Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The 2-Minute Rule That'll Make it So Much Easier for You to Focus

While I know multitasking’s bad, the holiday season really brings it out in me. I’ll be in the middle of planning out a program for work and suddenly think, “Oh! I bet my mom would love that hamburger-shaped bicycle bell I saw for Christmas this year.”

And then I’ll stop what I’m doing, search for it, compare prices, probably decide I don’t want to buy it, and then spend 15 minutes trying to figure out what on earth I was doing before that genius idea hit me.

I’ve started feeling like a dog, distracted by shiny things and squirrels, and though I love small mammals and glitter, it’s just not a helpful or efficient way to function.

Several weeks ago, though, I discovered a solution that’s working so far. While attending a workshop, the facilitator mentioned a two-part rule he uses to help combat this issue. Hopefully, if you feel as scatterbrained as I do sometimes, it’ll help you, too

If it Takes Less Than Two Minutes, Do it Now

Many of the action items crossing my mind don’t require a huge time commitment. Like texting my friend back to confirm a meeting place for tomorrow night, washing the spoon I just threw into the sink, or printing out a document I need for the class I teach.

When a task like this comes up, stop what you’re doing for a moment and just do it. If you don’t address it, it’ll just take up space in your head and add to your already overwhelming pile of to-dos. If it takes less than two minutes, why not get it over with?

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. If you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone, it’d be rude to say, “Hold that thought for a sec. I have to confirm my hair appointment for this afternoon” and then leave him standing there while you pull out your phone. Or, if you’re driving, it’s highly unadvisable (and probably illegal) to be doing anything other than focusing on the road in front of you and the other drivers around you.

Not everything can be accomplished in less than 120 seconds, though. In those cases, you should move onto the second option.

If it Takes More Than Two Minutes, Write it Down for Later

Currently, one of my goals for this week is to schedule my department’s social media posts for a few weeks in advance. That’s going to take a heck of a lot longer than a few moments, so it doesn’t make sense for me to pause the assignment I’m working on (ahem, this article) to tackle it.

But I also don’t want to forget that it needs to be completed. So, I jot it down in a place I know I’ll look at later. Sometimes, it’s in my notebook. If it’s more urgent, I write it in all caps on a sticky note (because I like to shout at myself) and put it on the side of my monitor.

When you can’t do something right now, it’s a good idea to remove it from your brain and stop putting the pressure on yourself to remember every single little (and big) thing you want to achieve today, tomorrow, and sometime in the future. Let your to-do list bear the burden for you. That’s what it’s there for.

Here’s the bottom line: I know you’re really busy, and I know you want to get a lot done. But there’s a better way to do it than letting your brain act like a bouncy ball gone rogue.

This rule worked for me, and having a structure like this may work for you, too. Try it out for one week and see how it goes. And then, of course, let me know!

Photo of woman courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.