Two-minute rule

A simple habit that keeps your next actions list short, prevents cognitive load, and improves decision-making skills.

Two-minute rule

This work aims to help you integrate a simple routine of doing any action right then and there if it takes less than two minutes to do it. This will keep your next actions list short, prevent cognitive load, and improve your decision-making skills.

Table of contents:

  • The two-minute rule means doing an action right then and there if it takes less than two minutes to do it
  • Two-minute rule improves work outcomes for seven reasons:
  • First, it saves time
  • Second, it reduces cognitive load
  • Third, it keeps your next actions list short
  • Fourth, it unlocks valuable new information
  • Fifth, it prevents decision fatigue
  • Sixth, it improves decision making on autopilot
  • Seventh, it helps to avoid diminishing returns of time spent on a task
  • Steps to integrate the two-minute rule into your workflow

Most actions take less than two minutes to do.

Send a text. Google something. Draft ideas on a piece of paper.

If you do such actions when they show up, you significantly improve your work outcomes for seven reasons:

  1. You save time. If you put it off, then it will take more time to remember the context required to perform such action than if you did it right away.
  2. You take tasks off your head and reduce cognitive load. Having hundreds of such actions nagging your attention prevents you from focusing on big things that matter.
  3. You keep your next actions list short. The two-minute rule turns your todo list from a giant log of stuff into a useful contextual tool to navigate your work during the day. This promotes the desire to actually use your lists because you’re not afraid to look at them anymore.
  4. You discover valuable new information. Performing many small actions on a project inevitably leads to discovering new ideas that might change its course. And as most research for most projects follows the power law, you get handsome returns on time invested in googling around for two minutes.
  5. You don’t suffer from decision fatigue. Every time you snooze a small action, you decide not to decide about it. This makes a small cut to your willpower resource, and you end up feeling suffocated by the end of your day.
  6. But if you proactively decide to do a two-minute action, then you develop better judgment. Hundreds of tiny decisions every day will be improving your decision making on autopilot because of short feedback loops.
  7. You avoid diminishing returns of time spent on a task. By reducing the amount of time you plan to spend on a task, you get a higher input/output ratio because work always expands to fill the time available for its completion.

The hardest part of the two-minute rule is to stick to it.

Here’s how to integrate this behavior into your workflow:

  • Do not write two-minute actions down but do them right away. Writing a thing down is a useful tool because it puts the thing off your mind, but that’s not what we want. If you keep writing two-minute actions down, you will create more work for yourself and eventually get frustrated.
  • Start off by doing one two-minute action a day, every day. Track results in a simple plain text file in any note-taking app. Reflect daily on what went well and why you did or didn’t do two-minute actions that day.
  • Put visual cues in all places where actions might come from: next actions lists, messaging apps, email, etc. Pin the cue to the top. Even a simple sticky note put on your desk will prevent forgetting.
  • Review your lists daily, and eliminate two-minute actions. This will develop the skill of identifying such actions even when they are not obvious. Also, you will learn how to decompose bigger actions into smaller chunks.

Thank you for your time.