Clearing the Decks Doesn’t Work (Or Why the “Two Minute” Rule is a Trap)

A common productivity trope is the “two minute rule”: if a task will take two minutes or less, do it right now. The two minute rule can feed into a mindset where we need “clear the decks” (get small things done and out of the way) so we can then focus on the more important things. The problem with “clearing the decks” is that these small tasks rarely stay contained. We often start out with grand intentions but then get sucked into doing a lot of things which just aren’t that important (202).

Laura Vanderkam argues in her book, Tranquility by Tuesday, that the two minute rule and the clearing the decks mindset can actually become a trap, enmeshing us in doing things which ultimately draw us away from doing what is most important. How does it trap us? Vanderkam says that these two minute tasks can turn into three “productivity monsters”

  1. Hydra: The task can multiply into other tasks and become much larger.
  2. Rabbit hole: The task distracts us from what’s really important and we waste time.
  3. Procrastination siren: The two minute rule can make us default to doing the easy stuff first and then never getting around to the harder stuff.

So if the two minute rule doesn’t really work, what does? Prioritizing deep work time and simultaneously assigning small tasks to a designated time and batching them together (207-208). Vanderkam argues that sometimes you just need to sit with the difficulty and ambiguity of a task for a while, instead of moving onto something you care of in two minutes.

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