Before I begin, I have a question for you.
Your mind undoubtedly has a full list of reminders for you that is running right now in your brain. You know the big things, the medium things, and the annoying little things plus those I-Really-Should Do things and they are on a loop that is in the background of your day and which get louder at different times.
Managing this mental or actual list itself is almost a part-time job. So my question is this: What is one of those super small annoying little things that never quite rise to the level of a priority but keep knocking on the window of your brain. Is it an appointment you need to schedule, a quick text or email you haven’t sent, looking something up online, etc.
Think of that thing right now and ask yourself, realistically, how long would it actually take you to get it done. A few minutes? Maybe a little bit more?
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is a quote from time management expert and author David Allen which says: “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”
I’m quoting David Allen because he introduced a simple yet powerful concept in his book called Getting Things Done which was published over 20 years ago. It’s called the 2 Minute Rule, and the core idea is this: if you can do an action in two minutes or less, tackle it right now- in the moment.
Don’t move it to your to-do list or to your other to-do list three days from now when you’re still updating all the things that didn’t happen on the other list. Just do it now.
In the field of productivity, there are many, many tools and techniques, but the most powerful element is efficiency. The 2 Minute Rule gives you just that. Anything you can do in less than a couple minutes, do it-just do it now. It will end up taking you longer than two minutes to look at it again, review it, reflect on it, put it on a list.
Now for all of you people who love to multitask, this can be challenging. First, please go listen to Episode 3 to learn why there actually is no such thing as multitasking in brain science. I know, I know, -t’s a skill that we all think we have but check it out. And for you multi-doers, this 2 Minute approach can actually be a boost and I’ll tell you why.
Your brain loves a good reward. Dopamine is its favorite chemical. In fact, Episode 59 explores the neurobiology of this in a lot more depth. Rewards are an important motivator as long as they are tied to corresponding and conscious action – which is where this 2-minute approach can be a key motivator.
So let’s go back to your small thing. Can it realistically be done in a few minutes? It doesn’t have to be two minutes exactly – it’s more the idea of a quick action vs. the slow overthinking or avoiding.
I’ll give you an example. A couple weeks ago, I was leading a productivity workshop to a large group. I asked them this same question about identifying one small thing they have not been doing.
About halfway through the session, I pulled out my favorite timer (which I’ll put a link to in the show notes, you’ll love it) and set the timer for 5 minutes. The group was staring at me, they were stunned. I said okay, go do that thing in the next few minutes. At first, they were resisting but then they saw the countdown of the timer and in that group setting it just set them off. As other people started doing their thing, everyone picked up and started doing their own.
Now I knew the 2 Minute Rule, so as I watched from the stage I saw people starting to look up from their phones, or computers, or jotting things down, and they were done. They started looking around at each other. One guy even said, “I can’t believe you got me to do that thing!”
“Do what thing?” I asked.
“I’ve been avoiding responding to this text for weeks because I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “I didn’t overthink it this time, I just did it.”
Yes, exactly. It’s the overthinking that makes our small tasks seem so much larger. Just yesterday my 18 year old was with me at Costco (not his favorite place) and he said, “wow, you’re really overthinking this snack food Mom.” And he was right, I was.
Back to the event, another person in the audience started getting restless. “It’s been way more than five minutes,” he said.
“Come up here and look.”
So he came up to the stage and I handed him the timer that was still going. So I turned to him and said, “tell the group how much time is left.”
He took it and said, “Wow, it’s only been four minutes.”
Exactly. The forcing function of time feels longer because we’re not leaning on our go-to excuses of why we can’t. We’re not getting distracted by everything else around us. I ended up giving him the timer as a thank you gift because he helped make the point better than I could have that day.
To be clear, a few minutes doesn’t tackle all the layers of life, but it can get us started – and that’s the most important piece of any action. Waiting to do something makes it feel larger than it likely is.
So on that note, I’ll wrap up here so you can step into the next part of your day, and maybe even step into knocking a thing or two off the list.
Taking care of the quick things makes room for your brain to take care of you. And you should always be on your own list every time.