David Allen is a well-known productivity guru with a well-known rule: If you can do something in two minutes, do it now. (I’m paraphrasing. You can read it in his own words, here.)
In theory, I’m totally behind the concept of getting small things out of the way. But I’ve seen a lot of people get into trouble by following the two minute rule. So here’s my advice: If you’re not good at estimating how long something will take, you probably shouldn’t try the two minute rule. Especially if you tend to go into hyper focus and completely lose track of time.
I remember a client who was a David Allen disciple. He hired me to help him figure out why he wasn’t getting to his important tasks. I sat with him as he went through his email inbox, which was his normal practice to start the day. His intention was to just knock off the easy responses. He estimated it would take no more than ten minutes. He was shocked when I pointed out the time, forty-five minutes later. We were still less than half-way through his inbox. Did he have hundreds of emails? No. He had about twenty. He was following David Allen’s advice to just clear out anything that he thought he could deal with in under two minutes. The problem was many of those emails were actually taking three to four minutes.
Okay, so I know email is a whole monster unto itself, but the same thing can happen in other domains. One client asked me to wait two minutes, while she put away the laundry. She returned ten minutes later. Another client wanted to take two minutes to vacuum out a closet we were decluttering. Yes, the actual time vacuuming was only two minutes, but it took her seven minutes to get the vacuum, empty the canister, deal with the clogged hose and figure out why the outlet wasn’t working (light switch on the wall was flipped off).
Actually, it was a good idea to vacuum out that closet, since it was the first time she had access in years, but my client was disappointed that we didn’t get more done. She knew we had been working hard the entire time, but she hadn’t realized how quickly those “two minute” tasks can add up.
So here’s another piece of time management advice. Accept that most things will take longer than you think. Just plan for it and adjust expectations accordingly. If you’re wrong, it’s a pleasant surprise!