In my last article, I wrote about the time-consuming nature of using the Getting Things Done® method of productivity. Often it can seem to take more time to maintain my GTD® system than it is worth. To look at this another way, despite being worth it, I often don’t have the required time to maintain my GTD® system.

The weekly review has been my scapegoat. With the difficulty of finding a two-hour block of time for quiet reflection, every week, I stated that even when I do squeeze in a weekly review, I am often so low on energy and focus that the outcome of the review is less than optimal.

Because I could see the benefits of making GTD® work, I decided I must find a solution. If I only find time for a review when I am out of energy and focus, then I clearly need to figure out how to make time while I still have these resources at my disposal. Sadly, it is impossible to make time. I cannot stay awake longer (at least it is not sustainable) and I cannot extend the number of hours in a day. Even if I could do either of these I do not think it would actually work. The answer, it turns out, is actually straightforward.

I decided that my weekly review was the most important thing I need to do. Every week.

I would never, even for a moment, consider not paying my mortgage or not feeding my daughter. If I don’t do these things then there will be grave consequences. I made a decision to hold my weekly review to that same standard. The truth is that the consequences of not doing a weekly review, although not typically life-threatening, are grave. By making the review as important as feeding my daughter, I gave myself permission to put a two-hour time block on my calendar in a time slot where I expect to have high energy and focus. I used to think that I needed to guard these rare moments for other, more important tasks. In the end, there is no more important task than the weekly review (except for feeding my daughter!).

A second strategy I have used to overcome the fact that GTD® is very time-consuming for me is to find ways to make GTD® behaviors simply take less time. Optimize. One unexpected victim of my optimization was the infamous 2-minute rule. The 2-minute rule states that if a task will take 2-minutes or less to complete, then just do it now! It sounds like great advice. The problem is that I seem to generate a lot of 2-minute tasks. When I get to my weekly review and I am going through the process of clarifying what something is (the first step in my review is to process everything in my inboxes), if I decide that it is actionable and will take less than two minutes to complete then I obediently proceed to do my mini-task.

The problem is that I am awful at judging what will take two minutes to complete! More often than not, my two-minute tasks will take, three, four, or five minutes. My weekly review gets stretched out longer and longer each time I do one of these tasks — and I am not alone. I have read numerous articles from others who have adapted the 2-minute rule and turned it into the 5-minute rule. This seems to make sense because you are more accurately describing the work you are doing and the expected time it will take to do it. The problem is, it doesn’t make sense! (At least, not to me.)

Let’s recall exactly what David Allen says about the two minute rule:

If the next action can be done in two minutes or less, do it when you first pick the item up.

The purpose of this rule is to avoid spending more time to track a task than it would take to do it. Given that context, it is easy to see the flaw of the 5-minute rule. Personally, I never have a task that takes five minutes to process into my system! In fact, I use a digital task manager and it takes me on average 30 seconds to both Clarify and Organize each task. Often it takes less than 30 seconds. So, I have adapted the 2-minute rule for my workflow, but I moved in the opposite direction of others. Introducing:

The 30-Second Rule

To be fair, let’s refresh our memories about what David Allen continues to say about this rule:

Two minutes is in fact just a guideline. If you have a long open window of time in which to process your in-tray, you can extend the cutoff for each item to five or ten minutes. If you’ve got to get to the bottom of all your input rapidly, in order to figure out how best to use your afternoon, then you may want to shorten the time to one minute, or even thirty seconds, so you can get through everything a little faster.

So David Allen says there is nothing wrong with extending the time to five minutes or shortening it to thirty seconds. It depends on your schedule and your needs. Don’t get hung up on strictly following the two-minute rule and do what is right for you.

After I realized this, I only began to do tasks immediately instead of putting them into my system if they would take less than 30 seconds to do. Given my time estimation skills, this meant my tasks took from 30 seconds to 2 minutes to do. That’s better than 5-minutes each! The result of this is that I did not get side-tracked by the volume of mini-tasks and I was able to now complete my weekly review much more quickly. The flow of processing and reviewing was not disrupted by random mini-tasks and therefore I was able to finish the review more efficiently. I also found it became much easier to find a block of time for my weekly review because the block of time that was required was shorter. WIN-WIN-WIN!

For me, the best option was to get to the bottom of my inbox as quickly as possible.

Of course, now I found many more small tasks on my lists, but that was not a problem because they were easily handled at many possible times in the day. These mini-tasks were spread out and executed during the little nooks and crannies of my week instead of clumped together during my more-important weekly review. In other words, it became easier to find time for my weekly review, easier to find time for all of my mini-tasks, and my weekly review did not take nearly as long as it had been.