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.