Two Minutes to Procrastinate Less and Accomplish More

Aug 29, 2022

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The quest to increase productivity and stop procrastinating is seemingly never ending. We all struggle in one fashion or another to accomplish everything we need to. And like so many struggles in life, how we think about, and thus approach tasks greatly impacts our results.

As I sought to restructure my thinking, I discovered that flipping my thought process about the enormity of tasks was liberating. I learned I could reduce my procrastination and increase my productivity by first mentally reframing all I needed to accomplish into more manageable parts. To help guide me in this, I discovered three very empowering concepts: David Allen’s Two Minute Rule, James Clear’s Optimal vs Needed, and Martha Beck’s “turtle steps”. In this episode, I outline each of them for you and how they can help us all to procrastinate less and accomplish more.

“If you just decide that, ‘If it’s taking me less than 2 minutes, I’m just gonna do it. No questions. No debate. No decision making…’ It frees up all that energy for things that you do need to think about… This is the beauty of making one decision that then frees you up from making all these other little decisions… decisions that create so much mental overwhelm and mental fatigue for us.” – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn 

  • The Two Minute Rule
  • Standardize before you optimize
  • “Turtle steps”
  • Freeing up willpower and decision energy  

Contact Info and Recommended Resources


Getting Things Done by David Allen

Atomic Habits by James Clear


The Power of Imperfect Starts by James Clear

Do Less, Fail More by Martha Beck

Podcast Episodes:

Connect with Sara Dill, MD, The Doctor’s Coach


I’m Dr. Sara Dill, and this is the Stress-Less Physician podcast, Episode Number 29. Welcome to the Stress-Less Physician podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Sara Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feels good to you, you are in the right place.

Hey, everyone, Happy Monday, or happy whatever day you are listening to this podcast. So, I actually just spent the last hour thinking about what I wanted to talk about. So now I have a long list of potential future episodes. But what I was thinking about today is something I’m going to call the “Two-Minute Rule”. And it’s actually two different rules. And this is helpful, because it’s about sort of increasing your productivity, saving time and being more efficient, as well as about stopping procrastination, which I feel like are two sides of the same coin for myself, and for a lot of other people, clients included, doctors included, probably everyone included, right? A lot of us have too much to do and we feel like we have not enough time. And yet, we also sometimes spent a lot of time thinking about everything we have to do, and procrastinating actually doing it.

And I know I talked before, a little bit about time management. But I like this rule. And I’ve heard it in different ways. But I like the Two-Minute Rule because it applies to both situations. And so the first of the Two-Minute Rule that I’m going to talk about is the sort of older version. And this was the Two-Minute Rule that was coined by someone named David Allen, in his book, Getting Things Done. And this Two Minute Rule states that: “If an action is going to take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it’s defined,” which is a little bit confusing, right? What does he mean by defined?

So basically, if something’s going to take you less than two minutes, just do it when it presents itself, basically. I actually did a little research for this, because that’s what I like to do. I looked this up because I had just sort of taken on this idea of if something’s going to take less than one or two minutes—I’d actually first heard about this as the One Minute Rule. But I like the Two Minute Rule gives you a little bit more flexibility. So, if something’s going to take you less than two minutes, just do it, when you think about it.

The problem with that is that sometimes we think about things when we are actually engaged in doing something else. And so there’s one caveat here, that you don’t want to apply this Two-Minute Rule of doing something, the moment you think of it, if it’s going to take less than two minutes, unless, it’s related to what you’re actually doing. And so what I mean by that is—and this is actually how I use it a lot, and it’s helped declutter my house and keep things clean, is that for example, if you just finished eating a quick lunch, do the dish right away. It’s going to take less than a minute or two, to rinse that dish or wash it or put it in the dishwasher, don’t just put it in the sink. This does not mean that when you are at your desk answering emails or paying bills, and you “remember” the dish from lunch, that you get up and go do them right then, right, because that’s not what you’re engaged in doing.

