A One Minute Reminder about the Two Minute Rule

July 11, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

number2 If you can do it in two minutes or less then just get it out of the way.  This is at the center of most approaches to dealing with tasks and emails.  In the next 45 seconds I want to remind you of its power.

When you read your new email do you read all the messages once and then go back through them?  I do it, too, sometimes—but it’s the death of getting things done.  So here’s a reminder…

It’s totally cool to cherry pick which messages to deal with first based on the sender or subject, leaving the others unread.  But once you’ve started working with a message, deal with it now.

By dealing with it, I mean get it out of your inbox.  Maybe you should delegate it to someone.  Maybe you should respond with your calendar availability.  Maybe you should schedule a task to deal with it later.  But deal with it and archive it…so that it’s out of your inbox never to be stared at five more times.

Except for when you’ve got one foot out the door (and thus you shouldn’t be dealing with email anyway), it’s not cool to let a message sit or even schedule it until later if it will take 2 minutes or less.  Most emails take this amount of time to deal with.

So nothing new here, but just a reminder to read one message and deal with that message before moving on.  Take the 120 seconds of action it takes.  As a reward for being done with it (ha, right?) you can then move onto and read the next message.

I forgot this some times.  And wanted to remind both you and myself.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly your inbox will empty.

For more email processing tips, check out these.  Got some other quick email tips to share?

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15 Responses to “A One Minute Reminder about the Two Minute Rule”

4 Trackbacks

  1. The 2 minute rule on email « Tiptoid
  2. Follow The Two Minute Rule To Stay On Top « The Chamber
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  4. 9 Reasons Why Getting Things Done Rules! – Practical advice on personal development, productivity and GTD


  1. Dan Markovitz


    Thanks for the good reminder that the two minute rule is *not* incompatible with inbox triage. I sometimes struggle with that apparent conflict. And lord knows, it’s not easy to resist the siren call of all those other messages I’m not attending to….

  2. Scott Saad

    Thanks for the reminder as it’s so easy to forget when our heads are stuck in the sand. Besides email, what else do you find that falls under this two minute rule? Phone calls, tweets, etc?

  3. Elizabeth

    I think this might be my biggest productivity faux pas. I always hang on to emails for later because they’re “important” and I’m just casually checking email. Whenever I handle things on the spot I avoid forgetting to respond or over looking key information.

  4. Jared Goralnick

    Dan, thanks for chiming in–and you’re right, it IS really difficult to resist those other unread messages.

    Elizabeth, the key is that you can hold onto that other information as long as you want…just NOT in the inbox :-)

  5. Jared Goralnick


    Tweets are tough because there’s no way to read them all. I’d say with Twitter that it should be in 5 minute or shorter spurts, complemented with Summize (leave a tab open in Firefox with a Summize search for yourself and see if it gets responses)or Twhirl audio alerts to see if anyone responds…but if you participate further in the dialogue I’d suggest doing your best not to read the other chatter.

    With phone calls, it’s tougher since it’s not asynchronous like email. But I would schedule the longer calls and take care of shorter (probably less than 5 minute) calls one-after-another during a specific time period (like running errands). As for when people call, it’s perfectly okay to either not pick up sometimes or at least to say something to the effect of, “I really wanted to pick up your call, is there a time later today that’s convenient for you?”

  6. John F Croston III

    I sometimes extend the two minute rule to be more like 10 or 15 minutes, when has to deal with a quick update for a user to content on a web page. If they need me to replace text on a page I open the page, paste in the change, test, move to the PROD server, and send a note that it is finished.

    This sometimes takes longer than the stated two minutes in GTD, but it works for me and I don’t have to deal with it again.

  7. Jared Goralnick


    The 2 minute rule is really designed for when there’s some volume of messages in your inbox. If you have 15 actionable messages and it takes under 2 minutes to deal with them then that’s reasonable. But if it took 15 minutes then it might start compromising the rest of your activities.

    As such, I would recommend taking a quick look at the subjects to “see what’s on your plate” and depending on how much time you have decide if you can afford 2, 10, or 15 minutes. I still would recommend dealing with the 10 or 15 minute tasks afterwards since I think we get in a FLOW with our activities and 15 minutes doing something else can actually slow down the email processing flow. Email processing is all about rhythm and you don’t want to chance distraction (whenever possible).

  8. Paul Singh

    The most important point here is “once you’ve started working with a message, deal with it now.”

    I can’t tell you how many times I used to “Mark as Unread” messages that I didn’t want to deal with – that sucked and I realized that I never stopped doing it.

    Recently, I’ve forced myself to actually *do* something when I open a particular email and it has single-handedly helped me regain control of my inbox.

  9. James @ Organize IT

    The two minute rule is pretty effective, though it’s not something you want to take literally. Starting something and finishing it before doing anything else is critical, whether that takes two minutes or thirty (I’ve covered this in one of my previous posts). If you collecting having half-finished emails, incomplete reports and unfinished conversations that’s when you will really get bogged down.

  10. Charlie Gilkey | Productive Flourishing

    Great and timely reminder, Jared.

    I think email stall is somewhat of a symptom of the larger problem of people checking their email when they shouldn’t – most likely too frequently or when they don’t have time to do anything with the information from the messages. So, instead of actually processing email, they’re kind of poking at email, which makes them have to do it again.

    So I’d recommend shortening the frequency of checking email as much as possible and only checking it with the intent to process it. And shutting the auto-notifiers off, too.

  11. Sergio Godoy

    The rule works with some personal adjustments. Certainly all this tips are helping me a lot. As seen I’m in training.

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