Do it now

Fans of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system (and the updated Making It All Work system) are familiar with his advice to immediately act on a task that requires less than two minutes to complete. It seems obvious, especially in a work setting, to follow this two-minute rule, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean that it happens.

It is so easy to think, “I’ll get to that later,” and let whatever the action is fall through the cracks. It doesn’t get written down on your list of next actions, it isn’t delegated to anyone else, and it slips right out of your mind. (At least that is how it works with me when I procrastinate.) You forget about it until someone comes seeking your response again, wasting your and the other person’s time.

I try to hold true to the two-minute “Do it now” policy at work, and an extended five-minute “Do it now” policy at home. Home-related tasks, in my opinion, seem to take a bit longer than office tasks. Unloading the dishwasher is a simple five-minute task that can be delayed if I don’t remind myself to “Do it now.” Clearing diner dishes, putting away items after getting ready in the morning, and dumping a load of laundry into the washer all seem to take about five minutes.

Do you use the two-minute “Do it now” policy at work? Have you tried a five-minute “Do it now” system at home? If you haven’t, I recommend giving it a try and watching your productivity improve.

32 Comments for “Do it now”

  1. posted by Charley Forness on

    I do use the 2 minute rule at work, not so much at home. I have found out the hard way that if I don’t address some of these 2 minute items immediately, they will be forgotten. This is what bothers me about the bloggers who say “multi-tasking is evil.” It is a realistic part of the corporate environment. You fight fire drills for much of your day. It does little good if you follow GTD but nobody else in your office does.

  2. posted by L. on

    When you have more than two children you start to do hospital-style triage at home (bleeding first, then screaming, etc) rather than GTD. Everything around here takes less than two minutes, so you can’t manage a multiple-child household with that approach.

  3. posted by Dawn F on

    I apply the Do It Now Rule at home with all incoming mail:

    From the mailbox, I walk straight to the recycling bin (to discard all junk mail/envelopes/flyers/etc, AFTER tearing off my name), then proceed to my desk where I enter the bill(s) into my free online bill-paying service through my credit union and then finally put any catalogs or magazines in my magazine basket by the sofa.

    Once in awhile there will be a piece of mail that is just for filing purposes and I’ll go straight to the file cabinet and properly file it. I make sure all references to our names (in junk mail) are removed and shredded immediately.

    Occasionally, I will leave out a piece of mail for my husband to review on the kitchen counter. Once he reviews it that evening, it is filed appropriately.

    I am also VERY careful about sharing our mailing address to avoid receiving as much junk mail as possible. Even if you don’t get your mail daily (perhaps twice per week or so), this process can work the same way – recycle bin, bill paying, filing.

    Most days, it seriously only takes me a few minutes (or seconds when there are no bills to enter) to take care of all incoming mail. Once you make it part of your routine, it’s super easy!

    I think paper clutter is one of the hardest things for families to control so I make it a priority to not let incoming mail become an overflowing stack of chaos – full of important things, missed bills, etc. :)

  4. posted by jena on

    The two minute rule works. I read about it on this site from a comment someone left. I now hear a little voice in my head that says “this will take less than two minutes”. You feel so much better after completing a small task and everything starts to fall in place and work better, if you do two minute task through your day.

  5. posted by whyioughtta on

    I tried it for work stuff but started to I feel like I was living my life in two-minute increments, because there’s always some new two-minute task to do.

    I do not thrive under task-oriented approaches to work; I’m more “flowy”…so I’ve tried to build my work style around that. For me it’s better to assign dedicated time to administrative stuff. I schedule a full morning, usually one at the beginning of the week and one at the end, to deal with ‘tasky’ stuff.

    As for home stuff, with a 16 month old, my life could literally be constant two-minute clean-ups. Instead, I have a few “hot spots” in the house that I focus on keeping clean and organized at all times (e.g. kitchen because we spend so much time there) and use my time-blocking technique for the rest of the house, cleaning, dealing with bills, etc.

  6. posted by Marie on

    Before I even clicked on comments I knew there would be parents clamoring about how such a rule is impossible to follow. :p

  7. posted by Shani on

    The two minute rule works, but my coworkers take advantage of it. Instead of doing 40 two minute tasks each morning, I have interruptions every ten minutes to ‘Just do this one little thing’ or ‘Can you give me two minutes?’. It hurts when there is a longer task that requires concentration and everyone assumes you should be as plugged in as you usually are.

