Using the rule of threes to be productive, prioritise effectively and stay focussed
Over the last few years I’ve been finding the Rule of Threes to be really helpful in being productive and setting priorities. And it’s often a tool I’ll reach for if I’m coaching someone who feels they’re struggling to be productive or who would like to achieve more important stuff.
The Rule of Threes itself is really simple – things feels more stable, more rounded and more dynamic when presented in threes. Just as a three-legged stool doesn’t wobble, so the rule of threes is usually a good platform to build on.
Here’s how I use the Rule of Threes to be more productive, to help set priorities and to stay focussed along the way.
First, I use it to help define my planning timescales.
I’ll look at Long-term, Medium-Term and Short-Term priorities for me, my work and my family. For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out what I want to achieve, what I don’t want to do, and how I want the experience to be along the way.
Here are the timescales I use – you should define your own. If you click the main picture at the top of this post, you can download a pictorial version.
- Ten years
- Five years
- Two years
- This year
- Six months
- Two months
Second, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to help decide the scope of what I’m planning.
For me, that often looks something like the sketch below, and for each of my timescales, it includes:
- What do I want to achieve? (which for me is different from what I need to get done)
- What do I choose not to do? (this is one of the keys to staying focussed, and demands as much attention as your achievements)
- How do I want to BE? (which is about the quality of existence I want to experience)
Third, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to focus my efforts.
For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out the top three priorities that I want to cover. For example, each day I write out the top three things I want to achieve that day. (Sometimes I’ll even go mad and add three things I’m not going to do that day and three qualities I’d like to experience).
Here’s what the first bit of writing in your daily planner needs to look like – it really is this simple. If you want to stay focussed and achieve more important things, please, please try this:
- First important thing I want to achieve today
- Second important thing I want to achieve today
- Third important thing I want to achieve today
It doesn’t mean I can’t do other things that day. Nor does it mean (as some people suggest) that you have to do those three things first. I often find that there are some priority items that just have to wait until later in the day. For me, the top three priority items are just those things that are most important to me that day and in the context of my longer-term plans.
And that would be a good place to finish, since I’ve given you three ways to use the Rule of Threes in being productive. Instead though, I’m going to break that rule and suggest another area where it’s helpful in terms of productivity, prioritisation and fulfilment, which is:
Fourth: Reflecting, using the rule of threes to embed learning and boost change.
It can be useful, in all of this planning ahead, to take stock of things as you go. To make sure that it doesn’t all feel like the dead-weight of obligation, and to ensure that you’re being flexible. Being productive is about keeping focussed on the straight and narrow. But it’s also about making timely corrective actions; just trimming the sails as you go. Here’s my framework for that:
- Review – How did I do? You can do this for each of your timescales (see First Step, above)
- Refresh – what would revitalise me?
- Revise – what priorities do I need to change?
So, I might have broken the rule of three with that fourth section, but at least they all start with an R – I do try to think of this stuff…