Allen introduces the 2 minute rule as a way to deal with your email inbox. If it takes 2 minutes or less to respond or take whatever action required you should do it right away. The reason for this is that it will probably take you longer to make a note to take that action than the action itself.
I have been playing with this rule on and off since reading the book, and I’m sure my life would be a whole lot better if I would use it consistently.
Done drinking coffee? Washing and drying that cup to put it back in the cupboard will take me less than 2 minutes, and “doing the dishes” will never be an item on my to-do list again.
All these small tasks that are not done will pile up into a long list, if you would write them down.
Take out the garbage. Put on laundry. Fold laundry. Clean the desk. Put the book back on the shelve. You get the idea.
You might think, why is this a problem? Just take one hour and do them all in one go. And you are absolutely right. I could approach it like this, and very often I do.
Not using the 2 minute rule can harm you
What I notice though is that not doing them right away adds to the visual clutter, and it adds to my mental task list. It gives me an endless list of “I should” whenever I come across one of these tasks. The garbage bin is still overflowing, the kitchen looks a mess with a million dirty dishes. All these tiny nudges take up space in my brain, and they add to my stress level, even though having some dirty dishes seems not very stressful.
As I became aware of this going on for me, I set out for an experiment. What would my day look like if I just followed this rule? Every time something grabbed my attention and asked me to be done, I would ask David Allen’s question: Will this take 2 minutes or less? If the answer was yes, I would go ahead and finish the task. When I wasn’t sure, I would finish the task while using a stopwatch. This way I could later on determine which tasks truly take 2 minutes or less.
What I noticed in the beginning was interesting, funny even. Often I would debate with myself whether or not to do this task now, and that debate took often longer than the task itself. I’m wondering, how much precious time have I wasted like this over the course of my (very few – ahem) years on this planet?
As I pushed myself to follow the rule I noticed that I easily did things I would normally procrastinate. I did the dishes right away after breakfast. I fixed some loose screws on the threadmill. I took out the garbage, and got myself a workout so I actually made it under 2 minutes. I answered emails that otherwise would have lingered in the inbox. I put away laundry. And it all happened effortlessly, and often while I was waiting for something else (like the kettle boiling or dinner heating on the stove).
Here are a few observations I made:
- I easily procrastinate the shorter task, as if the time it takes determines the impact the finished task will make on my life.
- Tasks that fall under the 2 minute rule often don’t require much brainpower, so they are great for breaks away from deep work tasks.
- With things just being done I could not even remember doing them. It’s like some magical fairy or elf had stepped in and taken over.
- I found out that things often take less time than I anticipated.
- Now I have a clearer perception of how long things take and can easier incorporate it.
We often determine our level of productivity by the amount of big projects we can finish or accomplish during the day. What if productivity also means not having any loose ends? Everything is done, everything is accounted for. Projects have their next action step clearly defined, so we will never spent any time figuring out what we should do, as soon as we are in doing mode.
At the end of the experiment with the 2 minute rule I established Friday as “Mindless task day”. I will not only get the boring administrative tasks done, like paying bills etc. It will also allow me to schedule time to bulk the short tasks. I might report back on how this goes.
2 minutes seems like a ridiculous short time frame. What if you could change your whole life with just 2 minutes?
Disclaimer: I do not mean to advocate being productive and busy and doing things 24/7. You need sleep, and you need rest, and time for play. Productivity is for me a way to ensure that I can have the most spare time to spend on doing things I truly love. Doing dishes and laundry is not one of them, I rather get this done quickly and go on reading books or watching inspiring videos about being productive on YouTube.