(This is a riff/paste from my upcoming book What’s Left is Right, available mid January on Amazon. It’s about Non-Dominant Hand Writing but this particular bit is useful to you right now.)
If you are a fan of David Allen’s now classic productivity book, Getting Things Done, I’m with you. I have to confess, I only use two parts of his process: the Brain Dump, where you collect every little shred of loftiness and stupidity into a hand-written list, and the Two Minute Rule, where if a task takes two minutes, just do the damned thing. (More on my Two Minute Rule hack shortly)
I keep three lists/dumps
- Brain Dump (From David Allen’s Getting Things Done)
- Project tasklist breakdown
- 2-20 Minute List (A pretty smooth hack I just invented)
In a recent blog article with the tough-love title Get a Grip on Your Process, or Give it Up, Allen comments that if you’re not willing to do the whole GTD process, you should just abandon the pursuit. I know he’s right, but I still find the bulk of his GTD process to be a task unto itself, and a procrastination device/rabbit hole that doesn’t serve me. Maintaining Brain Dump pages, however, is a massive relief and a huge help.
The point of a Brain Dump is to empty the brain of any and all concerns by keeping thoughts in a trusted repository. Then when you read through them from time to time, you can go, “yeah… getting backyard chickens reminds me that maybe I should just get backyard chicken friends… That idea on staying in all the Landmark Trust buildings in England could start with just one…. There’s an invention I want to make for the perfect travel paint box and maybe that could be done in a few days and I need one of those 3D printers.” And you feel a sense of security that all your great ideas, big and small, practical and frivolous, are safe. You can act on them… or not. It’s not a task list. I’ve been using my brain dump pages as a bit of a to-do and not-to-do list, even if half of it is mysterious and impractical. It functions poorly as a working task list, though.
When contemplating all the steps that go into finishing a project, many of those steps are more like cliffs. My project task lists aren’t very actionable. Until this:
TWO-TO-TWENTY MINUTE RULE LIST
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.
So I do that. It beats stewing over stuff and not accomplishing anything. But I extended the range of the rule to 20 minutes. You can get a LOT done in 20 minutes if you don’t think about it. It also is a great logjam buster for your more involved projects. When you break some of the steps into 20-minute chunks, it’s even a form of project management.
TRY THIS: If you are writing a brain-dump and you have, say, eight two-minute tasks and you don’t want to stop writing to do them, Make a separate running list of small tasks you can complete in 2-20 minutes. Don’t analyze whether this fits into your lofty goals, if it’s just a knee-jerk response to something in your environment, or it’s sort of dumb like painting a dollar store plastic horse model with gold gesso. It takes 20 minutes and: It. Will. Be. Done. If you have larger tasks, break them down into do-able bits. Setting certain things up or staging the components takes about 20 minutes. Then there it is, waiting for the next 20 minute task to further it. Put a little checkbox next to each item. Fill in the checkbox in when you complete, relegate or abandon a task.
That’s it. Keep it uncomplicated, don’t think too much about it, and enjoy the wonderful feeling of getting all those things off your plate.