Do it right then.

If it takes less than two minutes, do it right then.


“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau


Last Friday afternoon, I was ready to get out of the office and play in the sunshine. One of my own promises held me back.

I have a well-established weekly habit of emptying my trash can every Friday before leaving. This regular, manageable task ensures my working space remains uncluttered, and has become a welcome closing ritual for my week.

It was the coffee mugs that caused me anguish.

There were two half-empty coffee mugs on my desk, and with the trash, I took them down to the communal kitchen that I share with my office mates.

I wanted to put the coffee cups in the sink, toss the trash bag, and go right into my weekend. The sun was shining! I was done with that stupid project! I was ready to drop it all and go play.

But then, I remembered my promise.

One of my office mates emailed everyone earlier that week, complaining that the dishes in the kitchen were getting out of hand. When I replied, I confessed to my own culpability in the problem, and pledged to do better in the future.

And here I was, in the future, eager to leave dishes in the sink over the weekend.

Then I remembered the productivity maxim of David Allen, from his seminal work on Getting Things Done:

If it takes less than two minutes, do it right then.

I grabbed a sponge and washed the cups. It was only a moment out of my life, and did not detract from my enjoyment of the weekend in any way. But doing it right then kept my promise to my office mate, and kept the dishes from piling up into a big huge project, and that is the power of the two minute rule.

The 2-minute rule prevents lots of small tasks from becoming one big project.
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When we are faced with a task we don’t want to do, it’s easy to put it off, especially if it’s small. But this is exactly why we shouldn’t put off the small task: it’s just a small task, and takes much less effort to do now than it takes to do it later.

Undone tasks on your to-do list will each take up a single line. Fifteen small tasks will make a sizable list of things for you to accomplish, but if you are willing to devote your spare minutes to minor tasks, you will find your day much clearer of random things to accomplish, because you are accomplishing them all the time.

Handle Mail Only Once

Some people have a rule to handle mail only once. If you are willing to invest the time to open it, the reasoning goes, you should also process it at that same moment. Maybe that means you need to make a call, or write a check, or make a decision. Do it right then, while the mail is in your hand.

If you don’t do it right then, what do you get? You have a project. A pile full of mail that you have to devote some serious time to managing. The big project of sorting and processing an entire pile of mail is a lot more difficult than plenty of tiny two-minute actions, spread out over time.

The 2-minute rule can also save you from doing longer errands.

Let’s say you have a library book that is ready to go back, you can take two minutes and put it in your car or in your bag. The next time you are near the library, you can take two minutes and drop off the library book, even if it has to sit in transit for a week in the meantime.

By applying the two minute rule to the start and end of a much longer errand, you don’t have to have a dedicated errand for driving to the library and returning the library book. You just have a couple of minor tasks, and one less errand to do.

This week, if you find yourself about to procrastinate on something that would take you less than two minutes, do it right then.

Related: 5 Productivity Tools to Beat Procrastination