How to Stop Procrastinating with the 2-Minute Rule

how to stop procrastinating

I’ve been putting off this post for a long time, because I knew it would be hard to write.

I finally got myself to sit down and start writing by using a simple rule that I read about not too long ago. But, before I explain what that rule is, I want to talk a little bit about why procrastination is a topic worthy of being taken dead seriously—despite having procrastinated my way through high school and college (and managing to pull it off, both times).

The idea came to me three weeks ago when I was taking a shower—a hot shower. Anyone who’s read my blog before knows that I don’t normally take hot showers, but the doctor said it would be good for my back.

(I’ve been having chronic back pain for the last 4 months and started going to physical therapy about two months ago).

At the time, the pain had gotten better, but not by much. And it was entirely my fault…

At this point, I had been going to physical therapy for almost a month already, and I was supposed to be doing certain stretches and exercises at home in between my physical therapy appointments. But I wasn’t doing them—not consistently, at least.

And so, standing there in the shower, with the hot water running down my aching back, it suddenly became very clear to me—at this rate, I was never going to get better. By not doing my physical therapy exercises consistently, I was extending my recovery time indefinitely.

And then, suddenly something else became very clear to me—I extend everything. 

It’s not that I didn’t want to recover as fast as possible, but every day that I was supposed to do my exercises, I would tell myself that I’d do them later—after lunch, after class, after dinner… And then I’d be getting ready for bed, at which point I’d be way too tired, so I’d tell myself I’d do them tomorrow. When tomorrow came, the vicious cycle would start all over.

It’s the classic case of ‘tomorrow syndrome’ that every procrastinator knows all too well. And it’s a serious problem.

The Small Problem: Where The Procrastination Model Works

For me, the problem stems from high school. I procrastinated my way through high school and graduated in the top 5% of my class with a 4.3 GPA. My motto was “procrastinate and succeed.” Yeah, I would literally say that. I was arrogant.

I knew procrastination was bad, but I justified my behavior by saying what every procrastinator says—“I work best under pressure.”

When people told me that I couldn’t procrastinate and succeed in college—because there’s too much material and it’s so much more difficultI accepted the challenge.

And once again, I’ve spent the last four years studying for exams, writing papers, and doing entire projects the night before they’re due. And once again, I’ve managed to pull it off.

In just a few months I’ll be graduating from USC with a 3.4 GPA (not as impressive as my high school GPA, but still pretty good for an engineering major) and just a few months after that I’ll begin working full-time at a top global consulting firm.

But, here’s the thing. While I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, sometimes I can’t help but wonder, what if I hadn’t procrastinated so much? How much more could I have accomplished?

The underlying idea behind procrastination is that later is better. Remember that phrase, “I work better under pressure”?

Research actually shows that procrastinators don’t work better under pressure—instead, it’s the only way they know how to work. [1]

Procrastinators try to rationalize their behavior after the fact (as we tend to do with all our faults), but no one can genuinely argue that procrastination is good—at least not without some cognitive dissonance. The choices of a procrastinator are completely irrational from an objective point of view. They’re short-sighted and childish.

So, yeah, you might be able to pull it off, but you probably won’t be doing your best work. Your results might be good (if you’re lucky), but they probably could’ve been better. And that’s only a small part of the problem.

The Big Problem: Where the Procrastination Model Falls Apart

Even if you manage to do well in school, everything else that’s important to you—getting in shape, learning how to play the guitar, writing a blog, starting a business, or even finding a girlfriend—will be left in the dust.

When it comes to doing the things that you want to do (rather than just the things that you have to do), you will fail miserably. Because without external pressures, the procrastination model crumbles.

Procrastination only works when there are deadlines. More specifically, when those deadlines are associated with “danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster, or some other scary consequence.” [2]

It’s the panic created by these external pressures that drives a procrastinator to work like a maniac at the very last minute, pulling all-nighters to write eight-page papers and learn an entire semester’s worth of material in a single night.

This is why it works (with suboptimal results) in school and work and other similar types of environments. But, it doesn’t work for everything elsethe things that have the potential to expand our experiences, enrich our lives, and bring us a lot of happiness.

