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Don’t let the meta drag you down; the two minute rule

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, keeping my inbox at zero is a huge part of my organizational process, and I attribute much of my productivity to it.  Having your inbox clean makes it much easier to prioritize new messages so you’re always on top of everything that you’ve got going.

A big part of inbox zero is having systems in place to keep everything.  I put my tasks in Nozbe, file attachments in Dropbox, passwords and other notes into Evernote, and I count on auto-resurrection to bring emails back when a response comes in.  If you don’t have a great way to deal with every email in your inbox, you’ll never be able to get them all out of there.

The two-minute rule

However, another big piece of the GTD method is the two-minute rule.  If you get a new task and it’ll take less than two minutes to do, then do it immediately.  If you wait on it, then you’re adding more meta data to the task that will ultimately slow you down.  For example:

  • Adding it to your task list takes a minute to do, as does crossing it off later and prioritizing it in the meantime.
  • Leaving it in your inbox just gives you one more item to look past as new items come in.
  • It’s more difficult to have a “mind like water”, since you’ll probably be thinking about it until it’s done, at least subconsciously.

Even better, I’ve found that clients love it!  People are amazed when they send me an email with a minor update to their site and it’s done (with a reply back to them) in just a few minutes.  I certainly don’t always respond that quickly, especially if I’m in the middle of another project at the time, but I work hard to respond as quickly as possible.


This idea could really lead to another conversation about distractions.  The nature of my work requires that I stay on top of client requests during the day as much as possible, leading to many (paid) interruptions.  However, for most people, processing email in scheduled “chunks” throughout the day (instead of responding each time a new one comes in) is often a more productive way to handle it.

Not always just two minutes

Another thought is the length of time that you fit this rule into — I often stretch it to the “5 minute rule”, or even a bit longer.  If it’s something that needs to get done at some point that day, and it’s a 5-10 minute task, I’ll still usually tackle it right away.  If it’s a longer task, or something that isn’t a priority for today, then I’ll add it to the to-do list and worry about it another day.

Regardless of how often you process your email, the two-minute rule is gold.  Get it done and move on!

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Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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  1. Part of my ideal strategy in keeping a clean inbox is to attack my inbox twice daily. If I set aside a block of time to respond to and take action on the emails that I received in the last 12 to 24 hours, this actually frees my mind to concentrate more on the project in front of me.

    • Chris — That’s a very smart (and popular) way to handle it. It largely comes down to email volume and expected response time, but if those aren’t an issue then a twice-daily email check leaves you a lot of uninterrupted time to get some work done.


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