Two of the best-selling productivity authors teach a version of the 2-minute rule. Here’s what they recommend and how to use the 2-minute rule to beat procrastination in your personal and professional life.
The 2-Minute Rule in GTD: Just get it Done
David Allen spent over 30 years helping top executives improve their productivity. In 2001, he published his task management system in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (GTD). One of the most useful aspects of GTD is the 2-minute rule.
What is the 2-Minute Rule in GTD?
“If an action will take less than 2 minutes, it should be done at the moment it’s defined.” – David Allen.
In GTD, you organise your workflow in five steps. And unlike most other systems, you don’t write anything directly on your to-do list. Instead, you first capture all your thoughts in an inbox. Then, you follow up with the second step of GTD: clarify what each item in your inbox actually is.
Is it trash? Is it reference material? Is it an action you might take someday? Or is it an action you want to take shortly? If the latter, will it take less than 2 minutes? If so, do it now rather than schedule it for later.
That’s the 2-minute rule in GTD.
A list containing hundreds of actions is daunting. Thinking about how much you have to do saps your energy. The solution? Don’t add the small things to your list. If it takes less than 2 minutes, get it done.
What Does the 2-Minute Rule in GTD Help With?
You can use the 2-minute rule in GTD for all areas of your life.
Say you have a meeting at work and an action step reveals itself. When the meeting ends, you face a decision: when will you do this thing? The 2-minute rule makes your decision easy. If it will take less than 2 minutes, do it right away. If it will take more than 2 minutes, make a note and deal with later.
Here’s another example.
At home, you notice that your laundry basket is overflowing. So you need to do some laundry. But when? You’re busy – and laundry is a low priority. But you need to do it at some point. Again, you can use the 2-minute rule. Will it take you less than 2 minutes?
Well, that depends on whether the washing machine is available. If not, you’ll need to wait for it to finish before starting a new cycle, which will take longer than 2 minutes. So the first thing you need to do is check whether the washing machine is available. Will that take less than 2 minutes? If so, do it now. If not, note that you need to do some laundry and move on.
These examples show how the 2-minute rule can help you deal with action steps as they arise. You can also use the 2-minute rule during a scheduled weekly review.
Once you’ve defined an item as actionable, apply the 2-minute rule. Repeat for every other action. Now, with all the small tasks dealt with, you can begin your week with a clean slate.
Avoid This 2-Minute Rule Mistake in GTD
Critics of GTD point out relying on the 2-minute rule leads to spending a lot of time low value, $10 work. And if you fill your day with $10 work, your time will only be worth $10 an hour.
A better approach is to clarify which of your regular activities are the most valuable with our $10k matrix.
Then, use the 2-minute rule in GTD to complete your $10 tasks in batch – like responding to emails – and free yourself up to invest more time in $10k work.
The 2-Minute Rule in Atomic Habits: Start Small
Atomic Habits is the title of a bestselling book by James Clear (you can read our Atomic Habits Summary here). Some productivity gurus recommend setting big goals and taking “massive action.” Clear makes a case for focusing on small (atomic) actions that become habitual and compound over time.
What is the 2-Minute Rule in Atomic Habits?
“When you start a new habit, it should take less than 2 minutes to do.” – James Clear.
When starting a new habit, enthusiasm is high. So, it’s natural to choose an action to match your enthusiasm level.
For example, if you want to read more, you might decide to read 20 pages a day.
The trouble is that enthusiasm fluctuates. When you have a busy day – or you’re not in top form – procrastination will rear its ugly head.
To avoid this, Clear recommends scaling the action back to a 2-minute version. For example, you could choose to read for 2 minutes.
This would make it much easier to show up daily and establish momentum.
What Does the 2-Minute Rule in Atomic Habits Help With?
When you feel resistance, you might procrastinate and find ways to avoid starting.
Acknowledging procrastination, you might try to fight the resistance and push yourself to work harder.
When building a new habit, this is problematic, because resistance makes it hard to be consistent.
Instead, you can avoid procrastination by focusing on a 2-minute version of the habit.
This makes it much easier to get started.
When you take the first step, the juices begin to flow. So you keep going. And before you know it, you look back in disbelief at how much you’ve done.
Repeat this day after day and the action becomes automatic.
Then you can upgrade the habit to, say, 5 minutes.
Once this is automatic, you can upgrade again.
Avoid This 2-Minute Rule Mistake in Atomic Habits
It’s a mistake to interpret the 2-minute rule literally.
Despite the name, 2 minutes is a guide rather than a rule.
On a bad day, even 2 minutes can feel like too much.
So scale it back until you feel zero resistance.
In the reading example, you might read for 2 minutes per day. Or you could scale it back further to 30 seconds a day. Or you could choose to read 1 page a day. Or your goal might even be to open a book every day.
This might sound ridiculous, but have you ever opened a book without reading it?
It’s almost impossible.
The hardest part is getting started.
So use the 2-minute rule to scale back your habits until you feel zero resistance.
This is how to beat procrastination with the 2-minute rule and set a snowball of small wins in motion.
How to Best Procrastination With the 2-Minute Rule in GTD and Atomic Habits
Here are 4 simple ways you can use the 2-minute rule to:
- Complete small one-off actions as you define them
- Complete a bite-size piece of a big project
- Build a daily habit that leads to a result
- Build a daily habit related to a skill or behavior you want to develop
Each of these applications of the 2-minute rule can help you beat procrastination and supercharge your productivity.
But remember: if you try any of these ideas, scale the action back until you feel zero resistance.