  8. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    I am working hard on building this habit. It really does work wonders for my frame of mind and the length of my to-do list when I can put it into action.

  9. posted by Enrique S @ The Corporate Barbarian on

    I use the two minute rule at work and at home. At work, I’ll sort my emails, and take care of the two-minute ones immediately. At home, I sort through the mail over the garbage can. At work, I’ll go through my to-do list, and knock off the easy two-minute items first. I do the same at home before jumping into an involved project. Getting the little, annoying things out of the way clears my mind for bigger, tougher chores.

  10. posted by mike@pvl on

    my grandmother has a “if you think about it three times, just do it” rule. doesn’t matter if it is the middle of the night. similar to the “do it now” but with a bit more leeway. just make sure to put it in the trusted system after the first time, or else you might never think of it again.

  11. posted by Az on

    I need to incorporate this rule more often, but realistically I think 2 minutes is not enough time, 5 is more reasonable. In most cases I ask myself, “can I delegate this to someone?” before I even determine how long it will take. That seems to be the best approach for me.

    (Response to Shani) There also is something to be said about closing your door so you can block out the interruptions. The email equivalent of this it shutting down outlook while you concentrate on your longer duration projects. People will respect your need for uninterrupted concentration, but you have to be consistent in enforcing it. If you really need the time to work, then tell your co-workers, be upfront but once you have the time to answer their questions get back to them before they ask you again.

    Another one of my personal philosophies is that I believe that email is not intended for immediate response. If people need an immediate response then they should text, IM, or even better CALL you.

  12. posted by Eleanor W. Craig on

    I use the “two minute rule’ at work and it is amazing how clear my desk, mind, and email inbox stay free of clutter.
    At home I am a big fan of the “five minute” rule, and have even gone so far as to time some tasks to see how long they take. Clearly, I do not have children! Some of the tasks that make the list:
    -unloading the dishwasher
    -processing the daily mail (much like Dawn F)
    -clean the bathroom sink and counter
    -put everything I need the following day by the front door the evening before.
    -pick up the dog toys and any stray items in the family area
    -iron a blouse or dress (iron heats while doing other tasks
    -make the bed

  13. posted by Procrastamom on

    I use the two-minute rule at work, especially for filing. If I file something immediately after I process it, it seems to take no time at all, as opposed to saving all filing for Friday when the task would take 40 minutes to an hour to complete.

    At home, I find the five-minute rule even works when I’m watching television. Commercial breaks are so long that I can put in a load of laundry, unload/load the dishwasher and tidy during the breaks in my favourite shows. Also, I don’t feel so bad about wasting time watching tv.

  14. posted by Peardown on

    @Procrastamom — we call that system “Commercial Cleaning” at our house! We jump, work, race around, then sit back down and laugh!

  15. posted by Virginia on

    I do a combination of just do it and holding off. If I JDI every two minute thing that came across my email/im, I’d never get any real work done. I take an hour each morning to work on things I’ve flagged on Outlook for tomorrow. I even save IM’s to email so they are all tasked the same way. Then I block out my day to concentrate on larger tasks. In the late part of the day depending on my energy level, I try to knock some of “tomorrow’s” work. Then I’m done. At home, we try to touch it once.

  16. posted by Lawrence Porter on

    Although I subscribe to the two minute rule I often find that the two-minute task actually requires about 5 minutes. I don’t worry about this. I call it a “two minute task” and am delighted to finish it in five minutes.

  17. posted by whyioughtta on

    @Marie: Surely people with kids are allowed to offer their two cents and strategies on this site…?

  18. posted by *Pol on

    I use the 2 minute rule to a fault (and it tends to be a 15 minute rule)…. I find I can completely fill my day with quick tasks and none of the “BIG” projects get any of my time!

    Sure I get lots of billable hours, and the quick-n-dirty clients are always thrilled at my fast turnaround, but the big clients with the involved stuff always seem to get bumped…. probably not the best way to go… I need to find balance!

    (And I have kids at home — my office — too, so there are plenty of “triage” moments that interrupt even the fastest jobs!!)

  19. posted by Deb on

    The 2 minute rule was one of the key items i took away from GTD. I am a SAHM o don’t have co-wrkers, just children who constantly interrupt most thougts and actions i am trying to make. Those times I stick with the 2 minute/just get this done before moving on, are the days I get more done, feel less stressed, have cleaner house and can find things easier.

