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Problem with the 2 minute rule...?

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  • Problem with the 2 minute rule...?


    In my pre-GTD days, I worked as a bookkeeper at a large retail store for several years.

    Other staff would place any paperwork for me to process in my own inbox - invoices, delivery notes, till receipts etc.

    I'd regularly go through it and either do it, file it, stack items up for batch processing or throw it out.

    Looking back, if I applied the 2 minute rule literally to that situation it would have made me less productive and many tasks would have taken a lot longer.

    If I'd processed every invoice in the pile there and then, because I could do each one individually within 2 minutes, it would have taken just under 2 minutes per to get each invoice into Sage (accounts software) and filled.

    Instead, I'd stack all the invoices up in their own temporary "Invoices to Process" tray, only taking seconds to do.

    Then when all invoices were out the inbox, I go through them all in batches and enter them into the Sage accounts software as a large batch.

    This way, it took about 30 seconds for each one to be processed in Sage and filled.

    Similarily, there were other times whereby rather than processing a single item there and then, it would be put in it's own "bucket" and processed as a batch.

    The idea of batching was to avoid the stop start kind of processing. Better to process 100 invoices in one go than to keep stopping and starting, switching between software.

    Even now, just processing my own receipts, I don't do one at a time, i'll go through the inbox, put any receipts to one side, then enter as a batch.

    How does the 2 minute rule apply when items may be better batched together?

    I suppose it depends upon your interpretation of "if it can be done in less than 2 minutes..."

    Does preparing it for batch processing count as "doing it" or should that mean to finishing it completely (in Sage and filled)?

    Thanks for your time - much appreciated.

    Best regards,

    Last edited by AndyD; 09-04-2007, 01:13 PM. Reason: Typo! Must stop posting from my phone and instead, wait until I'm at a full size keyboard!...

  • #2
    In this case, you know ahead of time that there is a more efficient way of doing things than one-at-a-time. I say, stick with the more efficient approach.

    I doubt very much that DA ever intended the 2 minute rule to be applied in situations where there is already a more productive approach -- unless of course, that approach leads to procrastination, in which case just do it and forget about being efficient.

    Instead, I interpret DA's intent as setting a limit between entering something into your "system" and just getting it done.


    • #3
      Putting it into a batch IS processing it

      You are dealing with it by putting it into a batch holding location. As long as you clear that location regularly, you're fine...


      • #4
        Don't let GTD overwhelm your common sense, and don't toss out parts of your system that are working well because DA said so.

        Your invoice handling system sounds similar to my handling of personal bills: when I go through the mail, everything financial goes into a separate pile. Once or twice a week, I bring up Quicken and work through the whole pile, write any checks that need writing, and so forth. It works for me, and it sounds like your system works for you.

        The two-minute rule is a handy rule of thumb to make sure you don't get so sidetracked by the things in your inbox that you never actually get to the bottom of it. But it's just a rule of thumb.

        Last edited by kewms; 09-05-2007, 08:27 AM. Reason: typo


        • #5
          Somewhere in the book David also said that it doesn't have to be specifically TWO minutes. e.g. if you haven't got much time you might turn it into a one minute rule. Yesteday I had more time so I made it a five minute rule and got an amazing amount done.

          The key bit for me is whether the overhead involved in organising the item into the system is greater than the time involved in doing it now. In your circumstance you would actually save time by batch processing



          • #6
            If these were items that you had to do in less than two minutes or individually add to your next action list, then the savings is in doing them. If you can batch them and have either one item on your calendar or NA list to do the batch (or a habit to handle at once possibly precluding the need to have it listed anywhere), it makes sense to batch them as you've already observed.

            When you were doing the bookkeeping, the financial items were the work you were already geared up to do. It was handling everything else so you could get to it that needed the processing above and beyond putting it all in a single pile to batch. If you avoided or procrastinated handling the batch, then you would need to deal with it differently.

            If it works and especially works well, don't fix it.


