Being Neighborly, Thanks to The Two Minute Rule

A Community Contribution by Eric Hanberg

When I started implementing GTD this summer, I thought the main benefit was going to be felt in my work life first and foremost, as GTD would help me juggle my pieced-together living as a freelance writer and web developer.

GTD has certainly helped me professionally, but it has been my personal life—the non-work, non-paying responsibilities I have—where I’ve seen the most dramatic changes thanks to GTD.

Let me give you an example.

I have lived in a condo in a small four-plex building in downtown Tacoma for the past five years. I’ve served as the president of the condo association since moving in.  This was an accident. At the very first meeting of the four owners I made the mistake of asking; “Who’s going to sign checks?” Apparently everyone decided that the person who thinks of the question should be the one to do it, since I was immediately elected.

But with such a small association, a better title for my high office might be Master Light-bulb Replacer – Or Chief Leak Investigator – Or even Director of Spider Removal. The sum total of the work required of the president probably totals no more than two hours of work a month. And yet I never did it. It was as if the less time it took, the more likely I was to put it off.

Neighbors complained about dark staircases, or poor lawn care service, or the build-up of recycling in the garage. And I felt ashamed I hadn’t been more proactive. I didn’t deal with problems until the last minute, sometimes much later. I got in to the habit of ducking my neighbors and hated bumping in to them on the stairs.

Managing Two Minutes at a Time

The GTD system has turned this around, thanks almost exclusively to David Allen’s Two Minute Rule. (For the uninitiated, the Two Minute Rule states that if a task can be done in less than two minutes, it’s best just to get it done there on the spot.)

It was amazing how many of my duties were only two minutes long. A neighbor says the gardeners are missing a patch of grass? Fire off a two-minute e-mail to the management company. I notice some windows have lost their seal in my unit? Fire off e-mails to the other owners to see if they are having the same problem. Standing water got me worried? Call the handyman and schedule a time for him to come out.

Because of my shame at the lousy job I was doing, I used to mull over these tasks and endlessly put them off. Which, not surprisingly, made me feel worse about the lousy job I was doing.

And now it’s hard to even remember why I dreaded them so much. Most of them take just two minutes!

Certainly, I can’t credit the Two Minute Rule for everything here. The whole GTD suite of solutions has been helpful. But I’ve come to realize that so many tasks I used to dread at work or at home are really just two minutes of my time once I commit to doing them.

When I think of the worry and heartache I used to put myself through … I’m relieved that it’s all behind me.

These days, I doubt I spend anywhere close to two hours a month on the condo association. So I’ve cut the time I spend on the job, stuff is actually getting done, and I don’t feel guilt or shame when I see a neighbor. In fact, I enjoy running in to them in the hallways and catching up.

So, yes, good fences make good neighbors. But I’ve learned good task management systems make for pretty good neighbors, too.

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  1. That’s so very true! I’ve also noticed, that as I get better at different aspects of my job, I can do more and more things under 2 minutes. I need to think that way more, instead of saying I’ll do it when I work on this or that context.

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