So, this Two-Minute Rule, “if something’s going to take you less than two minutes, just do it,” when you think of it, would apply when you are changing your clothes, put the clothes away, or put them in the hamper right away. Don’t pile them on that chair, or your Peloton or whatever else is available. Just do it, then it takes less than two minutes. When you get up, make your bed right away. When you get home, put your keys—If you’re a woman and you have a purse, put your purse or your bag away, put your coat away where they belong. Again, don’t just pile them up. That would be an example of how to use this Two-Minute Rule.

So what is something that you tend to maybe not do that if you just did it in the moment, it would only take a minute or two? What would be different? This is the beauty of small things done frequently add up to big things in the end. If you just put your dish in the dishwasher, rinsed the glass and put it away, hung up your coat, put your keys away, put your clothes away, or put them in the hamper when you changed, hung up your towel—any of those things, right? It’s like changing the toilet paper roll when it runs out, putting the paper towel on the paper towel rack, when you use up the last one. Any of those things, they’re easy in the moment. And over time, they take so much less work and so much less effort. So that is the first of the Two-Minute Rules. This is the one I’ve been using the longest. And that actually, while simple, it makes a huge impact. Try it and let me know.

The second Two-Minute Rule is newer to me, although the principle isn’t. And so I don’t know if I’ve talked about this book before. It’s called Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it’s about habit formation. And I actually was really interested in this because in my other role not as a coach, but as a dermatologist, I spend a lot of time talking to patients about how to put sunscreen on every day. Not every day they go outside or not every day they’re just going to be doing something athletic, but 365 days of the year before they leave their house. And for some reason, it seems very difficult to get people to make this a habit. And that’s true of any habit. Habit formation is actually super interesting to me.

So this second Two-Minute Rule is a two minute rule by James Clear from Atomic Habits. And this rule says: “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” Okay, so when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. So, sunscreen application falls into this role, right? It doesn’t take longer than two minutes to put sunscreen on your face and your neck. So, I feel like what I’m asking people to do is doable, and in line with this.

And there’s some thinking and some research behind this. So, one idea behind this is that a habit has to be established before you can improve it. So, before you, say, decide to work out an hour a day, seven days a week, or even four days a week, you need to have the habit of working out. So, if anyone here, right, this is why New Year’s resolutions fail, if you vow, “I’m going to start working out every day, 20 minutes a day,” that is not falling into this Two-Minute Rule. And most of us don’t follow through. So, when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.

So again, one, the goal is to establish a habit, and then you can improve it. So you have to standardize it and establish it, then you can optimize it. So again, this idea isn’t new to me, I actually first learned sort of a similar guide to creating new habits from my first coach, Martha Beck. And what she talked about and wrote about and taught was this principle of taking turtle steps. And the idea was that when you were trying to start a new habit, you wanted to make it as easy as possible. So when you’re trying to implement any kind of behavior change, habit change, I would say even changing how you react at work or anything like that, you want to make it as easy and simple as possible.

So, an example would be if you want to start reading more, you maybe read one page of a book at night, or whenever it is that you want to read more. If you want to start flossing your teeth. Floss one, right, that would be even less than the Two-Minute Rule. If you want to start working out, start just by getting your workout clothes out the night before. That’s it. That would take two minutes.

A lot of people, they object in that they say it’s not enough, right? It’s going to take too long. But again, what happens is that you need to establish it before you can improve it, really truly. Look at how many things you try to start big with and then you never really get the habit going, you never really get any traction or any momentum. And then from a coaching perspective, and this is what I work with clients, if they’ve decided they want to make a change If you want to make a change, and then you don’t follow through, you aren’t doing it, you had too big of a step, your new behavior, your new goal was too big. Even if it didn’t seem big, right? Maybe reading a page is too much, you need to commit to reading a paragraph, reading for two minutes, reading for one minute. So, you get curious, you reassess, and you start again, and you make that step even smaller, you take a smaller turtle step.

Or maybe if two minutes is too big for you, you make it a one-minute rule, a one-minute habit. So like meditating, or mindfulness, or movement, or sleeping, or waking up early, don’t start with a big goal of 20 minutes, start with two minutes. So, if you want to start meditating, you could start with one breath, if two minutes is too much. If you want to wake up earlier, can you just get up two minutes earlier. And then continue to move that two minutes earlier, maybe every week.

