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The 2-minute rule: a great way to get your day started

I’m sat at my desk, but nothing is happening. I’ve stalled. I have no idea how to get started. The day is in danger of drifting away from me.

Sounds familiar?

The 2-minute rule is a great way to get your day started and get going faster.

It’s quick, easy, simple to use. Let me show you how.

Get ticking over with the 2-minute rule

If you’re like me, it can be hard to get started. There’s so much to do, so many tasks requiring attention, so little focus. It’s easy to sit and procrastinate.

How to get going?

The answer, small steps. Two minutes of work.

Originally developed by David Allen, the 2-minute rule states that:

If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.

Here’s an example of how to use it to get going.

Look down your ‘to do’ list. What’s the first thing that you see, that can be done in less than 2 minutes? Do it.

If you don’t have a ‘to do’ list. Spend 2-minutes writing one. (It doesn’t have to be complete!)

Or, go to your email inbox. On my worst days I scroll through the emails, making mental notes of what needs to be done. After 20-30 emails it’s confusing and dispiriting. I wander off to get a coffee and before I know it, the best part of the day is wasted.

Restart your engine with the 2-minute rule. If you see an action in your inbox that will take less than 2-minutes, do it immediately (how hard it that?!).

For example, as I go through my emails, I see that:

  • A meeting needs to be scheduled. I schedule it.
  • A quick reply is enough. I send it.
  • I need to ask for help, it’s a quick and simple ask. I do it.

In my experience this clears about 80% of my email inbox. I’m powering through my day already!

You can use this 2-minute rule to get yourself started too.

This 2-minute rule is part of a complete 5-step system for ‘Getting Things Done’ developed by David Allen.

The 2-minute rule and new habits

James Clear is a great communicator and knows the value of a good idea. That’s why he grabbed this one!

He has adapted the 2-minute rule to help establish new habits.

A habit must be established before it can be improved… the 2-minute rule give us ‘permission to show up’ and overcomes the tendency to bite of more than we can chew.

As he points out, we tend to start new habits with a goal in mind. For example:

  • Run a marathon!
  • Learn to speak Spanish!
  • Learn to code!

All very admirable. These are big and impactful goals that will really make a different to our life.

They also require a huge commitment and are distant ‘over the horizon’ goals, it’s not easy to stay with them. The answer, the 2-minute rule.

Make the goal about ‘showing up’.

It’s far more tangible and achievable and it will help you maintain your commitment.

  • Run a marathon! Start by running for a couple of minutes, each day.
  • Learn to speak Spanish! Start by learning 1 word a day, make that the goal.
  • Learn to code! Watch 2-minutes of video tutorial each day.

Also, set a specific timeframe. Commit to implementing this 2-minute rule for 2 weeks. Then, at the end of 2 weeks, adjust your commitment. Maybe spend 5-minutes each day.

Here’s an example that James Clear shares in one of his videos, about a guy called Mitch, who lost over 100lbs:

For the first 6-weeks that he went to the gym, he had this rule for himself, that he wasn’t allowed to stay for longer than 5 minutes… it sounds ridiculous, this is not going to get the guy the results that he wants. But if you step back, what you realize is that he was mastering the art of showing up. He was becoming the type of person who went to the gym 4 days a week.

You can watch the video here:

A habit must be established before it can be improved”. Great advice.  

The 2-minute rule, in summary

It can be hard to get going. With so many tasks ahead, it’s easier just to do nothing!

The 2-minute rule is a great way to get going. It allows you to ‘tap the accelerator’ and build some momentum to take on bigger tasks.

The 2-minute rule is also a great foundation for starting new habits. Too often we focus on the goal (the big, life-changing goals that we love, but are difficult to achieve!). Start by showing up. Make a 2-minute commitment the goal.

Make the commitment for a specific timeframe, maybe a couple of weeks.

You’ll soon find you’re on the road to success!

Dive Deeper

Learn more about strengthening your willpower.

Colin Bates

Colin Bates

I'm at my best when helping people to learn, grow and succeed. This might be facilitating a training program, coaching a colleague, or sharing advice with my kids. I'm also an introvert by nature, and love to read, reflect and write. Hence this blog!