How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the “2-Minute Rule”

Note: for more ideas on how to beat procrastination and master your habits, join the free newsletter.

Recently, I’ve been following a simple rule that is helping me crush procrastination and making it easier for me to stick to good habits at the same time.

I want to share it with you today so that you can try it out and see how it works in your life.

The best part? It’s a simple strategy that couldn’t be easier to use.

Here’s what you need to know…

How to Stop Procrastinating With the “2–Minute Rule”

I call this little strategy the “2–Minute Rule” and the goal is to make it easier for you to get started on the things you should be doing.

Here’s the deal…

Most of the tasks that you procrastinate on aren’t actually difficult to do — you have the talent and skills to accomplish them — you just avoid starting them for one reason or another.

The 2–Minute Rule overcomes procrastination and laziness by making it so easy to start taking action that you can’t say no.

There are two parts to the 2–Minute Rule…

Part 1 — If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.

Part I comes from David Allen’s bestselling book, Getting Things Done.

It’s surprising how many things we put off that we could get done in two minutes or less. For example, washing your dishes immediately after your meal, tossing the laundry in the washing machine, taking out the garbage, cleaning up clutter, sending that email, and so on.

If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, then follow the rule and do it right now.

Part 2 — When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.

Can all of your goals be accomplished in less than two minutes? Obviously not.

But, every goal can be started in 2 minutes or less. And that’s the purpose behind this little rule.

It might sound like this strategy is too basic for your grand life goals, but I beg to differ. It works for any goal because of one simple reason: the physics of real life.

The Physics of Real Life

As Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is just as true for humans as it is for falling apples.

The 2–Minute Rule works for big goals as well as small goals because of the inertia of life. Once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it. I love the 2–Minute Rule because it embraces the idea that all sorts of good things happen once you get started.

Want to become a better writer? Just write one sentence (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself writing for an hour.

Want to eat healthier? Just eat one piece of fruit (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself inspired to make a healthy salad as well.

Want to make reading a habit? Just read the first page of a new book (2–Minute Rule), and before you know it, the first three chapters have flown by.

Want to run three times a week? Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just get your running shoes on and get out the door (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll end up putting mileage on your legs instead of popcorn in your stomach.

The most important part of any new habit is getting started — not just the first time, but each time. It’s not about performance, it’s about consistently taking action. In many ways, getting started is more important than succeeding. This is especially true in the beginning because there will be plenty of time to improve your performance later on.

The 2–Minute Rule isn’t about the results you achieve, but rather about the process of actually doing the work. It works really well for people who believe that the system is more important than the goal. The focus is on taking action and letting things flow from there.

Try It Now

I can’t guarantee whether or not the 2–Minute Rule will work for you. But, I can guarantee that it will never work if you never try it.

The problem with most articles you read, podcasts you listen to, or videos you watch is that you consume the information but never put it into practice.

I want this article to be different. I want you to actually use this information, right now.

What’s something you can do that will take you less than two minutes? Do it right now.

Anyone can spare the next 120 seconds. Use this time to get one thing done. Go.

102 Comments

  1. James this is awesome. An excellent addition/step up from Leo Babauta’s “make the habit so easy you can’t say no”.

    A great Twitter quote I once saw was “the difference between a master and a novice is repetition” which has encouraged me more and more to continue implementing habits.

    • Andrew — yep, you’re spot on with this. Habits are the road to mastery for any task. And I’m glad you mentioned Leo, his ideas for habit formation are top notch.

      Thanks for reading!

    • That’s so weird Andrew, I’ve literally just read that passage from Leo myself, brilliant stuff. I’ve been incorporating many different methods for procrastinating lately and I’ve seen great progress lately.

      I’m also going to try out the 2-minute rule from this article. Such a simple idea but I can see how it would work really well. Props to the author who wrote this.

    • Brandon — that’s awesome. I love your initiative. Looking forward to hearing about your progress!

  2. As usual, James, I love the small steps concept so much. The well-learned ability to see so many things as being too difficult/overwhelming/time-consuming–mountain-out-of-a-molehill stuff–that it’s become a wonderful means of creating excuses. Excuses that, when it comes right down to it, save me from the fear of what might be attached to that which I need/want to do.

    It just occurred to me though that I’ve used this in teaching guitar. I tell my students to just pick it up for 5 minutes (not “You MUST do an hour long practice session each day!” When I took piano lessons years ago that’s what my teacher told me. Did I do it? HA!)

