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If you can do a task in two minutes when reviewing inbound requests and demands, then why not complete it then and there?
This is the question which David Allen asks in his famous and useful book Getting Things Done. The book outlines his Time Management System which many have followed for years. However, I have found it is most useful when it’s adapted to your specific job. Still, Allen has laid the groundwork for most of what we can learn from 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 at a time when I was trying to understand for the first time how to keep track of all the tasks I had to do.
Interestingly, David Allen is a prime example of someone who has had a variety of jobs which has helped him learn how to manage workflows of many different kinds.
Before he became a productivity expert, he worked 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 held a variety of jobs! And since the 1980s, he has worked with many organizations to help executives with productivity.
However, one of the most useful tools to work at any level comes in the form of the Two Minute Rule and learning to either Do, Delegate, Delete or File a task which we receive to start our day.
Two Minute Rule: Do, Delegate, Delete, File
When we start our day with inbound requests from management or coworkers, we need to sift through the items by deciding what is important and what is merely urgent. And then we need to triage out the urgent requests that 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 altogether, or file them away for later.
Learning to use this system helps us work through these urgent requests in a timely manner. Often times, what once took me hours to accomplish because I wasn’t sure what to do first now takes about 30 minutes.
This is the system which we will use to prioritize the urgent work of the day.
Do It - Only if it Takes Two Minutes or Less
These are tasks that are important and urgent. And they won’t take up a ton of your day. They are simple callbacks which confirm information or quick email responses to answer a question.
I have found that there are a lot of “canned responses” for these types of tasks which helps reduce the time it takes to complete urgent communications. I will share more later about “canned responses.”
The key here is if you can do it in two minutes, get it done.
Delegate It - You Are Not the Best Person for This Task
These are tasks that don’t require your specific expertise or authority. Maybe you have a process where an administrative professional can handle this request. Or maybe it was something simply sent to you incorrectly. These are tasks where other team members or coworkers might be the best person to help.
With these tasks, we simply forward them along. If it requires us to follow up, we can make a quick calendar reminder and move on with our day. We don’t need to fret over a task which is not best suited for us.
The key here is if it’s 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 tasks which tend to be “for your information” or do not impact your work at all. I see these when someone writes an email 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-up, but most of the time, there is nothing which needs to be done. They are also things which may have been sent to incorrectly or without consideration of your workflow and don’t impact your work.
With these “urgent” communications, we need to acknowledge them and then delete them. If there is no value to it, then there is no need to do anything more. These tasks can be huge time wasters.
The key here is if you don’t have to do anything, don’t do anything.
File It - Reference, More than Two Minutes, Needed for Later
“Filing it” sweeps up everything that wasn’t covered previously. 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 will take more than two minutes, what do we do with it? We “file” the item by scheduling it for later. This is where we can take the Eisenhower Matrix and decide where to put a particular task in our day. Once we categorize it, we know we can get it done.
The key here is if it can’t be done in two minutes or it needs to be kept, file it and move on with your day.