How the 2-Minute Rule Saves the Day


By Phil Harwood

I recently delivered a training session for one of my clients on effective time management. As part of this training session, I was reminded of the simplicity and power of the 2-minute rule. This single rule is truly a game-changer, but only if it has been implemented. Give me two minutes of your time and I’ll show you how it works. 

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Every day we are bombarded with all sorts of incoming stuff: emails, phone calls, reminders, requests, etc. We do our best to respond appropriately and in a timely manner. Sometimes we do. But sometimes we don’t. There are only so many hours in the day, right? Right. 

So, what do we do? We skim through the incoming “stuff” and pluck out the urgent stuff. But, what do we do with the rest of the stuff–the stuff that wasn’t urgent enough to make the cut? Most people leave all of the rest of the stuff right where it is. For simplicity, I’m going to refer to emails. But “stuff” refers to all incoming matters in all forms.

In a typical approach to managing email, emails that are not urgent remain in the inbox or in a folder marked “unread.” We respond to the urgent emails and hold off on the emails that are not urgent. The emails that were not urgent enough to make the cut remain in our inbox or remain unread. 

What I just described is the typical way people handle the incoming stuff in their lives–not just email but everything that is coming at them. It sounds like a logical approach but there is a flaw that I’m going to point out to you. Understanding this flaw and correcting it is truly a game-changer. 

Keeping with the email example, every time we check our email, we invest some amount of time in order  to understand what the nature of each email is, and we make a quick decision about what needs to be done with it. We do this to pluck out the urgent emails. There is no way to avoid this step. However, every time we go through this process–every time we read an email and fail to take action–we are just burying ourselves. This is where the 2-minute rule comes into play.

The 2-minute rule tells us that we should respond immediately if it takes less than two minutes to do so. So, for the email example, here’s how it works. We open an email, read it, and decide it is not urgent. Instead of marking it unread so we can do this all over again some other day, we force ourselves to respond, assuming a response will only take 2 minutes or less. Now, we have handled the email. We never have to look at it again. Ever. 

The old way results in a never-ending pileup of unfinished business. The new way, using the 2-minute rule, results in a more manageable volume of incoming stuff, no longer buried among a mountain of other stuff.  

What about stuff that takes more than two minutes to handle? The answer to that question and many other questions related to time management are covered in detail during our Effective Time Management course, available at

Now go forth. 

Check out Phil's interview on the GrowTheBench weekly podcast for more thoughts on this topic:

Tags: Time Management , 2-Minute Rule , Prioritizing ,