So the reason I like this rule in both versions, so the Two-Minute Rule that states: if an action will take less than two minutes, just do it in the moment when you think of it, as long as it’s related to what you’re actually doing. And the reason I like the other Two-Minute Rule, about when you start a new habit it should take less than two minutes to do is because if you adopt this rule, in general, it frees up a lot of additional decision-making energy and frees up a lot of willpower.

So often, in coaching, we ask what is the change that you can make, that will make everything else sort of inevitable or fall into line? So if you adopt this change this rule that if it takes two minutes to do it, I’m just going to do it, I’m not going to procrastinate the dishes, hanging my close up, putting things away, answering that email, maybe finishing a chart. So, if I’m in the middle of charting, and typically, if it’s more than two minutes, I’ll often go see my next patient. But if I’m in the middle of charting, and it will only take another minute or two to close that chart and be done with it, I finish it. The same with a to-do or a task; if I’m in the middle of sending a prescription, and a medical assistant comes with a new patient to present, I finish what I’m doing first, and then I move on. So, I would encourage you to adopt that in the workplace as well and see how that works.

Again, if it’s going to take me another 10 minutes on a task or on a very complicated patient chart, then I would not go ahead and do that. The two minutes here is actually super helpful. But again, if you decide to adopt this rule—and I would encourage you just to try it out, let me know how it goes, try it out for yourself—is that then you don’t have to decide, should I do it now? Or should I do it later? Should I do the dishes now or I can do them later? Because in the moment, our prefrontal cortex, the sort of decision-making part of our brain, the executive function of our brain, part of our brain that often is concerned with our long-term wellbeing, it often is not as online, or not as immediate as what I would call our sort of more primitive brain, right? The brain that is like, “Oh, I just want to go watch Netflix,” or “I just want to go to bed.” Or “I don’t feel like doing that,” right?

Any of that sort of narrative, in which case, we often sort of give in to the short-term pleasure of not doing something, of procrastinating it, of delaying it, but at the expense of our long-term wellbeing, at the expense of than having to go back and do that dish later. It doesn’t seem like a big thing, but what if it is? If you just decide that if it’s taking me less than two minutes, I’m just going to do it, no questions, no debate, no decision making. It frees up all that energy, for things that you do need to think about that you do want to make a decision that you may need to have some willpower involved in. So, once you decide this is your rule, you don’t have to decide so many things during your day. And this is the beauty of making one decision that then frees you up from making all these other little decisions. And often, I think it’s all these little decisions that creates so much mental overwhelm and mental fatigue for us. We’re having to make all of these decisions. And then by the end of the evening, we’re sort of tapped out.

So, I know this is a shorter episode. I love the Two-Minute Rule. So again, try this out, see how it works for you. Again, the first Two-Minute Rule is really about increasing your productivity and stopping procrastination. And the second rule is sort of about the same thing, but really about not procrastinating when starting new habits. And so I’ve used this before. I decided a couple years ago that I really wanted to start flossing my teeth twice a day. And once I made the decision that that was just what I was going to do, it actually doesn’t even take two minutes, it takes about 30 seconds to floss your teeth, I just do it.

It took a while, right of creating that habit of doing it right after brushing my teeth. And now it’s just a habit, and it makes going to the dentist so much better. So, I’m proud of myself for doing that. It wasn’t that hard. The key, though, again, it’s actually using both of those rules, right? Flossing your teeth takes less than two minutes, so when I think about it right after brushing my teeth, I just do it. And when I created that new habit, for me, it was pretty easy just to floss my teeth.

But you could try Martha Beck’s rule, just start with one tooth. It actually is hard to stop once you floss one tooth, right? Because you’re already there. And that’s often how this works. So check out the Two-Minute Rule of yourself. Let me know if you’ve used this and you like it. But I think this is something where it seems easy and it seems too small, but incremental changes really do lead to big shifts in your life.

So, I hope this is helpful for you. It was fun for me to talk to you about this today. And again, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out anytime, [email protected], love to hear from you anytime. Have a wonderful week, and I’ll talk to you next week.

If you are a busy practicing physician ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more, and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at That’s It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

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