    Does that 5 minutes (I’ll use 2 minutes!) turn into something more? Almost always! Are we concerned about results? No. Too much concern often leads to unrealistic and unmet expectations. The results will naturally follow if we surrender those expectations … that feed those excuses.

    • “Surrender the expectations that feed those excuses.” I like that piece a lot, Garry. Thanks for sharing.

      Good luck working with your guitar students. I’m sure they are benefiting from your wisdom and experience.

      Thanks for reading!

    • I read this and I realized that’s how I started working out and reached from 2 minute to 30 minutes and then an hour! I didn’t know I was using this. Will definitely apply it to different areas of life.

  3. This coincides nicely with BJ Fogg’s ‘Tiny Habits’ which I just participated in last week and am continuing. It’s really the starting that is always the trouble I find.

    • David — so true. Starting is the hard part. And the Tiny Habits system is great. I’m glad you enjoyed using it.

      As always, thanks for reading! I’ll do my best to keep good ideas coming your way.

  4. I am a great procrastinator.

    I was going to do something about this problem tomorrow.

    But this has inspired me to do a few two-minute projects.

    Thank you.

    • John — that’s great! Just start with small steps. Getting started is often the hardest part.

      And if you need a push, just let me know. I’m happy to help however I can.

  5. Did my two minute project. Wrote up my new morning routine so that I have a reminder to follow it each day.

    • Ha — I’m not sure how I feel about suddenly becoming female, but I’m happy to provide some “motherly guidance” every now and then.

      Thanks for reading, Janet. Keep up the great work on your end. And I’ll do my best to send good ideas your way!

    • I love it! That’s a perfect example of something you can get done in two minutes. Great work, Eric. And thanks for reading!

  6. I’m taking two minutes to say that it is worth giving credit for the 2-Minute Rule. It is from David Allen, and it is a key part of his GTD (Getting Things Done) system.

    • Jim — whoa! Thanks for sharing. I actually haven’t read any of David Allen’s books, but obviously I’ve heard of them. I just did a search for “David Allen two minute rule” and there was a flood of results. My apologies for not knowing about this before publishing.

      From what I can tell, his approach is exactly the same as “Part I” that I mentioned above… but he doesn’t mention “Part II” about habit formation and sticking to new behaviors.

      That said, I added a reference to the end of the article citing his work and giving credit. Thanks for pointing it out and sharing! I appreciate it!

  7. OK James………….your so right, some times we all need a nudge to get us started, thank you… got to go, got several 120 second things to do.

    • Sounds good, Peter. Getting started in small ways often allows you to accomplish big things. I’m looking forward to hearing about your progress!

  8. My two minute task: get involved by leaving a comment. Thanks James for sharing this idea. It doesn’t matter where ideas start as long as they get spead. The two minute rule has already made me 10 times more productive in one day. Cheers.

    • Lisa — thanks for saying hello! It’s great to have you in our little community and I’m glad you decided to take a few minutes to leave a comment. Your thoughts are always welcome here. :)

    • Yep! It’s a simple trick that works wonders. (I always think the best approaches are simple.)

      Glad you enjoyed it, Mike!

    • Thanks Emmanuel! I hope the 2-Minute Rule worked well for you.

      As always, thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. I appreciate it!

    • What a helpful comment!

      Haha — seriously though, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the article, Ninad. Do you feel that the information is incorrect? Or that it’s too hard to implement?

      What could I do to deliver more useful information to you?

    • Boom! Look at that. 2-Minute Rule working right away. :)

      Thanks for reading, Erica! It’s great to have you in our little community.

  9. So… I googled procrastination, because I was putting stuff off. 2 minutes later I came across your page.

    It took me 2 minutes to read. 2 minutes more to write a comment.

    So now, I’ve been set back by the equivalent of 3 tasks – I’m so far behind now! Cheers for that ;)

    • Yea, I did that as well. I was sitting at my laptop thinking, “Wow, I am brilliant at procrastinating” and so I thought, why not Google some tips to overcome it. So I did and you were the second one that came up. Although the top one was WiKi so I didn’t click on it because WiKi is not the most reliable source.

      So I’d like to thank you for this awesome tip and it took probably 2 minutes to write this comment.

      And your tip about becoming a better writer is true. I once was bored out of my mind, so I wrote a random sentence then found myself becoming inspired every time I looked up from the keyboard. And found I had written a short story over three or four days. Thank you so much you’re a legend!

