How the Two-Minute Rule Saved My Life from Overwhelming Confusion

We’ve all been there. Life is busy—no, it’s hectic. In the time it took to cross one task off your list, you’ve had to add three more. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done.

How The Two-Minute Rule Saved My Life From Overwhelming Confusion

(CC Image courtesy of Palo on Flickr)

The last two years of my life have been about as busy as it gets. In that time, I’ve:

  1. Graduated college,
  2. Married the woman of my dreams,
  3. Grown an online business from scratch, and
  4. Welcomed our first-born son into the world.

And those are just the highlights!

Perhaps that’s why I write so much about productivity.

After all, time is scarce. If we can learn all kinds of super-fancy life hacks and productivity techniques, there’s a change we can get everything done! Right?

In the past few years, I’ve practiced a lot of productivity techniques (including daily themestoday lists, and the Pomodoro Technique).

In that time, I’ve learned a lot—but the most powerful technique I’ve learned is still one of the absolute simplest.

The technique is called the two-minute rule. It’s fairly straight-forward and easy to remember:

If you could complete a task in two minutes or less, do it now.Tweet This

When you’re presented with something that you could complete in a couple of minutes, there’s no need to put the task off or add it to your to-do list. Doing so would only make your never-ending task list longer.

Each time you follow the two-minute rule, you unlock the power of quick wins. Every time you finish a task, you gain momentum that makes it easier to conquer the next one.

The two minute rule is a productivity technique pioneered by David Allen in his best-selling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

Here are a few examples of the two-minute rule in action:

  • You receive an email from a colleague, asking your opinion on a new project idea. Rather than mark the email as “unread” and come back to it later, you take a moment to send them feedback right away.
  • You sit down (or stand) at your desk and notice a growing pile of letters and notes. Rather than ignore the mess and get straight to work, you spend the first minutes of your day decluttering the space around you.
  • Your spouse asks you to take out the trash or put your laundry away. Rather than put it off until you “feel like it,” you stop what you’re doing and take care of the task right away.

In each of these examples, following the two-minute rule leaves you better off and further ahead. It may mean a small inconvenience, but it’s totally worth it in the end.

In addition to having the task completed and moving on to the next, you’ve saved yourself time that is typically wasted browsing to-do lists, looking over the same tasks you’ve had on there for weeks.

Complete simple tasks first. Eliminate diversions from the work that matters most.Click To Tweet

Time is precious, and every moment counts. Your world is full of more opportunities than you could possibly pursue.

Question: What have you been putting off, that you could finish right now in two minutes or less? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are off-topic, rude, or spam-like.

  • Nathaniel Holzmann

    John,
    I love this suggestion. It’s not something I’ve integrated in my daily practices, but is definitely something I’m going to have to consider!

    • Awesome! I hope it helps, let me know how it works for you.

  • Kaitlin B.

    An interesting problem I’ve run into working at the D.A.’s office is that a great deal of my tasks come to me in two-minute increments. For example, my phone rings all day, and I’m usually inclined to answer it for a 2-minute conversation right away (because I hate that voice-mail light!) but sometimes a larger task takes much, much longer as my concentration is continually interrupted. Same with emails. I’ve learned that I occasionally need to mute the phone or close Outlook and to package 2-minute tasks like these into a longer “returning calls” or “returning emails” section of my day.

    • Oh yeah, too many two-minute breaks can definitely destroy productivity. It’s a fine balance sometimes, I think the distinction is that proactive actions (like taking out the trash) is less likely to disrupt your flow than a reactive task (like answering the phone).

      • I’ve found that the fine balance of two-minute breaks and the “larger tasks” requires a focused use of “batching”. I like to batch my two-minute drills into a 20-30 minute timeslot. That way I don’t waste energy switching between tasks but still make time to take care of the small things.

        • That’s a great tactic, Kyle! Similarly, I try to knock out as many small tasks in one sitting as I can.

  • Great tip, John!

    • Thanks Shawn! I learned it from others who were writing about the technique, and it’s really changed my perspective on many tasks.

  • This is a great tip john, easy to implement! Its amazing how many items we can procrastinate on, that could simply be cleared up quickly. I find I do that the most with email. I need to get into the habit of replying when I first read the email.

