Helpless, tired, listless, overwhelmed?
There are many reasons for unproductivity. If our brain lacks the resources, we find even small decisions difficult. However, overwhelm, fatigue, stress and the resulting reluctance to complete tasks directly are not uncommon today and happen to everyone. In our fast-moving, digitized and dynamic world, we are dealing with sensory overload: crowds of people, screens, images, information, and much more. It's all getting to be too much. So it's no wonder we feel unproductive and overwhelmed, procrastinate and sometimes even freeze.
Luckily, some time ago I read a famous book called “Getting Things Done” by US author and self-management expert David Allen which described the principle of the 2-minute rule. It really helps to not be permanently unproductive and feel small moments of success in working life and in everyday life.
In the following chapters, I will explain the 2-minute rule, why it is working, and which tasks can typically be done in two minutes.
What is the 2-minute rule?
The globally successful rule is a popular method that helps you to make your everyday work and private life more relaxed, productive, and stress-free. Allen's 2-minute rule states:
- If you have a task that will take less than two minutes of your time, do it right away. Don't give up, and don't postpone.
- If the task takes longer, postpone it or turn it in.
- The result: small things and details do not overload your brain. This way you will feel more productive and have enough energy to make your everyday life efficient and successful.
Understanding the brain: How does the 2-minute rule work?
The so-called "Zeigarnik effect", which was studied by the psychologist and neurologist Bljuma Wulfowna Zeigarnik, who passed away in 1988, is intriguing in this context. She conducted an experiment at the University of Berlin and was able to demonstrate that humans can remember up to 90% of incomplete tasks. On the other side, we don't remember tasks that were effectively finished.
Conversely, this means that our brain is constantly busy with unfinished tasks, even if only subconsciously or barely noticeable in the background. This can hamper our productivity.
Smaller tasks have less priority in our everyday life, whether in the office or in our free time. That's why we simply move them to the back. After all, some things have to be taken care of immediately: there's the doctor's appointment, the weekly shop, and finalizing the work project. The crux of the matter is that small and seemingly unimportant things suddenly become a significant burden.
Among other things, the 2-minute rule is based on the fact that your brain checks off completed tasks as successes and interprets uncompleted tasks as failures:
- What is no longer buzzing around in your head is quite simple: gone. The more happy hormones we feel from things that have been done, the more we want them to be. So you can train your brain well - and make the rule a habit.
- On the other hand, if we stick to what we are used to, we will not notice any changes: procrastination usually makes everything worse; the little worries and tasks “stick” to you throughout the week.
- If you do the small tasks directly, without excuses or procrastination, you don't just have a clear head for the big tasks. You feel less blocked inside and work more productively overall.
Which tasks can typically be completed with the 2-minute rule?
To get an idea of how you can use David Allen's clever rule to relieve yourself and work more productively in everyday life, I have compiled a small list for you below. Don't be surprised: Even if the to-dos sound a bit banal at first, you'll quickly notice how good it is to be able to cross the "annoying" things off the list in order to devote yourself to larger projects. These are everyday work and private tasks that you can usually complete within two minutes:
- reply to an email, e.g. first thing in the morning
- put your clothes in the closet
- pre-sort letters and papers for filing
- make beds
- take out the garbage
- water your plants
- clear out your work bag and briefly sort it
- turn on the dishwasher or washing machine
- clear the table
Generally, you can also scale down any habit/task into a two-minute version:
- “Study for class” becomes “make a plan about how/when/what to study.”
- “Check Blog and read some posts” becomes “find interesting posts on different blogs and bookmark them”
- “Do 30 minutes of yoga” becomes “take out my yoga mat.”
- “Run three miles” becomes “get shoes, gather outfit, prepare route”
- “Fold the laundry” becomes “fold all pairs of socks.”
Note: You want to try the 2-minute rule, but you don't know exactly how to estimate the time for a task. In order not to miscalculate and lose more time than necessary on small things, it helps to start a test run. For example, work off a smaller to-do list starting at the weekend. Make a note of the times – and see what is realistic for your everyday life. Of course, this also applies to work tasks.
What do I do with tasks that take longer than two minutes?
Act proactively so you don't feel unproductive and overwhelmed: Anything that takes more than two minutes should be postponed. What you can hand over to tasks, for example to colleagues, you hand over.
Above all, keep in mind: Sometimes we take on something that is not part of our area of responsibility. Above all, you should not only hand over these to-dos but give them back. The more you dangle, the longer the list of unfinished business in your brain - so it's only a matter of time before you withdraw, mentally break down or procrastinate.
My additional tip
Do you have bigger tasks that are currently overwhelming you? Even mammoth tasks can be broken down into smaller parts. Use the 2-minute rule to complete larger mountains of tasks as "little bits". In general, it is better to have smaller goals in mind in everyday life and not to overwhelm yourself so that you can ultimately achieve your big goal.
There are two important sentences/quotes that I personally find very helpful in my daily routine:
- "Keep walking, one step at a time" - Source Unknown
- "When eating an elephant take one bite at a time" - by Creighton Abrams
A nice side effect: I'm happy every time I accomplish something and my brain releases happiness hormones!
This not only increases my motivation but also my productivity.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you find this post about the 2-minute rule helpful and can adapt it to your daily routine.
All in all, I would say that this rule is not very deep or complicated but it can help to increase productivity, motivation, and happiness!
I’m curious to see if it works for other people too and I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts about the 2-minute rule. If you have any questions or enjoyed reading this article consider commenting your valuable thoughts in the comments section. I would love to hear your feedback. Furthermore, share this article with fellow people to help them be more productive!
Always remember: When eating an elephant take one bite at a time!