This week the Tranquility by Tuesday project is focusing on Rule #8: Batch the little things. Designating a small window for the small tasks of life keeps them from taking over the rest of your schedule. This can free up time for deeper work or relaxation, and can help reduce mental load.
During the week, I keep a “Friday Punch List” where I write down all my non-urgent tasks. I then get to all of them in one fell swoop on Fridays. It’s kind of fun to do 20 little things in a row. I feel like a machine as I cross them off! If things can’t wait until Friday, I’ll aim to do a (very) small window in the afternoon on another day (as mornings tend to be my most productive time).
When I’ve explained this rule to people, a few have brought up the “2-minute rule.” The particular version of this rule they’re often referring to is that if a task will take less than 2 minutes, you should just do it when you see it. In other words, the complete opposite of batching the little things.
And on some level this makes sense. If it occurs to me to ask someone about test taking skills programs in my area, it would be reasonably quick to just do it when I think about it. It might take me the bulk of 2 minutes to get in the mindset of sending a text on that topic if I push the task forward and do it later. Well, perhaps not me since I tend to make quick transitions (the subject of an upcoming BOBW podcast, incidentally…), but many people.
However…there are problems with this 2-minute rule. First, am I sure this is a 2-minute task? Texting someone about the test skills program might lead to a conversation about something else. I might also see another text I haven’t responded to yet and feel like I should answer that. Or I might note that there is now a higher number on my email icon on my phone and so I should check those messages. And distractions aren’t the only problem; sometimes the tasks themselves turn out to be bigger than expected, and humans in general are terrible at time estimation. Even me! Getting an address changed for something the other day turned out not to be a simple online matter, but involved calling the customer service line and getting a form filed. Not 2 minutes!
And second…how shall I put this…I think that perhaps some folks advocating the 2-minute rule have fewer personal small tasks on their plates than many people reading this blog. If someone else in your life is filling out all permission slips/yearbook order forms/cast party food contributions forms, and being the recipient of the texts about changing times for kids’ tutoring/therapies/private lessons, and doing camp sign-ups (with the associated medical/contact/etc. forms…), or none of those things are germane to your situation, then one might be more free with the limited number of tasks that need to be done. Those of us who do have a lot of small things on our plate have to be careful or they will literally consume our entire lives.
(And I say this as someone who has outsourced A LOT, professionally and personally.)
There is one useful aspect of the 2-minute rule, which is the truth that if you don’t do the task immediately, it might keep weighing on you. You want to write the Great American Novel but you need to buy cat food, and so you keep thinking “cat food! cat food! cat food!” Or you forget about the cat food and then remember it at 3 a.m.
But! Here is another truth. You will not be perpetually bothered by your lack of cat food if you write “order cat food” on a list that you know you will look at, and that you know you have a set time for completing.* If you schedule a dentist appointment for 8:30 a.m. next Thursday, you probably wouldn’t sit there obsessing about it as an “undone” task (even though the appointment hasn’t happened yet). It is a defined task, assigned to a set time, and so you’re good.
Done well, a Friday Punch List (or an any day Punch List!) can serve the same purpose. Whereas going off to do 2-minute tasks whenever you think of them is a recipe for getting very little of substance done.
*Actually this is a bad example as stuff like maintaining the cat food inventory should be automated.
In other news: Add this to this week’s task list! My Best of Both Worlds podcast co-host Sarah is hosting the first ever Best Laid Plans LIVE session in Ft. Lauderdale this fall. It will be November 2-4, and she’s going to be guiding us through planning 2024 to make it the best year yet! I am signed up and looking forward to it — and looking forward to meeting other BLP listeners/TheSHUBox readers in person. Hope to see you there!