One of the most helpful time management principles I have found is David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule. The basic concept is that you take immediate action on anything that can be done in two minutes or less. This is the key to becoming more productive.
To implement this, you should do these kinds of actions NOW. Why? Because it will take longer than two minutes to write the action down on your to-do list, organize it, get back up to speed later, and complete the task. Instead of going through that whole rigmarole, you just do it and move on to the next task. It is a huge productivity booster. And it will keep your to-do lists much shorter.
How can you cut your to-do list in half? Here are four strategies:
- Understand the five basic decisions. With any given input, there are only five actions you can take:
- You can DO it by taking action now yourself.
- You can DELEGATE it to someone else who is better qualified or has the bandwidth.
- You can DEFER (or schedule) it to do later.
- You can FILE it for later reference.
- You can DELETE it and forget about it.
- Make a decision and then act. This is the most important part—make a decision. Most of the decisions you and I make are not that consequential. You can afford to be wrong occasionally. It is better to make a decision and move on than waste precious time trying to get it right. (Obviously, I am not talking about big decisions that require significant risk or investment.)
- Don’t second-guess yourself. This is unproductive. You can spend an inordinate amount of time questioning your decisions. What is past is past. Let it go. Don’t get bogged down in “the paralysis of analysis.” Learn what you can and keeping moving. Like someone once observed, “It is easier to steer a car that is moving than one that is parked.”
- Set a time-limit. Parkinson’s Law states: “work expands to the time allotted for it.” For example, I may go online right before lunch, say 11:00 a.m. I then give myself 30 minutes to process the emails that have accumulated since I checked earlier that morning. On average, I can go through 70 emails in this amount of time. The deadline helps me be more productive.
You will get better with practice. Consciously try to implement this principle. Nike got it right with their slogan: “Just do it!” This applies to task management as well.