Getting Tasks Done That You Really Don’t Want To Do: The 20-Minute Rule

by Dani Fake Webb on June 23, 2010

Have you ever had a task you really don’t want to do? You know, the one that haunts you every time you open the closet, turn on the computer, or see the stack of papers?

It’s that very same task that you re-write over and over again in your planner, telling yourself week after week “I’ll do it this week. I swear!”

And still, there it sits on your to do list, screaming for the check mark that never comes…


At this point, I invite you to select a “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do,” and apply the following steps to that task.

Go ahead. Get out a pen and paper. Write down the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do,” the one you have been putting off for weeks.

I’ll wait.

1. Assess the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do”

First and foremost, determine if this task really needs to be on your list at all. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it really necessary?
  • Am I choosing to do this task? Or is it a should?
  • What would happen if I choose to never to this task?
  • Can I delete this task from my list and just not do it? Why or why not?
  • Who am I doing this task for?

If you make it through this list and decide that the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do” needs to still be on your list, proceed to step #2.

2. Why Are You Choosing to do the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do?”

Become clear on your why. Why is this task on your list?

  • Who will benefit?
  • Why does that matter?
  • How do you want to feel after completing the task?
  • What will you get out of doing the task?

Settle in on a solid why before you move to the next step. Write your why on your paper under the task you listed.

Go ahead. I’ll wait again.

3. To Do? Or Project?

Take a look at that “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do.” Is it really a to-do? Or is it a project?

Here’s the difference: A to-do is something you can check of your list if you can complete it in less than 20 minutes. A project is a set of several less than 20-minute to-dos.

  • My guess is that most of the “Tasks You Really Don’t Want To Do” are projects.
  • When projects are mislabeled as to-dos, the to-dos seem too big and overwhelming.
  • The result is tasks take forever to get done (as they drain your energy with their nagging presence along the way!)

Am I right? Is the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do” a project? If so, proceed to step #4.

4. 20-Minute Magic

Once you have determined that the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do” is actually a project, the next step is to turn that task into a series of actual to-dos (meaning tasks that can be completed in less that 20 minutes).

Take a look at your “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do.” What is the very first thing that needs to happen to make progress?

Take a few minutes to sit down and break the task into chunks, baby steps, turtle steps – whatever you want to call them – that take no longer than 20 minutes (and if 20 minutes seems too much, determine what the first minute of completing that task would be).

Here’s an example:

Task You Really Don’t Want To Do: Clean out hall closet.

Can this be done in 20-minutes? Not likely. So, it’s a project.

Here’s what the to-do list for that project might look like:

  • Get three boxes from basement
  • Label boxes “Trash, Recycle, Donate”
  • Put on music to create a fun energy
  • Take everything out of closet and put on floor
  • Go through closet contents and put each one in one of four places:
    • Trash box
    • Recycle box
    • Donate box
    • Back in closet
  • Take Trash box to trash
  • Put Recycle box with recycling
  • Put Donate box in the car
  • Take Donate box to Good Will

Note how every thing on that list can be done in less than 20 minutes. Now, it might look like a lot more to-dos, but remember that you have not gotten that closet cleaned out for months! And the reason is likely because it seemed TOO BIG.

But, going to your basement to get three boxes isn’t too big. And BAM, just like that, just by getting those boxes, you’ve made more progress on that closet than you have in months. Excellent.

Now it’s your turn. Take the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do” and break it into chunks. No step is too small! Break it down until each task is small enough that you will do it!

  • Confession: I’ve had writing projects broken down so small that my first five steps were:
    1. Get laptop
    2. Sit at desk
    3. Turn off Internet
    4. Open Word
    5. Set timer for 20 minutes

Seems silly, I know, but if it is a task I really really really don’t want to do, drastic steps are necessary!

5. Execute

Now it is time to actually take action on the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do.”

By this point, however, the task will be a whole lot less daunting. Just look at the first step on your list, and do it!

Here’s the best part: When you’ve done less-than-20-minute step #1, check it off the list!!!  NO. MATTER. HOW.  SMALL.


The idea here is that you don’t have to write the whole article or clean out the whole closet or fill out the entire application all at once. Just tackle it 20 minutes at a time.

Here’s the cool thing: Often, just by doing the first item on the project list, you will stir your motivation. And with this motivation, you might knock out three 20-minute tasks in a row! Net result = one hour of work on the project. Cool.

6. Celebrate

This might be the most important step of all.  As you complete each item in the project, celebrate the progress. You don’t have to wait until it is all done until you celebrate.

Celebrate the baby steps.

Here’s to you and the completion of the “Task You Really Don’t Want To Do.” Cheers!


Until next time, may you love your life today.


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Josie September 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm

So helpful, Thank You :)

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