  20. posted by Karen on

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. For a 2 min/5 min rule to work best, you have to take some time up front to set it up.

    I used to sew and followed “Sewing with Nancy”‘s advice: Set the project up first, break it up into small pieces, and then do a little at a time. So, even when my kids were small, I would spend a few minutes here and a few minutes there and in a few weeks, I could finish a project.

    2. Now at work, a 2 minute rule is not a good idea for me. I end up doing something simple like filing or cleaning, that anyone else could do, and I put off starting projects that only a few of us at work can tackle. I found that if I start a project when my time is limited, even if I can’t finish it, I get it done a lot faster when I have an open block of time.

  21. posted by Michelle on

    The 2-minute rule only works when you’ve set aside specific times to accept incoming mail/email/projects. If you’re just refreshing Outlook all day long and knocking out all the 2-minute responses, you’ll never get to the big, long-term projects that need your attention.

    Depending on the pace of my workplace, I set specific times (anywhere from hourly to a few times a day) to check my incoming workflow. At the designated time I spend up to 15 minutes processing what’s come in, knocking out what could be done in 2 minutes and turning what was left into tasks with due dates. Then I minimize the Outlook window, turn away from my inbox, and move on with my actual work.

    I find Do It Now more difficult to implement at home, because I’m the type who sees dozens of projects/tasks that need doing every time I walk through the house. It’s like the physical equivalent of constantly refreshing Outlook. I’m still working on a way to both Do It Now and designate a time/situation when chores can stop. Lately I’ve been focusing on a different room each week, and that seems to work well.

  22. posted by SJR on

    My grandmother worked her whole life as a night-shift nurse. Her mantra was: ‘Never leave a room empty-handed’. When I was studying I used the twenty-minute rule. As in I’ll just do twenty minutes, that’s not even a whole tv show! Once I’d gotten started it wasn’t a problem, I’d just keep studying, for me it’s always been the getting started that’s a problem. Somehow I can manage to convince myself to do twenty minutes though. Those options as well as the two-minute rule have always stood me in good stead!

  23. posted by PS~Erin on

    I try to keep a similar mantra in my head… To try to leave each room/area I enter better when I leave. Short, simple tasks that would build up to big ones if left undone. I’ll have the 2-5 minute thought to that. thanks.

  24. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    I use it all the time and I remember a story from a colleague who had a huge pile of stuff on her desk to work through.

    Instead of focusing on the pile, however, she just kept in mind the idea of Do It Now and because she didn’t add to the pile, it disappeared much more quickly than she thought possible. And she didn’t get stressed about it because that wasn’t her focus.

  25. posted by Marcie Lovett on

    I recommend Getting Things Done to everyone; it’s a great book. As a professional organizer, I was already doing a lot of things he recommended, but the 2-minute rule changed my life. I use it at home and at work, especially with my clients: Put back the file you were using, throw recycling in the bin, toss the dirty clothes in the hamper. Most things only take a few seconds to complete and, if left undone, pile up. I like to say: Do it now or save it until later when it becomes an overwhelming burden.

  26. posted by Julia1060 on

    I teach Do it Now to new college students entering our department – then they have no excuses later on!

  27. posted by chessiq on

    Thanks for the reminder! I have used it here and there, but never consistently. I will put it in my mission statement that way I can see it every time I read the M.S.

  28. posted by Corporate Barbarian Links: Another Day Closer to Death Edition « The Corporate Barbarian Blog on

    […] at Unclutterer tells us to do it now!  She talks about the two-minute rule and how to deal with email.  Some good […]

  29. posted by cakemix on

    thanks so much for sharing this rule!
    i’ve invoked it many many times since reading it last week.
    and will definitley be spreading it amongst my colleagues.

  30. posted by Lukas on

    I have an under-10-minute ‘do it now rule’ but I’m just a teenager without a job so I’ve got some time :)

  31. posted by Productivity, Motivation, and Personal Development Links – 9th August 2009 - DIGTD - Making You More Productive on

    […] fourth link is a link to link to a blog post from the Uncluttered blog about the power of doing it now. I cannot agree with this more that there will never be a better time to start than now. Even if […]

  32. posted by Karin Stewart - Daily Mastery on

    The 2-minute rule is often a great one, but only when used along with judgement. I’ve seen many cases of people who were using the rule religiously and were very unproductive as a result: there are simply many of those under-two-minute tasks that didn’t need to be done in the first place…

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