Getting Started with GTD: The 2 Minute Rule



What is it?

An execution step set smack in the middle of defining next actions. This is an exception to David Allen’s rule that doing work be separated from processing the inbox. If the work is small (<2 minutes) you do it upon definition.

How does it work?

When processing items out of your inbox, you ask yourself “Will it take less than 2 minutes?” and if so, then you do it. But …

There are A LOT of recurring tasks that don’t come out of our inboxes. For example some come out of litter boxes:

  • Cleaning the cat litter every morning
  • Squeegeeing the shower when done

And the productive GTDer will apply the 2 minute rule upon recognizing these tasks. Even if s/he does not like the task. This takes discipline only until you’ve built a track record of following through. Conversation with self: “Cat box need cleaning. Just do it! Ugh, I HATE CLEANING THE CAT BOX. Yeah, it has killed you for the 31 days in the last month you’ve done it every day. Just do it. Well, OK.”

What are the benefits?

  • Encouragement: when you mow down a bunch of small tasks, it pulls a lot off your mind, and builds energy.
  • Economy: When the task is small, it is more effort to make it into a project than to just do, and be done.
  • Implementation ease: If you can do nothing else in GTD, you can implement the 2 minute rule.

What is the strategy?

Avoiding a trusted system full of minutia. Organized minutia is not exciting to work on, is an energy suck to set up, and a repeat-energy suck to close out.

What are the objections?

  • But if I don’t do it, my spouse will do it.

True with the cat litter and squeegeeing, false with every other two minute task. But please note, that me procrastinating to make my spouse re-recognize a task, and do it, does not harmony make. Before marriage, flirtation. After marriage, negotiation. Harmony is negotiated.

  • Maybe I’ll feel like doing it later.

Aha! The “inventory theory” of motivation. The more you let pile up, the more motivated you will be. The flaw in this theory, is that the more that piles up, the less motivated we get. I knew someone once who checked himself into a mental hospital. When I found out I asked him “I’ve felt a lot of times like I was close to the edge. What is going over the edge like? And his response was “I had so much to do, I could not do anything. I sat on the couch for a week, and then realized I needed to check myself into a mental ward.”

David Allen has cast his lot with mowing down small tasks immediately to prevent work piling up. Cutting real work out of “stuff” is 1/2 the genius of “What is the next action” that got you into the 2 minute rule boat to begin with. Following through on 2 minute tasks is the other half.

  • But … but … I could delegate it!

Nice try, but sorry. Since the task can be done in <2 minutes, it is too much overhead to track, and it is too much overhead to delegate. Just do it.

ScanSnap GTD Tricks #1: Next Action Stamp


As I was depositing a check with my ScanSnap this morning, I had the idea that I should post a few ScanSnap GTD tricks. Then Joe Terrana posted a comment to the 2014 Getting Started with Getting Things Done post, with a cool *new* trick.



Go to Amazon, then order this custom rubber stamp, and then follow the instructions to “Contact Seller” and send them “Next Action” as the message for the stamp.

Then once the scanner arrives, you can stamp paper with “Next Action” scan the paper into Evernote (Click here to subscribe to Evernote), and then after Evernote does optical character recognition (OCR) on the stamped part of the note, you can search for “Next actions” and find all of your scanned next actions.

Very slick.

Very Simple!

Thank you Joe for the ScanSnap GTD Trick #1.

bill meade

p.s., I had the idea, since Evernote also attempts to recognize hand-written characters, that I could scan a note card with “Next Action” on it, and perhaps achieve the same result as using a custom rubber stamp. Here is what the card looks like:


Expecting Evernote to be able to read my handwriting is not a fair test, I know. But, it seemed like a fun trial. Evernote’s explanation of how OCR works says that it take a “few minutes.” I’ve always assumed that Evernote takes “over night” to complete OCR operations, so we’ll see how long it takes for this note:

  • 1st check on indexing status: 20 minutes later … not indexed.
  • 2nd check on indexing status: 11 hours later … not indexed.
  • 3rd check on indexing status: 23:10 later … not indexed.
  • 4th check on indexing status: 33 hours later … INDEXED!!!!

However long it takes, I’ll update this post after Evernote indexes the card to see if it is possible to simply write “Next Action” and have OCR recover the magic GTD words.

You can tell if an Evernote note has been indexed by clicking on the i at the upper right of the note:


And then looking at “Attachment Status” 3/4 of the way down the dialog box (red arrow).

While it is true that GTD indexing can be measured in minutes 33 * 60 = 1,980 minutes. It is not a safe workflow to depend on Evernote scanning documents immediately.

Success … kind of

After my index card was OCR’d by Evernote, I am able to search for the word “Next” but alas, “action” in my hand writing was not recognized. :-(


I was not able to determine precisely how long it took for Evernote to do the text recognition.

Lesson Learned:

You can buy a self inking stamp, and Evernote will read it. Thanks again Joe Terrana for giving me the stamp idea, so I could have the stepping stone idea of just writing “next action” on the card.

It would be smart to create a sample card for yourself, scan it, and then see if Evernote can recognize your hand writing. In fact, if you’ve already written “next action” on a 3×5 card that you scanned into Evernote, you might be able to test this out today. Just search on the GTD Magic Words! 

How Next Actions Give Work Focus

Source: Cresswood Shredding


  • Bottom conveyor belt is “stuff” to do before GTD. A mix of real work and drone work.
  • Next actions are like the magnetic force in the cross conveyor that separate real work from the drone work.
  • The IN Box is like the bin where the real work is captured (Second 40 and later).