Contrary to popular belief, thinking of productivity as how much you can get done in a day is a counter-intuitive mindset.
Approaching your to-do list in this way operates on the assumption that all the tasks on it are of equal importance and have equal value.
In reality, they probably don’t.
There’s a better method of approaching productivity – one that ensures you don’t feel overwhelmed, aren’t running around fighting fires all day, and actually get those high-value tasks done.
Let’s dive in to find out about the power of prioritisation and the magic of the number three.
Be intentional about your time
In his book, Getting Results The Agile Way: A Personal Results System For Work And Life, J.D. Meier poses the question: “is your day by design or by default?”
It’s an interesting question to think about. As practice leaders, so much of our day happens by default. An issue needs addressing, something needs sorting out, a question needs to be answered, and before we know it the day is gone and we’ve failed to achieve what we’d hoped.
Whilst we can’t avoid these things completely – nor predict when they’re going to happen – we can put boundaries in place by being intentional about how we spend our time.
And the best way to do that?
The Rule of Three.
Three is the magic number
Our brains instinctively remember things by using patterns. The smallest number that can make a pattern is the number three. The Rule of Three is used in storytelling, marketing, and even the military.
It’s no wonder, then, that it has been used to great success for productivity.
The Rule of Three in relation to productivity was developed by performance and innovation coach J.D. Meier, who emphasises the importance of identifying your three top priority tasks.
“By starting your day with three outcomes,” he explains, “you clarify what you want to accomplish. When you know what you want to accomplish, you can prioritise more effectively, and you can let things go.”
What are your priorities?
Sometimes it can be difficult to identify which tasks are the most important. When we’re busy, stressed, and shoulder a lot of responsibility, it can feel almost impossible to prioritise anything! We might feel that everything needs to be done, and it needs to be done now.
When it comes to figuring out which tasks are a priority, it helps to slow down. Take a breath.
On a piece of paper, write down four headings: the next day, week, month, and year. Under each heading, write down no more than three tasks that you aim to complete in order to feel that day, week, month, or year has been a success.
If you’re struggling, ask yourself this question:
“If I could only complete three things this day/week/month/year, which three things would add the most value to my business?”
This is the framework around which you build your to-do list. You can combine this with the “must, should, and could” approach:
- Tasks you must get done go into your top three
- Tasks you should get done go underneath, for after you’ve accomplished the top three
- Tasks you could get done are there for any extra time, or should be delegated, automated, or deleted entirely where possible.
The benefits of The Rule of Three
By now you might be thinking: “I’ve tried all the productivity hacks under the sun. What makes this one any different?”
Let’s find out.
- You work deliberately rather than reactively
Using this method, your day is intentional, tracked, and most importantly, useful. You can see where you’ve spent your time and whether it was worth it. This is not to say that you can’t react if something needs attending to in the moment, but your day isn’t going to be taken up with fighting fires. You’ve set your priorities, and everything else comes around those.
- You stay on track
It’s easy to get distracted in today’s noisy, busy world. And as business leaders, we’ve got more reason than most to feel our attention is being pulled in several different directions.
I’m sure we’ve all lost track of time throughout the work day, only to snap back into reality and realise we’ve spent hours attending to tasks that don’t offer much value to the business goals we’re trying to accomplish.
With this method, when we feel lost, directionless, and unsure what to do next, we can turn our attention back to those top three tasks.
- It simplifies the process
The Rule of Three uses a touch of reverse psychology. It has the unique effect of making us want to accomplish more because we’re not asking too much of ourselves.
This is at the heart of this productivity method and what makes it so effective. When we overfill our to-do lists with five or more tasks we want to get done each day, we’re likely to feel overwhelmed, incapable, and unsure where to start.
- It adds up
Completing just three tasks a day might not sound like much, but that’s 780 tasks over the working year!
And of course, if you complete your three tasks for the day, you can fill the rest of your time with those lower-priority tasks.
- Produces real outcomes
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of having an untidy to-do list, strewn with tasks that have been there for months, continually getting pushed back. The Rule of Three forces us to look at these tasks analytically: are they worthy of being in our top three for that day, week, month, or year? If not, can they be automated, delegated, or deleted?
Focusing our energy and attention on high-value tasks will inevitably lead to high-value results. When we’re limiting the distractions around us, we’re also limiting the barriers to entry when it comes to achieving our long-term business goals.