Take Two: The Two-Minute Rule & How It Supercharges Productivity

by Annie

in ruthless productivity

Image of green LCD clock reading 10:54 on a black background with wavy green lines suggesting movementNow, I’m a fan of simple.

The simpler the better, as far as I’m concerned — especially where it concerns productivity and business systems.

‘Cause there just comes a point when this brain, which increasingly resembles Swiss cheese some days, simply cannot take any more complex routines or complicated procedures, y’know?

So, that might explain why I’m such a fan of the two-minute rule.

What Is The Two-Minute Rule?

First things first: let us give credit where credit is due. I learned this piece of awesomeness from David Allen’s seminal productivity masterpiece, Getting Things Done. (Not an affiliate link.)

The concept really could not be simpler:

  • You have your to-do or tasks list …
  • You have some process of adding things to that list …
  • At the moment you become aware of a new task or to-do, ask yourself one very simple question: Can I get this thing done in two minutes or less? 
  • If the answer is “no,” write it down — add it to the list.
  • But if the answer is “yes,” then do it right then and there.

In other words, you never have to put it on the list at all. (Unless, like me, you like to keep a full record of what you do during a day — which is also a good idea, but not everybody’s cup of dark French roast, I understand.)

In other words, you just do it. If it takes less than two minutes.

How Does The 2-Minute Rule Supercharge Your Productivity?

The reason this is so freaking awesome is that often, as Steph’s freaky-creepy dream led her to realize, it’s the little shit that kills us.

We get so caught up in the avalanche of little-shit, in fact, especially when we’re trying to run our businesses, that we sort of give up. We keep adding little shit to the list, and then the list looks daunting, people.

And who among us hasn’t looked at a monster tasks list and thought, “oh holy hell, I cannot possibly handle this right now…”?

So, it stands to reason, if you can manage those little tasks — the crap you could knock off really quickly — right then and there, you can avoid that sense of overwhelm.

Also, there’s this: When we’re facing Big Shit in our business-running, it’s really super-tempting to focus only on the Big Shit and ignore the exponentially-increasing amount of little shit.

Of course, the irony here is that once the pile of little tasks gets too big, it’s just as damaging to our ability to produce as the big stuff can be.

The two-minute rule really speaks to us on a primal level, I’ve found. Is it any wonder, really, that out of all the tips I shared in the recent “Greatest Business Productivity Blog Post Ever” piece, the 2-minute rule was hands down the most commented on? See for yourself in the comments there.

And I think that’s a function of how very sensible it is. ‘Cause deep down, for all the wonky crap we humans rationalize and do on a daily basis, I do believe that we are essentially quite intuitive beings. When we hear or read about something that will help us, often we’ll feel like somebody rang a little bell somewhere deep inside.

Give the 2-minute rule a try for a week. And, like everything else on teh internets, if it doesn’t work, ditch it and move on.

But I’m willing to bet you’re gonna like the results.


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Tea Silvestre November 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Hee, hee…this is something I’ve always just naturally done, but my brain has a tendency to forget what I was up to BEFORE I started to do that <2min thing. What do you suggest for those of us who are easily distracted and pulled off course every time we walk into a room?
Tea Silvestre recently posted..Visual Marketing: A Review and Interview with the Authors


Annie November 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Hey Tea! I totally get the easily-distracted thing. It’s my demon, too. There are a couple of things you can do. First, minimize whatever distractions you can (i.e., turn off the internet, hide the remote to the TV, etc.) For what’s left over, you gotta train yourself to turn to the List. This requires 2 steps: (1) physically add the distracting item to the list; (2) train your brain through repeated self-talk to remember the distractions will still be there after you do whatever’s got more of a priority for you at the moment. Finally, if it’s distractions in the form of tons of smaller tasks, you gotta figure out which problem will screw with you more: doing it now and putting off the bigger fish, or doing the bigger-fish task first, and accumulating more little stuff. Try setting a timer for 15 minutes and just fly through as many of the little things as you can. Make it a game with yourself (good for us highly competitive types – ahem). Challenge yourself, “I bet I can get 4 things done in 15 minutes.”(Don’t forget to give yourself a prize. Seriously: rewards boost our brain’s ability to positively reinforce new behavior and make it automatic in the future!) Hope that helps! 😀


Lori Cain July 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Okay – I’ll try it for a week. I have actually written “shave legs” on my to-do list before – and no, I can’t do that in two minutes or less!!
Lori Cain recently posted..How a Bloggin’ Realtor benefits Tulsa Home Sellers


Annie July 25, 2012 at 6:45 pm

LOL Lori! I can’t either! 😀


Sheila Hibbard July 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm

What the heck takes only 2 minutes? Not much that I know of. 🙂

My judgement of how long something is going to take is typically pure fantasy. But I like the idea of playing a game of the collected 2 minute items rather than addressing an assumed 2 minute item at the moment. Think I’d make better progress. Thanks for the tips, Annie.
Sheila Hibbard recently posted..Marketing – The Core Of Apple’s Marketing Success


Annie July 26, 2012 at 11:19 am

Oh, quite a lot of things, Sheila! How long does it take you to add an item to your calendar, for instance? Or dash off a quick email? Respond to a tweet? I can do those things in under 2 minutes easily. Others may have different skillsets or abilities, so their 2-minute list might look a good bit different. 🙂 Play around with it and see how it works for you!


Sylwek December 28, 2013 at 10:51 am

This is very true. I find myself to be very productive when i put this rule into use. If it takes two minutes or less, just do it right now. You’ll find your self staying in motion, and gettings things done.


Amrita January 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

Great to see productivity tips. My personal tip would also be to time yourself on certain”to do” tasks. I use a web based timer but anything will do. It really focuses your mind on getting the job done in a short space of time!


Aruna January 17, 2014 at 11:19 am

I am a big advocate of strategic planning! I got my second degree in Emergency Management/Homeland Security and strategic planning is a big portion of that sort of industry. Its better to have the tools and knowledge NOW so that when an ‘incident’ happens in the future, you are already prepared for it.


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