  10. I think willpower helps you do the things. Do or die attitude helps procrastination. Also involving friends or neighbor will avoid laziness and keep going.

    Relating any task to God will give motivation to stay.

    Thanks for helpful articles.

  11. Great article. We were born with knowing no boundries. We couldn’t walk, we kept up the repitition of standing up and learning to walk. We learnt speech, knowledge, emotion but we got taught to be scared. The knack is to believe in what you want regardless of what other people tell you. It’s usually the apathetic that try and drag you down through jealousy. Keep your head to the sun and the shadows will fall behind! We just released our first album, we’ve had live sessions and radio play in the UK and USA, supported some big cult bands and now it’s time to raise the pole once more. We’ll never give up…and if nothing else….we’re happy!

  12. Great article! This might be the one strategy that could work for me – I will try it. (right after posting this comment!)

  13. I have a exam next week on Monday… I am going to start with the two minute rule to break my cycle of avoidance-stress-fear! I will let you know how I get on. :-)

  14. Very, very good. Have read this before. The “2-minute rule” helps us to overcome waiting for the feel-like-it emotion to kick in. Have recommended this to others. Positive payoff is that after a time just doing it the feel-like-it emotion does start to kick in out of the habit/s formed with overcoming procrastinating using the 2-minute rule. Kudos.

  15. Hi James, this is a great article. Sometimes the most simple steps are the most powerful. I’ve used this myself and had some great success with it. I actually wrote an article recently that is in a similar vein but for people who are trying to build a business and are having difficulties due to procrastination. I will include it as an additional resource here. Keep up the great work!

  16. Thanks for your post James! I was on a volcano recently reflecting on how to stop procrastination, and realized why I procrastinate. This 2 minute rule that you talk about is a great solution to use that targets the root cause of procrastination.

    In addition I’ve started making use of a complementary simple procrastination rule, focusing on the physical next step of a project (also mentioned I believe in GTD).

    For me sometimes procrastination looks like this, sitting down at my desk to do a new project, and staring at a blank screen for a few minutes, then being hit with an overwhelming desire to clean my desk, down to dusting the keyboard.

    And then that makes me hungry.

    Now I know I’m making a sandwich.

    2 hours later as I’m cleaning the kitchen stove, I ask myself, what was so dreadful about my blank screen that made cleaning my stove more attractive?

    I realized it is the fear (of producing something that would suck) & self criticism. By doing something else…anything else, I was relieved briefly from those unpleasant feelings.

    So the great thing about this 2 minute rule is that its a way to work through those fear and self-critical thoughts, by focusing on stuff I can be confident I can do, thereby turbo-blasting to dust the fear and negative thoughts. Then once I get into the groove, everything else, including a messy desk, a steaming hot sandwich and oh-so-gross stove can’t distract me (but if you have cake, that will always win hands down).

  17. >As Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is just as true for humans as it is for falling apples.

    Actually that isn’t a very good metaphor as ‘objects in motion tend to stay in motion’ means they maintain a constant velocity unless acted on by a force, whereas the apple is accelerating due to a force (gravity).

    Good article otherwise. ;0)

  18. Thank you for sharing with everyone, James. Excellent article, short and to the point. Plus the emphasis on action NOW sets it apart from most other material out there. 2 minute rule is simple and makes sense!

    Stay blessed.

  19. Hey, I finished reading the article, did a 30 second phone call and got results. Wow! Hope to keep the momentum up, by the end of the week I will be flying…..

  20. Hey made another phone call, got some news (about how my procrastination has not lead to irreparable situation). So now the dread factor has been eliminated I feel ready for more good news!

  21. Wow James! Really like all you have to say — reading what you and the folks at Buffer have to share is part of a larger process in my life whereby I’m realizing there is no reason to wait to actualize my (our) amazing potential! Thanks!

  22. Thank you James! This is a very effective way of viewing an overwhelming task. I am a slave to my own criticism and have let my artistic side slip away. By spending 2 minutes to go over to my materials box and open it, I am hit by the smell and the colours of paint. Then I start thinking about possibilities and become inspired to try something new!

    “Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler”
    Albert Einstein

  23. Very interesting James, I hadn’t consciously defined my own process of getting things done, my goal is always to take the first step, and make that an easy one. For instance, with running my goal is always to just get into my running gear, then it’s just to leave the house. Once you complete the first easy steps you’ve already changed your state and momentum to follow through is on your side.

