How To Get More Done With The 2-Minute Rule

J.R. Heimbigner

Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

When we start work in the morning, we typically have a routine that helps us start into the things we need to get done for the day. I start out with checking my mail, booting up my computer, and then sorting through the many requests which come in via email, voicemail, or automatic notifications.

During these opening moments of my day, I become inundated with “urgent” tasks.

What I used to do is work the urgent requests no matter how important they were. I believed that getting them out of the way, no matter how much time they would take, would help me get through all the work I had to do.

Unfortunately, I would end up plowing through all these unimportant but urgent tasks and burn through half my day. Then I would be left with half of a day to do a full day’s work.

When I realized I was wasting so much time doing unimportant tasks that seemed to be knocking down my door or fires that needed to be put out, I found a strategy that changed everything.

David Allen and the Two Minute Rule

“If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.”
— David Allen

If you can do a task in two minutes when reviewing inbound requests and demands, why not complete it then and there?

This is the question which David Allen asks in his wildly famous and useful book: Getting Things Done. His book is actually the outline of his Time Management system many have prescribed for years. However, as I have moved from different jobs, I have found it has to be adapted.

In fact, it is adapted to the system I currently use to help people with productivity. Yet, Allen has definitely set the groundwork for most of what we can learn and is the key focus for this next tool.

David Allen, Productivity Consultant

“Sometimes the biggest gain in productive energy will come from cleaning the cobwebs, dealing with old business, and clearing the desks — cutting loose debris that’s impeding forward motion.” — David Allen

My mentor introduced me to the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen at a moment when I was working hard to understand for the first time how to keep track of all the tasks I had to do.

As it turns out, David Allen is a prime example of someone who has had a variety of jobs which has helped him to learn how to manage workflows of many different kinds.

Before he became the productivity expert we know today he has been ascribed to working as a magician, waiter, karate teacher, landscaper, glass-blowing lathe operator, travel agent, gas station manager, U-Haul dealer, restaurant cook, personal growth trainer, manager of a lawn service company, and manager of a travel agency.

He has definitely worked a variety of jobs. And since the 1980s he has worked with many organizations to help executives with productivity.

When I learned about the Two Minute Rule and learning to either Do, Delegate, Delete, or File any tasks which we receive to start our day, it changed everything in my workflow.

The Two Minute Rule: Do, Delegate, Delete, File

When we start our day with inbound requests from management or coworkers we start by deciding what is important and what is merely urgent. And then we need to triage out the urgent requests which come into our workflow.

This is where the two-minute rule shines. As we start to work through these requests we can either do them if they take two minutes. Delegate them to others. Delete them. Or File them away for later.

Learning to use this system helps us work through these fresh urgent requests in a timely manner. Often times, what used to take me hours to work through because I wasn’t sure what to do, now takes less than an hour.

This is the system which we will use to review the urgent work of the day.

Do It — Only if it Takes Two Minutes or Less

Many times, these are tasks that can be important and urgent. And they won’t take up a ton of your day. They are simple callbacks which confirm information or quick email response to someone who had a question.

I have found in these moments, there are a lot of “canned responses” for these types of tasks which help to reduce the time it takes to work through these urgent communications.

The key here is if you can do it in two minutes, get it done.

Delegate It — Your Are Not The Best Person for This Task

These are tasks which are general requests of your company. Maybe you have a process where an administrative professional can handle this request. Or it was something simply sent to you incorrectly.

With these tasks, we forward them along. If it requires us to follow them up, we can make a quick calendar reminder and move on with our day. We don’t need to fret over a task that is not best suited for us.

The key here, if it is not for you, then send it to the best person to get it done.

Delete It — There is No Value to this Request

These are FYI, communications. I see these when someone takes a phone call about something relating to my work, but there is no follow up or action required. These tasks feel like we might need to review and follow something up, but most of the time, there is nothing that needs to be done.

With these “urgent” communications, we need to acknowledge them and then delete them. If there is no value to it, there is no use to do anything more. These tasks can be huge time wasters.

The key here, if you don’t have to do anything, don’t do anything.

File It — Reference, More than Two Minutes, Needed for Later

Now, “filing it” sweeps up anything which isn’t covered previously. Because filing it actually can be a few things. First and foremost, if it is for reference then you file it away. Or if it is something you need to keep because your company requires it, file it away too.

However, if it is a task that takes more than two minutes, what do we do with it? We “file” it by scheduling it for later. This is where we can take the Eisenhower Matrix and decide where to put it in our day. This way, we know we can get it done.

The key here, if it can’t be done in two minutes or it needs to be kept, moves it to when and where it needs to go and move on with your day.

What This Means for Your Work Today

When we apply this to our workflow, we walk through these steps for every task and inbound request. Sometimes, it takes a little bit to get used to this new routine. For me, it is my startup routine.

To start my day, 30 minutes is scheduled on my calendar every day. And when I am a little behind or had a particularly taxing day the day before I might increase this time to 60 minutes to make sure I get through everything which has come into my desk.

The first few minutes of my startup is used to collect everything. Mail, open and review email, log my voicemail, review notes sent to me by coworkers, and review any documents which came into our electronic filing system.

Once I have everything, I go through each one using the two-minute rule.

By the end of this time, I will have completed some urgent and important tasks. Delegated out anything which I should not be doing. Deleted anything which was merely for my information. And filed away or scheduled any work which might take longer than two minutes.

This workflow method creates a little momentum for us and helps us complete some work to start the day. And we process everything which comes into overnight or the end of the previous workday.

When we process through these “urgent tasks” first thing in the morning it helps us have the freedom to move onto our important tasks without neglecting tasks that may be less important. And it also helps us get rid of the work which we don’t need to be doing right away.

With this urgent work triage system known as the Two-Minute Rule, we can really start to focus on getting the important work done. When the important work gets done, we can move on to less important work.

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My goal with my writing is to help people get everything done they want in their very busy lives. I believe we can we all can achieve our dreams and I know it starts with having the right mindset, systems, and taking action every single day. My writing shares how to do this through self-improvement, inspiration, and productivity.

Spokane, WA

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