During my highly impressionable college years, I read a book by David Allen called "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity." The book is great but there was one concept I learned that when applied, actually negatively impacted my business.
The concept was this, "if it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.”
This would be the ultimate hack to destroying procrastination.
The method worked incredibly well throughout college.
- If I needed to email a teacher, I did it immediately.
- If I needed to pack a lunch, I did it immediately.
- If I needed to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer, I did it immediately.
The approach worked and it became something I continued to follow throughout the rest of my mid 20s.
Things changed however when I started working for myself full time.
The more my businesses grew, the more of these "2 minute jobs," piled up.
I realized this but thought, "It's really no big deal...even if I have 50 of those little things to do, that's still only 100 minutes out of a 6 hour minimum workday."
Easy peezy...I thought.
- If a customer sent an email, I replied the second I saw it (assuming it required no more than 2 minutes).
- If a follower left a question on a YouTube video, I answered it immediately.
- If a page on a website had a small typo, I fixed it immediately.
What I didn't realize though was the spillover impact of these "tiny tasks." It was far more than the 2 mins I was losing. It was the level of focus and deep work that I was sacrificing.
In my businesses, focus is a precious commodity. Without it, I can't do truly meaningful and creative work.
I'm a creator.
Although my businesses are loaded with countless technical and administrative tasks, it's my ability to create things that gives them purpose.
It wasn't until I read more about productivity and focus that I realized a massive error in the "2 minute rule" of task prioritization.
Note: Shout out to Cal Newport and the book "Deep Work" for opening my eyes to this...
I learned that, on average, it takes about 25 minutes to fully come back mentally from a distraction (source).
Tiny tasks were actually leading to big breaks in focus. Doing them myself was regularly "restarting the clock" to getting back into a deep state of work with optimal focus.
Now, the first time I read that I thought, "Wow, what an exaggeration...I get distracted countless times per day but get back into focus quickly."
I did start to wonder though, "I think I'm pretty productive now, but what might happen if this research is even remotely true and I'm working in a constant state of mild distraction. What if I rarely get any true 'deep work' done?"
If that concept were plotted out over time and I was interrupted JUST ONCE per hour, my productivity would look like this...
This would mean that for every hour I worked, only 58% of it was in a peak state of focus!
Oh, and that's assuming that my mind is even in a position for deep focus. It doesn't work like the chart above unfortunately, that is just a rough example with "all things being considered equal."
In reality, we don't have fixed minds that are always ready for focusing when we give them room to work.
Some days, I might need 100% dedication to a task just to get anything done while on other days, I might knock out 10,000 words in a couple of hours while drinking a 3-4 beers as I do it.
Although the 25 minutes seemed like a generous exaggeration for the study, the 1 distraction per hour was incredibly generous for my reality. I was experiencing these several times an hour, not just once like the chart depicted.
If that study is even partially true, my peak creative levels would almost never be reached in a regular work day.
The idea of unlocking this heightened level of creativity and effectiveness forced my hand. It was time to outsource every little task I could think of.
So, I made a list of the "2 minute tasks," that had value but could be done by someone who wasn't me.
The list went on and on.
If it didn't require creating or driving the general direction of my businesses, I wanted it in the hands of someone else.
It's not like I haven't been outsourcing before either. In fact, I spend $10s of $1,000s each year hiring experts, freelancers and agencies for high level tasks.
It just was that I was doing a terrible job of getting the little things off my plate.
So, I got a new office space, totally free from distractions and decided to ditch the little things for good.
I hired my brother (local college student) to work for me Monday - Friday to handle all of the admin and support tasks.
Am I exactly where I want to be with this yet? No, of course not, I will probably never get there and that's fine. I don't need perfection, I just love that I identified a way to get better everyday.
Since offloading most of my tiny tasks, my creative output has dramatically improved.
I just finished this article for instance in 2 hours without a single distraction.
I challenge you to do the same (if you haven't already). Even if it's small steps at a time and just $10/week. Make progress towards removing the little tasks from your life so you can focus entirely on the big ones.
What are the little things you can outsource? Tell me in the comments!