Getting Things Done - GTD

The Controversial Two-Minute Rule

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Clarify Work-flow Decision Making

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The Controversial Two-Minute Rule

The Clarify step of GTD essentially consists in transforming the things you have collected in your inboxes, giving them the real meaning they have in your world. By doing so, you eliminate the uncertainty and stress that can result from their lack of definition.

If the capture is actionable, you need to identify what the next action is and either defer it if you should do it yourself or delegate it if it should be done by someone else. The method includes a third possibility: Do it right then and there if it’s an action that can be completed in a couple of minutes.

This is the Two-Minute Rule, which could be stated as follows:

“If, when clarifying a next action, you realize that you can do it in less than two minutes, do it now, even if it’s not an urgent or very important task.”

There is a clear economic reasoning behind this rule. If completing a task takes less time than organizing it in your lists and keeping track of it in a timely manner, you’ll be much more efficient doing it the moment it falls into your hands.

In this sense, it is considered that the Two Minute Rule can greatly improve your productivity, making your projects move forward without stopping and preventing many small things from overloading your system.

And it is true. This rule can be very powerful, but its apparent simplicity also carries some risks that are worth considering.

Clarifying is an intellectual process that requires great concentration. You need to think deeply about each item you are processing; specifically, you need to think about what each item really means and how you are going to integrate it into your life. When you apply the Two Minute Rule, you are somehow interrupting this process. Your brain needs to go from “think” mode to “execute” mode, to go back to “think” mode with the next item.

Another problem is that most people make poor estimates of how long two minutes can take. If you get carried away and apply the rule constantly it’s possible that, even if you eliminate a few small tasks at the same time of clarifying, the definition and organization of other captures will suffer due to interruptions.

David Allen warns that the “two minutes” is merely an indicative figure that can be easily expanded, which is sometimes misinterpreted as “do it on the spot if you have time”. Beware, because this can undermine the benefits of the methodology.

Of course, there are specific cases in which this formula can be beneficial. As David Allen himself points out in his book, email management often requires quick actions that can be done immediately, thus freeing up a considerable amount of work (immediate responses such as “thank you” or “ok, let’s meet on Friday” should not be postponed).

Keep all these considerations in mind when using the Two Minute Rule. Apply it only when it will hardly disrupt the workflow of the Clarify step, and as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the emptying of the inbox.

It is possible for a task to take only two minutes but completely change your state of mind, such as a phone call to someone that may put you in a bad mood. Don’t use the two-minute rule in these cases; postpone the action.

Remember that the goal of Clarifying is to empty the inbox. If you see that by applying the Two Minute Rule you will not be able to finish emptying the inbox (because you have to leave for a meeting in five minutes, for example), avoid doing so. It is always preferable to complete the Clarify step.

Remember, the Two Minute Rule is optional. Use it wisely.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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