No, an action can definitely take a lot longer than 2 minutes. As I understand it, an action is something that you know how to do, have decided how to do, and can do in one session without stopping and generally without needing to make decisions about how to proceed. A creative task like "paint a picture" will involve many decisions, but presumably if you put this as an action you feel confident that you can make those decisions as you go along. Otherwise the action may need to be more specific, e.g. "draw the outline of this daffodil"; again it will involve some decisions, but presumably ones that won't slow you down too much.
Originally Posted by SapphireHyperDrive
In some sense, doing an action shouldn't require any decision-making. That's a big part of how an action is defined.
For me, usually a step is about 2 hours or less because any longer than that and I'm likely to get interrupted, for example by a mealtime or something. However, as Oogiem says, a step can take more than one session.
If you haven't read an email yet, then "answer the email" probably isn't the next action, because you may need to think and make decisions after reading it and before answering it. If you almost always read an email and answer immediately, then it may be reasonable to put "answer email" as the next action even though there's some decision-making involved in composing the answer. However, if you might read it and go off and do something else while you think about how to answer it, then it's more than one action.
I think it helps to use the word "action" rather than "step".
I wonder whether you're doing a lot of work processing each paper. In other words: processing a paper should be very quick, just deciding what to do with it. Two minutes or less, often a lot less. Because you have a backlog to deal with, you can decide to do even faster processing. You also need time for doing, which can take a lot more than two minutes. You need to separate the processing from the doing.
Originally Posted by SapphireHyperDrive
I've set reminders to myself like that, but I tend to find them annoying. A "next action" should be an actual action which actually accomplishes something (e.g. write and mail a letter in response to one of those papers). The repeating next action you've set for yourself is two steps removed from that, so it doesn't in itself give you satisfaction for completing it. I try to design my system so that I don't have reminders in one system that send me to another system. I do have some like that, but I try to eliminate them if I can. In other words, if you could develop a habit of checking your list of next actions every day and also checking your inbox every day (without a "next action" reminding you to check the inbox) you might feel slightly more in control: going to the inbox because you've decided to do that now, not because a "next action" just told you to.
You could decide to take 3 inches of your inbox stuff each day and do a quick scan of it. In the quick scan, you can look at each item just long enough to recognize what it is and what it's for, and then put it into one of a very small number of piles, about one to three piles. If you have only one pile, it means "OK, I've done a quick scan of this." And then it goes into a backlog box. Two piles could be: one for "I've scanned this" and another for "this is a very small number of things that are extremely urgent that I'm actually going to do something about right after I complete this scan" or something similar. A third pile could be "discard". You could have more piles than that but then your scan might be slower. In this quick scan, you probably are better off not doing the 2-minute rule: that could take too long. Things to be filed probably just get scanned (unless you're really fast at filing things). You might use a 30-second rule.
But surely in each day you can find time to actually "do" at least one thing that takes a lot longer than 2 minutes, e.g. half an hour or something?
A purpose of scanning and processing and organizing is to identify the more important or urgent actions so that you can choose to do them first.
You could do more than one thing at a time, for example doing some paperwork while eating.
You can estimate how quickly papers get into your inbox, and choose an amount to process each day based on that, e.g. process double the amount that usually goes in, or process at a rate such that you'll be down to zero in 3 months, or something.
You can re-adjust, realizing that you've got more going on than you can handle, and decide to eliminate some activities from your life or reduce your responsibilities.
You can look for ways to shorten each task: maybe an email doesn't really require a long response, but a short answer like "how much time do you want me to spend answering that?" and then if the person doesn't even reply then you don't have to do anything. Or partially answer their question and say "if you need more information, let me know." Or "How urgent is this?" and then maybe they'll reply "It's OK, I got the answer from somebody else" and you just saved yourself half an hour looking up information they didn't really need anyway. Some things are important and worth spending time on, and some aren't. Some are things we used to consider important but now that we're busier we reclassify them as things we decide not to spend much time on these days. I think GTD has helped me develop a sense of the value of my own time.
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