Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Extended 2-Minute Rule

It’s 6:02pm and I’m getting ready to pack up my stuff and make it to the ever-punctual public transit bus that arrives at 6:08pm outside of my building. I wiggle the mouse to see past my screen saver and, unfortunately, I see my outlook inbox. In it is an email from my advisor asking me to do a task that I estimate will take me between 15 to 20 minutes. Well, it’s my advisor, so the email text includes the phrase “…and send to me ASAP.” An email sent at 6pm from my advisor that asks for something to be done ASAP doesn’t mean, “send this to me by tomorrow.” It means it better be in his inbox in a few hours. I’m hungry, and at this point, I have a choice: I can flag this email and put it into my system, or I can do it now, miss the 6:00 bus, and take the 6:30.

What did I do? I chose the latter. I realized that this task had mental and emotional weight associated with it: it was from my advisor, he asked me to do it ASAP, I knew the more I waited the more he’d get agitated, and most importantly, I knew that putting this task into my system would not get it out of my head because of those reasons. So I effectively extended the 2-minute rule to the 30-minute rule. I had 30 minutes before the next bus, and a task that I knew I would worry about even if I put it in my system would be done if it took less than 30 minutes.

The point of the 2-minute rule is to not track tasks that don’t take that long to do anyways. David Allen says he picked 2 minutes because at that point it begins to take more work to track it through the system than to do it immediately. But if a task that will take longer than 2 minutes to complete won’t get out of your head even if you file it, do it as soon as you can, and you’ve effectively reduced the mental energy you spend on it by…a lot. That’s the point of GTD anyways; to get that shiznit off your mind. This rule is not only useful for grad students with demanding advisors, but workers with demanding bosses, and people with demanding lives. Any time you are not actively interrupting focused work on another task, extending the 2-minute rule on mentally or emotionally heavy tasks is worth it. How do you know if a task qualifies for an extension? If you get any shred of the “I’d rather chew glass than deal with this” feeling, it qualifies. Do it now, don’t waste your life thinking about it.

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