The simplest way to make progress and reduce overwhelm

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one” - Mark Twain

We’re usually distracted by what’s not done. Have you noticed a sense of relief when you clear the backlog of outstanding work? An efficient workflow is such an important part of being able to consistently work effectively. Does the way you work enable you to make progress? Or are your work methods increasing the level of overwhelm?

Some workers naively get their workflow wrong. While they could take specific action now on small tasks, they put them off to do them later (ie. tonight, tomorrow etc). All they’re doing is adding to their workload while increasing the level of stress from the amount of work that’s outstanding.

There’s a better way that’s known as the 2-Minute Rule (made famous by David Allen in Getting Things Done). The principle of the 2-Minute Rule is if it takes less than 2 minutes then just do it ie. respond, delete, file etc because it will probably take longer than 2 minutes by the time you put it on a list, remember context etc. Alternatively, if it takes longer than 2 minutes then determine the next action ie. schedule when to action, delegate it etc.

Instead of thinking of it as a hard and fast rule, I treat the 2-Minute Rule more of a principle. Therefore, it might make more sense for you to define yours as 3 or 4 minutes and not specifically 2 minutes.  

Embedding the principles of the 2-Minute Rule has been an absolute game-changer for many workers. Benefits include:

  • Reduced overwhelm
  • Reduced procrastination
  • A smaller To Do list
  • Progress from timely action
  • A visible sense of achievement
  • Increased clarity

While I’m a huge fan of the 2-Minute Rule, you need to be careful you don’t just get side-tracked on all of the little tasks that need to be done. Instead of prioritising based on urgency or what’s easiest, we need to prioritise based on importance and impact.

What’s your experience been like from using the 2-Minute rule?