Because the things that we want to do (outside of school and work) don’t usually have deadlines. They’re less urgent than the other items on our to-do lists, so they get pushed back, and back, and back… Just like my physical therapy exercises. And this post.

It’s no surprise then that studies have proven that procrastinators tend to have a lower level of life satisfaction than non-procrastinators. [3]

And that’s why I think this is such an important topic, and why I’ve been making such a strong effort to improve my habits. Because my happiness literally depends on it.

No one is forcing me to write this article, but I’m doing it because it’s important to me and it makes me happy. I also want to be able to lift weights again some day (I haven’t worked out in 4 months and I can feel my muscles shrinking). But that’ll never happen if I don’t start taking proper care of my back, today.

If you never start a blog, or get in shape, or learn how to play the guitar, you’ll still have your job and no one will think of you any differently. But you’ll probably be a lot less happy than you could be.

How To Stop Procrastinating With the “2 Minute Rule”

Every article you’ve ever read about procrastination ultimately says the same thing—that the hardest part of doing a task is getting started. And it’s true. Once you get started, you usually realize that the thing you had been putting off for so long wasn’t as hard as you thought it would be.

But saying things like “just do it!” doesn’t really help you out too much. So instead, I want to give you something that you can actually put into practice.

The idea behind the 2-minute rule (not to be confused with the 3 second rule), is to “make it so easy to start taking action that you can’t say no,” as explained by James Clear.

Here’s how it works:

Part 1 — If a task takes less than 2 minutes, then do it now.

I’ve touched on this before in my Top 5 Productivity Hacks post, when I said that all tasks on your to-do list should be between 2 minutes-2 hours. If it takes less than 2 minutes (replying to an email, setting up an appointment, taking out the trash), it’s not even worth writing down. Just do it right now. If it takes more than two hours, it needs to be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks (the more specific, the better).

Part 2 — If a task takes more than 2 minutes, then just do the first 2 minutes of it.

The reason why this little rule is so effective is because it plays on what we already know to be true—that once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it—and, more importantly, it prevents us from looking too far ahead.

I’ve written before about how effective the pomodoro technique is, and a big part of that reason is because it’s a lot easier to concentrate on a task for 25 minutes than it is for an unspecified amount of time.

But now we’re talking about doing something for just 2 minutes! That’s freaking easy. You can do anything for 2 minutes.

It might even seem too easy. But remember, our goal here is to just get started. The 2 minute rule is a way to trick our minds into thinking that the hardest part—pushing ourselves into motion—is actually the easiest part.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

We tend to psyche ourselves out before we even take that first step.

When we’re starting a big project, we start thinking about how long it’s going to take and how hard it’s going to be and how much it’s going to suck. We build up this invisible barrier in our minds that paralyzes us and prevents us from taking any action—until we have to.

But I’m tired of extending everything. I’m tired of putting things off for the last minute, and never getting around to doing the things that I want to do (you have no idea how good it feels to finally finish this post).

If you are too, then just ask yourself this one question: what needs to be done now, in the next two minutes?

Sources

1. The Ohio State University Research News (2002) Procrastinators get poorer grades in college class, study finds. (http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/procrast.htm)

2. Wait But Why. Why Procrastinators Procrastinate. (http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html)

3. Academia.edu (2011) Effects of academic procrastination on college students’ life satisfaction. (http://www.academia.edu/Effects_of_academic_procrastination_on_college_students_life_satisfaction)

Image Source: Flickr – Nessima El Qorchi

About Stefano

Stefano Ganddini

Hey there! I'm the creator of Collegetopia and the guy who writes all these articles. I'm here to help you live BIG, do EPIC shit, & be HAPPY. Click here to read more.

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  • Ken

    I’ve never heard of this technique before this article and I think it’s fantastic. It’s simple enough to always refer too but also makes a lot of sense.

    This is definitely a good trick to use when confronted with something small. Since I was a kid (I guess a younger kid) I always put off super simple and quick chores because I knew that they were easy making them non-urgent. This didn’t make my parents too happy hahaha.

    I think this is most evident in tasks like essays. Breaking it up into small pieces makes a huge difference when building up the effort to just get started.

    Great post!

    Ken

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