The Two-Minute Rule to Stop Procrastinating

James Clear, the author of the book "Atomic Habits", proposes a valuable strategy to stop procrastinating. He claims that, while it's true that you're often gripped by anxiety, tiredness, or fear, you can be more productive.
The Two-Minute Rule to Stop Procrastinating
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 10 March, 2023

Have you been a prisoner of the procrastination trap for a while? Is your to-do tray full to overflowing? Do you feel bad about yourself because you’re excessively delaying certain of your obligations? This is a common sensation in humans. However, sometimes, suffocating delays can reach almost problematic quotas.

In reality, postponing an activity isn’t always due to laziness, but it’s caused by wanting to avoid any negative emotions associated with the task. For example, you know you should make a start once and for all on that important task or academic project, but you’re paralyzed by the fear of failure or of not doing a good job.

Therefore, you find yourself putting off these tasks a thousand times over. But, much to your despair, procrastination leaves you with a mind full of anxiety and insecurities.

If you identify with this kind of situation, there’s a simple strategy that’ll help you stop procrastinating.

“When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

-James Clear-

Spiral in the mind of a person symbolizing the effect of the two-minute rule to stop procrastinating
We’ve all been through times when we put off what we’re afraid to start.

The two-minute rule to stop procrastinating

One of the best-selling books on personal development and productivity is Atomic Habits. Its author, James Clear, is a specialist in habit-forming. He’s experienced great success with his personal blog and on social media. One of his frequent mantras is that big changes start from the simplest and most elementary strategies.

The two-minute rule to stop procrastinating is a simple strategy developed by Clear to build new skills and routines. Due to his own experiences, this entrepreneur and trainer proposes that we start to commit ourselves to avoid falling into what he defines as the ‘valley of disappointment’.

You’ve probably put aside one or more of your dreams because you weren’t able to establish good habits to achieve what you wanted. Achievement comes from discipline. However, it’s difficult to be methodical and disciplined when you’re gripped by the fear of failure and self-demand.

As James Clear points out, to be successful you must pay more attention to the method and the tools than to the objective itself. Let’s take a look at his strategy to stop procrastinating.

1. Define what habit you want to develop

It might seem obvious, but clearly defining what habit you want to establish in your daily life is of vital importance. Your habits allow you to achieve your goals. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to identify them.

  • If you want to pass an exam, you need to establish a study routine. If you’re looking forward to winning a tennis tournament, a marathon, or a medal in a swimming competition, integrating training habits into your daily routine is the most critical starting point.

We all have the potential to build long-term habits by beating procrastination easily.

2. Create a gateway habit that lasts just two minutes

The two-minute rule to stop procrastinating is based on creating a ‘gateway habit’. It means dedicating just two minutes to the task that you want to integrate into your daily routine. It sounds so simple you might find doubt its effectiveness. However, it really works.

A study conducted by the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) claims that we find it difficult to achieve long-term goals because they conflict with our daily desires and impulses (spending time on our cell phones, watching tv, meeting people, etc.). Our minds immediately get confused. Consequently, it becomes difficult for us to commit ourselves to specific purposes.

Engaging in two-minute habits doesn’t take up time. It’s simple and it creates daily commitment. James Clear describes it in his book as follows:

  • Change “Read before bed each night” to “Read one page”. (Two minutes).
  • Change “Do thirty minutes of yoga” to “Take out your yoga mat”. (Two minutes).
  • Change “Study for class” to “Open your notes”. (Two minutes).

3. Gradually move from easy to difficult

The key to the two-minute rule to stop procrastinating suggests that you prioritize the smallest things before the most complicated ones. You should also start devoting a small amount of time to the habits you want to normalize.

The objective is twofold. On the one hand, it seeks to get your brain used to these tasks, thus managing its energy and motivation.

On the other hand, you’ll feel more secure by reducing your burden of anxiety. In fact, you’ll gain confidence and assurance and won’t be derailed in your purpose to achieve your goal. Moreover, once you’ve established the two-minute gateway habit, you’ll gradually increase the time you invest in your new habit.

Nothing will happen if, for a month, all you do is take out your study books and leave them on the table. Nor if, when training, you limit yourself to just putting on your running shoes. However, if, day by day and week by week, you increase the time you invest in the task, you’ll temper your fears and doubts surrounding the activity and it’ll become a habit in your brain.

The key to stop procrastinating is to start with small two-minute tasks. No more. Standardizing a habit allows you to gradually optimize it.

Woman doing sports in the gym applying the two-minute rule to stop procrastinating
To stop procrastinating, commit to making small daily advances, thus reducing your feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

Stop procrastinating with small steps

Before you run, you must walk. Before you write that bestseller, you must turn on the computer. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is something you must understand and accept. However, your mind often puts too much pressure on you and you want to reach the top of the mountain in one afternoon.

You need to understand that, to stop procrastinating you must activate yourself. Take a small step, no matter how insignificant it is. Two minutes are enough. The most important thing is to continue advancing a little more each day until you ritualize the habit, it becomes automatic, and you increase the time you invest in it.

Consider the fact that this insignificant task is already defining the type of person you want to become. It’s what you want to achieve, it’s your starting point and the base from which you’ll take momentum. On the other hand, if you keep procrastinating and are weighed down by anxiety, fear of failure, and the shadow of excessive self-demand, don’t hesitate to seek expert help.

After all, sometimes, if you want to achieve your goals, you have to heal first.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Clear, James (2020) Hábitos atómicos: Cambios pequeños, resultados extraordinarios. Diana
  • van der Weiden A, Benjamins J, Gillebaart M, Ybema JF, de Ridder D. How to Form Good Habits? A Longitudinal Field Study on the Role of Self-Control in Habit Formation. Front Psychol. 2020 Mar 27;11:560. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00560. PMID: 32292376; PMCID: PMC7135855.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.