There is no position of life so sweet that we might not try to make it sweeter, thereby causing it to over-ripen and spoil.

What a strange drive. Almost laughable. And yet there it is.

In the show Malcolm in the Middle, there is a wonderful scene in which the father, Hal, discovers a light bulb is out and decides to fix it. While doing so, he discovers the shelf that holds the spare light bulbs needs repair. He then decides to repair the shelf. He moves on to find a screwdriver and on it goes…

The same situation can happen to the best of us in many different circumstances. While cleaning, you might start in one corner, move one thing to another room, discover that room a mess, and on it goes. While working on a report, you may write something in one area, be reminded that you’d like to add something elsewhere, wander off and continue the same pattern.

A simple method to streamlining action that is worth considering is to use an Inbox and leverage the 2 minute rule. It is simple in nature, but not necessarily in implementation.  The process is as follows:

  1. Decide and define what you are doing. We can call this the Work. (For example, “Investigate the light bulb”.)
  2. If while working, you discover something else to be necessary to complete the Work:
    • Move to step 5, processing the Inbox,
    • Redefine the Work of step 1.  (E.g. “Get a new light bulb.”)
  3. If while working, you discover something might make things go better but is not necessary to complete the Work,
    • Add the idea to your Inbox. (E.g. “Repair the shelf.”)
  1. Continue with your Work until you actively decide you are done, whether it is completed or not.
  2. Crucially, process the Inbox.

When processing the Inbox, you would then go through, from top to bottom, doing the things that take 2 minutes or less and addressing anything else by creating projects, adding tasks to action lists, and the like. (See Getting Things Done Inbox processing).

Now breaking things out into these 5 steps can seem a little excessive. However, when caught in a loop of this sort, it can be useful to realize the power an Inbox can provide you. The Inbox creates additional steps, but only insofar as it can be an excellent support.  Particularly by making a clear decision as to what your session of work will entail, setting things aside becomes more easily done.