            • #7
              Taking an invoice out of your inbox and putting it into your batch processing tray is fully processing it in accordance with the 2 minute rule for the following reasons: 1) you have handled it in the appropriate way in accordance with your overall workflow procedures and 2) you don't need to add a project or action to your GTD lists as a result of handling it that way.

              Remember that the purpose of the 2 minute rule is to keep you from adding lots of little things to your lists that you could have dispatched almost as quickly as the time it would take to add them to your list and manage them as list items and think about them the next time you have to pick them up. None of that overhead is added by putting an invoice in a batch stack. Remembering the intent of a rule will help you follow the rule in a sensible way.


              • #8
                Thanks for the feedback!

                Hello all,

                Many thanks for all the replies - very much appreciated!

                All make perfect sense too - in a way my original post was kind of playing devil’s advocate with the 2 minute rule!

                As you all said, moving the invoice from the inbox to the “invoices to process” tray is effectively processing the invoice within 2 minutes. (i.e. carrying out it’s actionable action!)

                I’d have never dreamt of entering into the action lists “@PC: Enter P&H Invoice into Sage…” and so on for each invoice! The invoices simply went from inbox to invoice processing tray and would have not even needed to go onto any action lists.

                The “invoices to process” tray was also treated like the inbox – at the end of each day, if it looked half full, it was time to process it into Sage! I don’t even think “@PC: Process batch invoices” would have ever make it to the actions lists either! It was an ongoing task daily task.

                What I did later on was to sub-divide the inbox itself. Originally, everyone would place everything in there - invoices, delivery notes, customer orders etc.

                So instead of having to go through the inbox and sort the different documents, I setup a row of "buckets" for each document type.

                Whoever was giving me a document, could then put it into the right bucket straight away, not just into the inbox.

                Meant the inbox was not so full and the rest of the documents were already in the right trays for batch processing!

                Many thanks again!

                Best regards,



                • #9
                  Originally posted by AndyD View Post
                  Whoever was giving me a document, could then put it into the right bucket straight away, not just into the inbox.
                  Next step: get them to enter the invoices into Sage themselves!


                  • #10
                    Just to chime in here: First, keeping existing systems that work well is very smart. If it ain't broke, ... Second, what you're doing is working in a way that you've learned from experience is very efficient - "batching" like this makes a lot of sense. Basically you're collecting together similar items that can be done rapidly as a group - i.e., you're making a single action that takes care of them all. Neat!

                    I do this with meeting (or phone call) notes too. I might have 5 actions, 2 waiting fors, and some ideas to enter. Instead of entering each one (each of which is < 2 minutes), I make processing the notes an action, which might take 5 minutes. But in that mode, it's faster.


                    • #11
                      @Contexts are a kind of batching too!

                      @Barry, that would have been a cool idea! though i think they'd have more than complained!

                      @Cornell, many thanks for the feedback,

                      "batching like this makes a lot of sense. Basically you're collecting together similar items that can be done rapidly as a group..."

                      I was thinking about this after my original post and it occured to me that the whole GTD @Context idea is a kind of batching too!

                      I look at the @Calls list, see it says "Call Chris". I make the call, then glance at the list again and make a few other calls while I'm there. It's batching actions based on their context/location!

                      I used to have a boss (in my pre-GTD days) who was hopeless at this kind of thing!

                      He'd go out and drop items off at the paint shop, come back to the factory, then realise he could have picked up some earlier items from the paint shop while he was there too! So he'd end up having to make endless trips rather than doing it in one go!

                      He was always in "fire fighting" mode - dashing from one location (i.e. context) to another and with no idea to batch/group similar tasks together.

                      Thanks again, best regards,



                      • #12
                        I don't treat my inbox as a NA-box. The items in it only become (attached to) a NA after I process my inbox. I take an item out of it and define a NA for it. So if I would see things that need to be processed together I create a NA that processes these things together. If this NA, the processing of all these things together, can be done in 2 minutes, I'll do it. Else it is written on the NA list.

                        I do a NA if I can do it in 2 minutes. But there's only a NA after I've taken out an item and decided what the NA should be.

                        Hope this makes sense.