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I have seen this productivity advice offered so many times in the last couple of weeks that I felt compelled to set the record straight. You’ve seen it: “The Two-Minute Rule” of time management. Not only is it being explained to you incorrectly, which means millions of people out there are probably doing it incorrectly, but the wrong way of explaining it actually makes it really bad advice.
The Two-Minute Rule of Time Management
When I ask people about this advice, they tell me that the rule says, “If you think of something that can be done in two minutes or less, don’t write it down, don’t add it to your list, just do it.”
I think people heard, “2 minute rule” with regard to time management, and just assumed that is what it meant.
First, I have to explain why the advice is being offered wrong. There is a productivity technique called “processing time.” I learned it at paper-based planning company Time/system International in the mid ’90s. David Allen also published it as part of his Getting Things Done
book in 2000. “Processing time” is when you “work your System.” Yes, productivity needs to be viewed as a system to be effective. (For more on this, click here
.) A critical habit of a good productivity system is the time that you spend staying in control. It’s the time when you actually deal with your emails. When you clear out your brain of all the things you want or need to do and enter them into your task list, so that you can stop trying to remember them. The time when you gather all your lists and sticky notes that you’ve jotted things on, give them some thought, and enter them in the appropriate way in the appropriate place into your System.
“Processing time” is the only appropriate time to follow the two-minute rule. This is where the two-minute rule begins, because it’s the time you are working your System. If, during “processing time,” you think of something that needs to be done and it will take you two minutes or less, that is the time to do it, because it will take you that much time to enter it into your System, anyway. But during “processing time,” the goal is to finish processing. If you allow yourself to get distracted with things that will take longer periods of time to complete, you will leave the task of processing unfinished.
The Way You’re Doing the 2 Minute Rule is Sabotaging Your Time Management!
Next, I have to explain why the 2 minute rule of time management in the way it’s being interpreted is actually really bad for your productivity. Your brain is not obedient. It doesn’t do what you command it to do; it does what it wants, and often directly contradicts what you
want to do. You might say, “It has a mind of its own.” 😉
As a result, you think of things that need to be done all day long. In fact, one thought or action that you begin to take often leads to an avalanche of, “Oh, that reminds me…” Before you know it, you’ve started to do seven things, and finished none of them. You relinquish control over your actions to the whims of your brain, virtually ensuring that you will run around like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs until you say, “Enough!” and go back to the task you were trying to complete initially, when the thoughts of the new tasks intruded.
In summary, apply the 2 minute rule of time management during processing time, and only during processing time.
Now you can correct all your friends when you hear them applying it wrong. 😉
Thanks for reading!
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