Are you procrastinating small tasks? Is your brain-space taken up with little things that need to be done? Are you drowning in email? Use the 2-minute rule to stop procrastinating, improve your productivity, and get things done.
I first heard about the two minute rule years ago, when I read David Allen’s classic productivity book Getting Things Done. The 2-minute rule is one of the things that stuck with me and that I have continued to embrace over the years. I have found that it can really improve your productivity.
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The gist of the 2-minute rule is that if something will take two minutes or less to complete, you should just do it. Don’t think about it, don’t add it to your to-do list, don’t put it off for later. Knock it out.
Get stuff out of your head and just do it
One of the main tenets of GTD (as Getting Things Done is often referred to) is that you should get everything out of your head and into some kind of system, whether that is a paper system or a digital system. All that stuff in your head is distracting you from the task at hand, which means that you aren’t doing your best work.
I’ve never been great at getting everything out of my head, largely because my lists always got too long and unwieldy. In fact, my system became overwhelming and I didn’t want to add anything to it or even look at it. The 2-minute rule helps with that.
David Allen says that if a task will take less than 2 minutes, then the time spent adding it to your system would exceed the time it takes to complete the task. Therefore, you should just do the task.
I find that incredibly freeing. A great example of this is reading an email and then marking it unread to “deal with later.” If it will take less than two minutes, then do it now. If it will take longer than two minutes, then add a task to your system.
It’s all about quick wins
As I wrote in 7 Tips for Planning Your Day, you should add some quick tasks to your daily plan. Quick tasks are a great way to create a sense of accomplishment and are good to perform during low-energy times of day. The 2-minute rule follows that same logic. While you won’t have an item on your list to check off, you will still know that you completed one or more short tasks during the day. This feels especially good if you are working on some never-ending project.
Two-minute tasks also allow you to take advantage of small windows of time. Let’s say you have a webinar or conference call starting in five minutes. You could waste time checking in on Facebook or Instagram. Or you could knock out a couple of 2-minute tasks, like cleaning out email, organizing Evernote, or even changing a light bulb or watering a plant.
Accomplishing something productive, no matter how small, will make you feel motivated.
Process your email with the 2-minute rule
The 2-minute rule is a great way to deal with the never-ending email inbox. Give yourself a period of time to process emails. If the email will take less than two minutes to deal with, then handle it right then. This could mean a quick reply or hitting delete. If the email will take longer than two minutes to deal with, then add it to your productivity system.
Overcoming procrastination and perfectionism
If you are a perfectionist, you’ve probably noticed that procrastination is often a symptom of perfectionism. If you can’t do something perfectly, why do it at all? Am I right?
You can use the 2-minute rule as a tactic to help you overcome both these tendencies. Simply taking action helps you move forward on tasks that you are avoiding. And the time limit gives you the freedom to stop trying to be perfect.
Watch out for pitfalls
There are some potential pitfalls to watch out for with the 2-minute rule:
- Make sure that the 2-minute task you are completing is one of your priorities. It can be easy to get pulled into someone else’s priority, especially if you are responding to an email because it will only take 2 minutes. Don’t get sucked into someone else’s yes when you didn’t mean to. That is not a productive use of your time.
- Make sure that the tasks will really only take 2 minutes to accomplish. It can be hard to judge how long a task will take, especially when you first start using this method. Use a 2-minute timer, as mentioned above; this will help you learn what can really be accomplished in two minutes.
- Lastly, don’t let your whole day be taken up with 2-minute tasks. Unless you intentionally set aside a day to knock out a bunch of small tasks, spending a lot of time on the 2-minute rule likely isn’t the highest and best use of your time. It could be procrastination masking itself as productivity.
The bottom line is that if you can get something done in two minutes, just do it. Whether you are processing email, in between tasks or appointments, or making your to-do list, think of the 2-minute rule. Make using the 2-minute rule a habit and you will improve your productivity and get more things done.
Do you use the 2-minute rule? I’d love see your tips in the comments.
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