?' you might ask. But that is the procrastinator talking - the voice that would at this very moment lobby for doing nothing rather than doing anything at all. Are you going to listen to that voice? Don't. So let's ask again: What can you get done in five minutes?"

The answer is "five minutes' more work than you would have done otherwise".

"We're scared of the big, amorphous blob of a task precisely because it is so big and ill-defined, and because we worry that it will take two hours or two days to get to the bottom of it," she writes.

"And so we wallow. We don't even open the envelope holding that bill we know we have to negotiate. We don't even unzip that suitcase we have to unpack. We don't even take two minutes to assess the piles we have to organise and figure out how many categories to sort them into.

"But it's those small openings and unzippings that in many ways are the biggest psychological barriers of all. If you conquer them - and it's probably doable in just a couple of minutes - and then force yourself to stop after just that incremental progress, your energy and momentum will have started to flow. You might not even want to stop.

"And - here is another reason why the rule is so great - it will make you much more likely to come back to that task when you try for another five minutes (or perhaps you allow yourself 10 or 20) in the next day or so."