The 5 year rule (2 minute read)

A few years ago, I was experiencing some serious stress. A timely conversation with a colleague and friend led to the introduction of what I now call the “5 year rule”. 

It was 2013. I was in the middle of my Honours year. The year was spent researching what causes itch in certain types of liver disease. The year was a blur but I remember a lot of mice, pipettes and 7 day weeks. I had a sensational team around me and was able to get a pretty cool publication out of it. If you are interested, check it out here.

Fun fact: My thesis was due at 4pm. I submitted it at 3:55pm after a 36 hour sleepless race to the finish. My advice is to never cram a 15,000 thesis. Proof reading a 15,000 word thesis is like sprinkling spices on your private parts, not fun.

During the lead up to this madness, apparently the stress was obvious because one of the PhD students, let’s call him Simba (#wisdom), noticed I was falling to pieces.

He told me one thing that really changed the way I look at things. This is the 5 year rule.

“If it doesn’t matter in 5 years, it doesn’t necessarily matter now” – Simba

Four years later, I still carry this with me and even use it to educate my patients about managing their mental health. Admittedly, it took me years to really start to understand how profound this truly was. Let me show you how I apply this in my daily life and hopefully you can gain something from this as well.

Working as a doctor is demanding. There never seems to be enough time. Now imagine this simple scenario.

It’s lunch time. Your patient has been waiting for 10 minutes. You haven’t eaten. What do you do?

Option 1: See the patient. Skip lunch. Plan to have a big dinner. Tell yourself that tomorrow will be better.

What if we apply the 5 year rule? Does eating lunch matter in 5 years? I would argue a STRONG YES! Missing lunch once in a while is probably OK but as we all know, these sort of things often become the norm. Time is never on our side. Conversely does making the patient wait another 15 minutes matter in 5 years? It might annoy them a little bit but they will get over it (especially if you give them your absolute best when you see them which is much easier to do if you have eaten your rice and curry). Will waiting another 15 minutes matter to them in 5 years? HELL NO. If it does, then perhaps they need to learn the 5 year rule themselves!

In the context of the 5 year rule, I believe option 2 is the best answer.

Option 2: Have lunch for 15 minutes. See the patient after. Apologise for making them wait. Get on with the day.

It’s a subtle difference but, this difference would have a profound effect on your life. Having lunch every day for 5 years versus not doing this will create two very different human beings.

I would like to dedicate this post to that PhD student I refer to as Simba. You taught me the essence of priorities and I give you credit every single time I pass this on to my patients. I am not even sure if you know how much impact that one conversation had on my life! I am not even sure if you remember the conversation at all!

If you want to connect, share ideas and achieve world domination, feel free to email me directly on and like the page on facebook here.

As always, stay in school, don’t do drugs and contemplate the things that will matter in 5 years.

Much love to you and of course, to myself.

Dr G