Why does this work? Well, first of all, you are more likely to procrastinate on smaller tasks, allowing them to become bigger and bigger over the course of the day as more time and thought are put in than necessary. Secondly, you are more likely to get results when a task is finished immediately. Small assignments are the most vulnerable to being buried in the workflow and never attended to. You say “I can do that later,” but “later” never arrives.
Of course, the “Under 10 Minutes Rule” is only effective if you leave some wiggle room in your schedule. If you have back-to-back meetings or multiple assignments that require heavy lifting every day, you just won’t have time for anything else. Therefore, you should assume that you’ll spend at least an hour per work day dealing with these small tasks and budget accordingly.
In my mailbox, as soon as a task has been attended to, the corresponding messages are removed and placed in an appropriate folder. Thanks to the “Under 10 Minutes” Rule, my inbox is nearly always empty. I don’t lose things due to clutter, I don’t get overwhelmed by all of the things I have to do, and my level of responsiveness is second to none.
To crystallize how this works in practice, here are my to-dos for a given work day. At the bottom are “Under 10 Minutes” tasks that came in that day, and went right back out.
Alex’s To-Dos for Friday, March 14, 2014
- Fast Track Productivity Blog Post (2 hours, completed by EOD)
- Women and Leadership Powerpoint Edits (1 hour, completed by EOD)
- Radio Interviews for New Book Release (1 hour, completed by EOD)
- New Client Exploratory Meeting (2 hours, completed by EOD
- Write book interview responses for Forbes (viewed task 9:15AM, completed by 9:25AM)
- Forward LinkedIn introduction for colleague (viewed task 10:02AM, completed by 10:06AM)
- Confirm availability for in person client summit (viewed task at 12:31PM, completed by 12:37PM)
- Read augmented reality article from Futurist Magazine (viewed task 2:09PM, completed by 2:15PM)
- Do daily social media updates (viewed task 2:15PM, completed by 2:25PM)
- Order new phone charger (viewed task 2:25PM, completed by 2:30PM)
- Send invoices (viewed task 4:32PM, completed by 4:40PM)
- Review short-term client research plan (viewed task 5:15PM, completed by 5:25PM)
Looking at this entire list, I sure felt more productive than I would if I had I put off all of the little stuff!
Now don’t get me wrong. The “Under 10 Minutes Rule” has its challenges. If you are a high-profile individual who gets loads of email, for instance, it’s conceivable that you could spend all day responding to short requests without ever touching any strategic work.
If this is the case, I recommend blocking a full hour every day to complete at least six of these “Under 10 Minutes” tasks. Until that hour arrives, ignore them. Then, when the time comes, create a system to prioritize your top six, do them one after the other, and don’t allow yourself to get distracted until all of them are finished and sent off.