    Fraser

  24. I loved your article. It is true that we have plans, goals and a vision for our life but in order to be successful we need to take action. I like your 2 minute start! If we are truly committed to getting something done, how can we not at least commit 2 minutes to it! Thanks for sharing this. It has inspired and motivated me to start!!!

  25. Doing all the 2-minute jobs is still stopping me from getting going on that BIG project… what am I doing wrong? I am getting lots of little things done but the BIG can’t really be broken down into smaller chunks and I need to be in the right head space to do this creative task – I constantly seem to have “creative-block” and do any/all 2-minute jobs then end up going to bed for a nap just to block out the stress. Any thoughts?

  26. I’ve told myself this many times. If I just get my running shoes on…, If I just put my workout clothes on… I know it would make all of the difference. I just have to do it. I’m trying. For me, my mantra is Just do it. (Like Nike lol). I know the more I do it, the easier it gets but once you’re out of the habit for too long, it gets harder. Getting back on the bus is difficult for me but I just have to do it. And I will. I love your stuff by the way. I’m a new reader and I think it’s great. Thank you.

    • Sara, I have the same issue. Look at some of James’ other guidance. I am going to start with small steps and first get back into the habit. I plan to get up 20 minutes earlier and do a quick run. Then once I have built up a habit, I will increase the time. Focus on building up a habit first.

  27. I have read the article. The best part I like is “just do it.’ It is just like Nike’s logo. I like to learn new things. The best way to learn something is by doing it. Thanks for your 2-minute rule.

  28. James,

    I love your blog in general and this post specifically. It just encouraged me to send a quick work email that I was avoiding for no good reason. It only took 30 seconds once I just did it!

    Thanks.

  29. This is a great article. I have been putting off going through paperwork and just stopped and gave it my 2 minutes which turned into 15. I am amazed at how much progress I made. Thanks for a great article.

  30. That’s very true. Thanks for this wonderful read. I am really thinking of this rule and started applying this to my daily activities. At the same time, I’m also sticking to rule of “Anything practiced and done for three days it’ll become routine to your life”. These 2 rules makes me very happy and active in my day to day life.

  31. Understanding is reached through doing. I just started something two minutes ago. Been meaning to do it since yesterday. This works. Thanks!

  32. Hey James,

    This is solid advice. It is usually the thought of doing something as opposed to the act of doing it that’s the problem.

    I have used this approach with writing. I write a minimum of 50 words a day. Most days I write more but everyday I write the required 50 words which means I am writing consistently and it is now a habit.

    Dan John says “eat the biggest frog first” which works well too.

  33. Great post. The first step is the toughest… and it takes only 2 minutes to do that. The rest will follow.

    Thanks a lot,
    Sridhar

  34. Great two minute article James. I plan on doing a to-do list for tomorrow right now. It should lead to lots of two minute actions. Thanks for the insight.

    • Hi James,

      I am a newbie here, but I am stuck reading your life changing ideas. Thanks for sharing. I will share this awareness to others as well.

  35. Just get started! That’s pretty much the only thing you need to know when beating procrastination.

    We should stop tolerating lazy behavior from our self and just do the stuff we’re supposed to do.

    Sweet post! Take care man!

  36. I’m reading this in bed, but will start tomorrow. It just sounds too easy and makes perfect sense. It was the 120 seconds comment that got me, haha. This will work!

    Thanx :-)

  37. Amazing idea. I wonder how I can not think about it before. Most of the articles I read about is just input information. All we need is output (practice). This is just what we need.

  38. Simplified everything in two minutes!!! Very simple & small, yet makes a big impact in long run…hummm

  39. Very motivating article!

    I want to apply this 2 min rule right now! By practicing 2 min rule, we can transform our life. From the caterpillar to beautiful glowing butterfly! Start beautiful 2mints journey right now!

  40. Hi James, this simple idea will help me a lot. I have a battled against the procrastination in my life. It will solve 80% of situations (“Pareto’s law?”) once these situations are simple things to do, like you mentioned on your post.

    2-minute-rule is perfect, because if it was 5-minute-rule would feel heavy or see with other eyes, 2 minutes is more stimulating.

    I think you can use “Pareto’s law” in your inspiration as a start to bring a new post.

    Your blog it is fabulous…

    Regards from Portugal

  41. Great job on this article James!

    I feel I’ll really benefit from the 1st rule because it makes it seem silly not to knock out tasks that take less than two minutes.

Leave a comment Share your knowledge and experience.