Three Is The Magic Number

Lately, I’ve really been hitting my groove with task completion.  Jobs are set up and knocked down.  Easy.

I attribute this to a change I’ve made in my daily work flow:

Conquer Tomorrow Today

Credit goes to John Lee Dumas of the EO Fire podcast for this one.  It is a simple idea but lets you hit the ground running once you wake up.  The idea is that at the end of your day, you sit down and list the tasks that you need to complete the next day.  There will be a few major ones and a few minor ones.  Some will be dictated by circumstance and others by your short and long term goals.

Dumas recommends listing seven to nine items, which is somewhere in the range of most people’s ability to remember.  I tried that at first but found it didn’t work for me; it was just too many items.  I also developed “list creep” where I would keep adding on to the bottom during the day.

So I dialed it back to three.

Three big jobs or things I need to get done for the day to be a success.  But there is a caveat – these three items are on top of my routine tasks and duties.  It doesn’t make sense to list out things that you already do every day; I don’t need a reminder to brush my teeth!

If you are working to develop a new habit, then by all means add it to the list.  But once something is part of your routine then switch focus to those three high value items that will provide the most return on your time spent.

Combating List Creep

This is harder than you’d think.  As you move through the day, new tasks or reminders pop up and it is natural to add them on to your daily to-do list.  But that list never ends.  By adding things to the bottom you are denying yourself the psychological reward of completion.  And productivity is not about how much we do, it’s about how much we accomplish.

The solution?  More lists!

I keep a second list that I refer to as my “brain dump”.  This serves as a holding area where I can quickly get the idea out of my head, which frees up my mind to continue focusing on the task at hand.  Then, at the end of the day, I review that list and use it to set my three tasks for the following day.  This may sound OCD at first, until you realize that the whole process typically takes about thirty seconds.  It’s that easy.

On top of that I keep a number of other lists for chunking reoccurring tasks, things like:

  • Phone calls to make
  • Emails to send
  • Work in progress
  • Project details

Some items go straight to those lists as required.  But anything that needs some additional thought is put straight onto the catchall list for sorting later.  You can use whichever to-do list style app for managing this.  Personally I’ve been using Google Keep with great success.  It installs and syncs across all of your devices, keeping things nicely up to date no matter where you are working.

Bonus Points

The daily 3 really helps you to focus on what your want to accomplish for the day.  And it can be scaled up as well.  Plan 3 items that you’d like to complete for the week, or the month.  These will probably be some of your larger projects.

It is a simple system but provides some quick focus when you might need it.  Anytime you are left wondering what to do, glance at the list and be reminded.  Take it from me; it feels great to cross all three items off at the end of the day.

Do you have a system in place like this?  Do you even use a to-do list?  Or you just wing it?

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