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Avoiding procrastination in 3, 2, 1: Learn about the 2-minute rule

September 21, 2022 - 13 min read

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What is the 2-minute rule?

Does it really work?

Examples of the 2-minute rule

How to use the 2-minute rule at work

Deep work vs. 2-minute tasks

Use the 2-minute rule to start big tasks and complete small ones

Avoid multitasking

Are you tricking your mind?

5 extra tips to boost productivity

Using the 2-minute rules to become the person you want to be

If you’re eager to stop procrastinating and improve your time management skills, consider looking into what the two-minute rule is.  

With this method, you can check more things off your to-do list — and, you’ll be building a good habit for the long term.

However, just because it sounds short and sweet doesn't mean it’s easy. We'll review when to use the two-minute rule and how best to do it. Plus, we'll discuss how to stop multitasking (yes, it’s best avoided) and have a clear mind while we work. 

 

What is the 2-minute rule?

Perhaps you've heard of productivity strategies like the Pomodoro technique or the 20/80 rule.  The two-minute rule is different. 

It was first established by David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done. 

The two-minute rule aims to banish procrastination and help people accomplish small tasks. Here’s what the rule says: if you can do an action in two minutes or less, tackle it at the moment — and don’t delay. This has the potential to deliver long-term benefits.

For example, if you spend two minutes a day picking clothes up from your bedroom floor, it won’t take 30 minutes of your Saturday. 

Getting Things Done is a best-selling book for a reason. It helps inspire people to tackle tasks rather than let them build up into something much larger. That’s empowering, and useful if you’re eager to stop procrastinating. 

But as a warning, the two-minute rule is always the most effective strategy. There are both pros and cons to this method. 

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Does it really work?

No strategy is foolproof. The same goes for the two-minute rule. This productivity tactic may help in some situations, but not make sense for others. 

To give a better sense of the two-minute rule and all it encompasses, take a look at these pros and cons. 

Pros

  • You develop a more motivated mindset toward accomplishing tasks
  • You're rewarded with small wins that help you feel productive
  • It serves as a stepping stone for you to accomplish larger tasks

Cons

  • It prioritizes small things rather than your most important tasks
  • Your energy and resources aren't used for bigger projects
  • If it's not done properly, it can actually derail your productivity

Examples of the 2-minute rule

It's time to see what the two-minute rule can look like in action. You can apply this strategy anywhere in your professional and personal lives. 

How you use this rule is critical. Applying it to important tasks that demand your full attention isn’t necessarily the best use of your time and energy.

Here are several two-minute rule examples to consider: 

1. Respond to a work email 

2. Share feedback on your work or projects

3. Clean up the dishes right after you eat

4. Water all of your plants at once

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5. Send a thank-you note to a coworker or friend

6. Meal-prep your meals for the next day

Think about ways these examples — or similar ones — could transform your own routine. 

How to use the 2-minute rule at work

At work, you need to be on top of your role's responsibilities. The two-minute rule can help you practice altruism and lend a helping hand to others when they need it or you have some time to spare. It can also be useful for managing work anxiety

To make the most of this rule and amp up our productivity, here are tips on how to use it at work:

  • Follow-up on meetings, interviews, or questions immediately
  • Leave voice messages rather than having to call people back again
  • Organize your work area, including your computer files, regularly
  • Stay on top of your bookkeeping and filing
  • Prep your workspace and gather the resources you need for the next workday

Deep work vs. 2-minute tasks

Context is super important when deciding if you can apply the two-minute rule. Some tasks simply don’t qualify. For instance, two minutes of yoga won’t reap all the benefits of an hour-long class. 

That is, you’ll need to understand which tasks demand you to block off time for deep work and which ones can be completed in just a few minutes. Strong time management with the two-minute rule is how you can avoid wasting your energy.

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Holding concentration for tasks that require a state of deep focus is key for workflow. Studies have found that constant interruptions can damage the quality of work that’s produced. For important tasks that demand focus, it’s not effective to start and stop all the time.

Try to block off more time for complex tasks that require deeper thinking. This way, you'll have time to problem-solve and stay in the zone as you work.

But other times, the two-minute task is an excellent approach. This strategy is geared toward the simple tasks we're familiar with and know how to accomplish in 120 seconds. For instance, you can get dressed for a workout at that time. That’s also typically enough time to book an appointment. 

Think about the tasks that you can easily do in just a few minutes. Is that checking your email inbox? Great, do that. Even if they seem like small tasks, you'll still be able to reward yourself by accomplishing something which matters.

Use the 2-minute rule to start big tasks and complete small ones

So far, we've discussed how the two-minute rule is great for small things that take less time. 

This strategy can also help with kick-starting more significant tasks. You can use it as a jumping-off point for tasks that require a lot of effort. But that's if you do it properly. Choose specific tasks or work that’ll make a good start and only take a couple of minutes.

Underestimating the required time could lead to doing a poor job, experiencing frustration, or burnout at work.

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An example of using the rule for larger tasks could be taking out your yoga mat and clearing a space before a long yoga class. Or, before studying, you can open and organize your notes.

As you think about if you can apply the two-minute rule to a larger task or not, consider the process as a whole. How long do you estimate the process will take you? Do you have all the resources available to you? 

Author James Clear, who wrote Atomic Habits, has a similar mindset regarding small things that make a difference. According to Clear, doing little things helps overcome a lack of motivation and willpower.

Plus, it can help you create a concise plan to achieve your goals. Bottom line: there are benefits to even small actions when it comes to developing new habits and both setting and accomplishing big goals.

Avoid multitasking

Rather than being a great skill, bouncing between tasks is harmful to productivity. Researchers at Stanford University found that multitaskaskers are less productive than people who do things one at a time. They found that switching from one job to another leads to more mistakes. It demands a small amount of energy to re-focus on each task, which ultimately tires your brain out more. 

Just because they're smaller activities doesn't mean you're exempt from mental fatigue. You’ll devote more energy to each task if you're bouncing back and forth. A better strategy is to focus on each small task fully for the two-minute time period. Then, once it’s complete, move on to the next item on your list. 

Are you tricking your mind?

It's understandable if you think the two-minute rule feels like a trick. You can’t form new habits in two-minute spurts, and you don't only have two-minute tasks on your to-do list. 

The two-minute rule shines by fighting procrastination. Spending two minutes practicing French a day is better for learning than not practicing at all. Overcoming procrastination is hard work. It takes a whole new mindset, and sometimes you have to dig deep for motivation. But all that hard work is worth it. 

With the two-minute rule, you'll build a habit of sustained work. Rather than let your email inbox pile up and check it once a day, you're working at checking your messages more regularly. You're staying on top of your tasks, and you feel balanced.

5 extra tips to boost productivity

The two-minute rule is great for productivity. It can help you flourish in both your workplace and at home. But it's not the only tip or strategy you can use to accomplish a lot and work efficiently. 

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Here are five extra tips for maximizing productivity:

  1. Set daily reminders for what needs to be done and project due dates
  2. Reduce the number of distractions in a work area
  3. Write down goals and put them in easy-to-spot places
  4. Take breaks before exhaustion kicks in, and take them regularly
  5. Learn to say "no" to commitments that you can't handle or have time for

Using the 2-minute rules to become the person you want to be

After learning all about what the two-minute rule is, it’s clear that it has the potential to help you grow into the best version of yourself. Even though your actions might seem small, you’re still doing your best to stick to your values and live a purposeful life.

With this rule, you can enhance your discipline. It's not easy to only devote two minutes to a task, but doing so strengthens self-control. Plus, you’re working toward achieving larger goals even with small actions.

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Published September 21, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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