I have a huge task list. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the list is well-organized and useful (see “Why Organization Improves Motivation, and Some Organization Tips“), and a lot of the tasks on it are a handy but optional. I do my best to push items that are important and need to be done soon to categories and statuses that keep me focused on those (see “My Top 1 Task“), which seems to work pretty well for me.
Still, the sheer number of items sometimes gets to me. To clear up a lot of them at once, I apply a version of the 2-minute rule, learned from David Allen (see “Useful Book: Getting Things Done“). The two minute rule is If you can get something done in 2 minutes, don’t put it on your task list: instead, just do it.
Part of the logic behind this idea is that keeping an item on your task list requires time and attention from you: you need to review your task list periodically, keep items prioritized, and so on. With a good organizational sytem (like Allen’s), this isn’t difficult, but it becomes easier the fewer items you have to manage. So tasks that can be completed in 2 minutes tend to “pay for themselves” if you do them up front rather than spending the time writing them down maintaining them until some point in the future.
Two minutes doesn’t sound like much, but there are a lot of useful things that can be done in that time, including firing off a reminder e-mail, making a telephone call to check a single fact, finding an item or paper that isn’t too hard to locate, asking someone one question, and so on.
And it doesn’t have to be a 2 minute limit, as long as it’s a short period of time: it could be 5 minutes or even 15 minutes, though probably not longer than that.
To use the 2-minute rule on items that have already made their way onto your list (for instance, because you added them before you heard of the 2-minute rule, or because it wasn’t possible to do them at the times you first thought of them), you can either get in the habit of searching for 2-minute items whenever you have a few minutes free, or better yet, go through your task list and mark any 2-minute items you already have. In my case, I have two separate tags I use: “5 minutes or less” and “15 minutes or less.” You can then jump to a quick-to-do item whenever time allows, or block out an hour or two and mow down dozens of them.
And interestingly, marking quick tasks in your task list, if it’s done in an efficient task management system (like ToDoist or a paper system) only takes a few minutes.
Photo by Јerry