Imagine going back to work after a holiday. You want a fresh start – perhaps you’ve been meaning to come up with a better work routine for a while. Here’s a killer one that is practically risk-free.
When you sit in front of your computer on the first morning and open up your inbox, it is far too easy to forget about what’s important to work on when more urgent (but less important) tasks come your way. Sound familiar? What you need is an anchor to keep you focused on the important things. The absolute best technique for doing just that, and to work deliberately and with intention every day is the Rule of Three.
The Rule of Three
The rule is dead simple: At the beginning of every day, mentally fast-forward to the end of the day, and ask yourself: When the day is over, what three things will I want to have accomplished? Write those three things down. Do the same at the beginning of every week. The three things you identify then become your focus for the day and the week ahead. That’s it.
Fighting the urge to check your email and get distracted is tough, but it’s worth resisting so you can step back to have a clear mind while you think about what’s important to you. If you have trouble thinking of things you should aim for as one of your three, try to think in terms of ‘wins, achievements and highlights’, like achieving a milestone on a project, clearing out your backlog of things to do, or winning over a customer.
You may also find it helpful to look through your calendar to see what meetings and commitments you have coming up, so you can get a good handle on how much time, attention, and energy you’ll have to work with. Becoming more productive is a process of understanding your constraints, and observing how much time, attention and energy you have will help you adjust accordingly.
Too Easy? Take It Up a Notch
If you want to ramp up the rule further, here are a few simple suggestions.
Think about when, where, and how you’re going to accomplish each item throughout the day. Studies show this makes acting out the goal easier and more automatic, and that it’s especially helpful for carrying out unpleasant tasks.
In addition to deciding on the three main things you want to accomplish, select other small tasks you intend to accomplish over the course of the day. The three things you intend to accomplish may be your primary focuses for the day, but there will almost definitely be other smaller tasks you need to accomplish, too. Keep in mind your constraints.
Set two alarms during your workday. When they go off ask yourself: Do you remember what your three daily goals are? Do you remember your three weekly goals? If you do, are you on track to achieve them?
Too hard? Start Smaller
Start with just the daily ritual. Once you feel how effective the Rule of 3 is over the course of the day, you’ll jump at the chance to use it on a weekly basis, too. Trust me on this one.
When planning, keep your highest-impact tasks in the back of your mind. And if you decide to try the rule in your personal life (which is worth a shot, especially when you have a lot of personal goals), keep in mind how connected your three accomplishments are with your values.
At the end of the day and week, reflect on how realistic your three accomplishments were. Did you have a good understanding of how much time, attention, and energy you would have to accomplish the three items? Were they too large and intimidating? Reflecting on how realistic you were will let the rule help you more and more over time.
Adapted from The Productivity Project: Proven Ways to Become More Awesome by Chris Bailey