If the next action can be done in two minutes or less, do it when you first pick up the item … Even if the item is not a ‘high priority’ one, do it now if you’re ever going to do it at all.”
David Allen, Getting Things Done,
This rule is one of those simple, practical changes that can dramatically affect your level of daily productivity if you implement it. The rule says that any task, whether high or low priority, should be done right now if you can complete it in two minutes.
Why two minutes? Because that’s the amount of time it would take you to file away the task or to create a reminder to do it later. Instead of wasting time and putting it off, just do it now.
Why both high and low priority tasks? Because the goal is to free your mind of ALL outstanding tasks, high priority or not. When your mind is free, you can more easily work on those key projects that require bigger, focused chunks of time.
Peak productivity author David Allen calls this calm state of mental freedom a “mind like water,” where you are relaxed, creative, flexible, and ready to take on any challenge. The best insights, relationship building, and key breakthroughs tend to happen when your mind is in this state.
When I plan my day, I do my best to divide it between these two large buckets of activities. One part (preferably first thing in the morning) is quiet, focused work for chunks of time. The other part is intense times of action when I do many, many smaller tasks. These small tasks are usually emails, texts, filing papers, returning some calls, looking up something on the internet, etc.
Implementing the 2-minute rule has had at least two positive affects on my productivity:
- It forces me not to procrastinate so that I get many more tasks done.
- It forces me to do tasks more quickly as I try to squeeze tasks into small time frames (see Parkinson’s Law: Time Allotted = Time Used).
Combined with other key productivity tools, like the Collection Habit, my List of 10, a To-Think List, and some basic organization systems, I have gained a lot more confidence that I can get the right things done, think creatively, and make progress on my most important goals.
What about you? Have you used the 2-minute rule? What other tools help you get things done? I’d love to hear your ideas and comments below.
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