Have you ever found yourself hopelessly entangled in what should have been a simple project? Ever realized way too late that that you’re off on a tangent? Do you often find yourself completely out of touch with what you’re trying to do?

Get the 2 hours rule into your system, and you’ll be saving yourself a world of creative pains.

The 2 hours rule is simple yet powerful. In fact, it’s one of the fundamental ideas driving the CreativityWise process. Here it is:

[tweet “If you can’t make it in under 2 hours, you probably can’t make it at all.”]

(By the way: if this rings a bell for you, that’s probably because a very smart person called Albert Einstein once said something very similar: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. He was talking about complex theories in physics, but the concept is basically the same. Always good to have Einstein on your side!)

Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that everything you do should take less than 2 hours to complete. I am saying, that you should be able to create a pretty detailed rough version fairly quickly; and that if you find it difficult to do so, that’s a very strong sign of creative troubles down the line.

As an example, let’s say you’re writing a short fiction. You’ve explored your materials: collected information, wrote down notes and ideas, created an outline, and you feel ready to start writing for real. The 2 hours rule means that you should now be able to quick-write a rough version of your story in under 2 hours. That’s your acid test, and if you can’t do it, something’s wrong.

His or Hen’s

Here’s a real-life example: the quick and rough pass for my “His or Hen’s” short. I think this took about 30 minutes or so. I didn’t get to make that film (yet!), but here’s a fun little pitch – do compare it with the rough pass!

Why the 2 hours rule makes sense

I’m sure you’ve noticed that as soon as you start working, your ability to judge your own ideas starts waning. As more ideas, options and practical considerations flow through your brain, it gets increasingly hard to keep your message focused. Small problems grow bigger than they really are, while big problems slowly fade away from your attention. Time also makes it hard to stay concentrated, and inevitably something’s going to distract you and break your line of thought: a phone call, or even nature’s call. Wait a minute – where was I?

You can imagine the clock of objectivity and focus start ticking backwards as soon as you start working. How long before your judgment is completely obscured? It changes, but in my experience it’s very hard to go past the 2 hours mark.

In fact, 2 hours is stretching it: most people in most cases will find it hard to maintain a high level of focus for even 30 minutes. Knowing your own limitations and preferences will go a long way for adjusting the 2 hours rule to you personally.

How to use the 2 hours rule

The idea is not so much to race against time (though working fast is important – more on this in my article 3½ reasons to start FAST; see link below). It’s about taking the hint. If you can’t say it briefly and clearly, that’s a strong indication that something isn’t right. Recognizing the sign and taking action can save you a lot of grief down the road!

Here are some ideas of what could be wrong, and how to fix it. Feel free to suggest more ideas! Add them in the comments below.

  1. Your concept is too complex. You might be trying to include too much, or perhaps you have several strong concepts competing with each other. Remember that less is often more!
    Action: you might need to simplify your message or cut some stuff away.
  2. Your concept it weak. Fun little details and cool niceties often make it difficult to judge the underlying concept. If your fast and rough version feels hollow and disappointing, it might indicate that the concept doesn’t hold up.
    Action: ask yourself – or better yet, ask someone else – if the core concept is strong enough. If it isn’t, see if you can find a way to augment it.
  3. Your vision isn’t solid enough. Are you really clear on what you’re trying to do? Are you emotionally connected? Maybe you’re just not ready to go into “make” mode just yet.
    Action: dig deeper into your ideas. Make sure you develop a solid vision before going forward.
  4. You need to get better at abbreviating your ideas. Doing things quickly and roughly is a creative skill – and a very important one. If you find it difficult to make out or express the main outline of your idea, you might need to work on that.
    Action: read some of the stuff under the purple Capture tab. If you feel the problem might be there, consider taking our Go*Capture course.

How the 2 hours rule saved me a lot of pain

My eBook How to Kick Start Your Career in a Creative Industry started as a series of lectures I gave on several occasions. I got a lot of positive feedback from listeners, so when I set about writing it all in eBook form, I felt very much ready for it.

As soon as I started writing, however, I felt things were starting to blur out. I couldn’t summarize it quickly enough – every time I tried it somehow turned out wrong. Something was amiss, and I stopped writing and tried to figure out what it was.

It turned out that the concept was too complex – I tried to push in too much stuff that didn’t want to connect. The solution? I split the book in two, creating two different outlines for two different kinds of audiences. As soon as I did that, things started flowing almost effortlessly and I completed the eBook within a few days. You can get the book HERE and see if you like the result – and by the way, it’s free for CreativityWise members! (While we’re on the subject – if you’re not a member yet, you’re totally missing out…click here for your free membership.)

Oops – I’m almost past my second hour here… Better wrap this up!


In any form of art you’re convenient with, find a work you really like and try to express it in under 20 minutes. Keep it rough and expressive! Post a link to your work in the comments section, and if possible a link to the original work as well!


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