    • Awesome, Paul, I hope you find the technique helpful! Yes, I’m right there with you on email. I have to fight the temptation to turn my inbox into a second to-do list.

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  • What a great rule, John. In most cases I try to follow the same rule in my life. To get the things done that I can accomplish in a short amount of time without putting them off for later (which usually turns into never).

    • That’s great Dan, I’m glad you follow a similar technique. I used to put off those tasks until “later” because they didn’t seem high-priority, and my task list got crazy long, super fast.

      • I’ve been their too:) Thanks for a great read!

  • Lilian Gafni

    Thanks John for this timely advice. Clutter usually distract and slows down progress, making it look like a metal ball around our ankles. Getting it done right away moves the tasks to completion.

    • You got it, Lilian! Glad I could be of assistance. That’s totally what it’s all about, clearing out that distraction to get to the important stuff hidden behind the little tasks.

  • Wow, hit me in gut with the “wait til I feel like it point!” that is great I definitely should just get up and take the trash out! My wife might become your biggest fan after this!

    • Ha, well I hope it makes your wife happy. Mine will probably need to use this post to remind me from time to time 😉

  • If it’s worth doing, do it now.

    • Interesting expression. What do you mean by that, @getorganisedwithnathanambrose:disqus?

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  • vipkrsna

    Good one @johnrmeese:disqus. I have been doing this unknowingly, and I realized it after reading this! For me this one also act as an interim stress buster, taking myself away from piled up big things to smaller things. Unfocusing to get focused!

    • That’s great, glad you’re already practicing this simple productivity hack!

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  • Erik-Jan

    “Stop what you’re doing and take care of the task right away”… I don’t think so. I don’t want to loose momentum in the task I’m focusing on for a two minute task.
    For the rest good concept.

    • There is a tension to be managed, to be sure. When it’s time to really focus, there shouldn’t be any notifications or distractions to take away from what you’re working on.

  • Good points. I try to divide my tasks in 1-hour intervals because there’s always something that’s bound to interrupt me during the day (like emails, feedback, or a scheduled Tweet. ugh.). Thanks for reminding us how small things count.

    • That’s a great strategy, Cris! In general, I’m a huge fan of time-blocking, but there are times when the two-minute rule makes everything so much simpler.

  • Hi John, I’ve just come across your blog. So I hope you don’t mind that my comment is coming months after you posted this particular blog post! I love that you ask us to “Complete simple tasks first. Eliminate diversions from the work that truly matters.” That’s something I’ve definitely taken away!

    • Hey Pedro, of course I don’t mind! Thank you for leaving a note, and I’m very glad that you found that message helpful.

  • I was JUST thinking about this today. I got a text from one of my staff asking me to do him a favor and check something. I was just about to add it to my “to do” list, but then I realized that it would literally only take about a minute. Great productivity tip for sure!

    • You just saved yourself (and your coworker) a good bit of unnecessary hassle. Great work!

  • This is a great tip. I started applying the 2 minute rule to my emails after I read David Allen’s book Getting things Done. I then found myself doing as you do just applying it throughout my day. Thanks for sharing.

    • Excellent, I’m glad to hear that Sonia!

  • This was really helpful. Thank you. As a busy mom of 3 kids (youngest is a 6 month old) I’m completely drowning in stuff to do. I’m going to remember this!

    • Sounds like you have a lot on your plate. The two-minute rule will help you keep that plate from getting any bigger!

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  • Lisa B.

    The Two-Minute Rule is great and also easy to implement in your day-to-day life, once you get started with it! It’s something I’ve been doing for a while now – without having a special word for this strategy -, and for me it works. I can only recommend it. John, you’ve got it figured out! 🙂

    • I’m hearing that a lot, Lisa. That many people are doing this already without having a name for it. Glad to hear you’re in that boat!

  • Hi John, I know what you mean about the power of the two minute rule. I remember coming across it in GTD and it really sticking with me. I say sticking with me because it’s one of those things which is so obvious and easy and yet when I’m tired or facing “the resistance” it can be so easy to delay on. I guess there is also an element of over estimating how tough the task is to.
    Still when I live it out regularly it’s really powerful.

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