When I started working primarily from home several years ago, I had grand plans for all I was going to accomplish. And I did get a lot done—on any given day I could be found cleaning my office, answering emails, doing loads of laundry, preparing healthy meals...
There was just one problem.
Something very important to me wasn’t getting done: my writing.
In part, it was because the things I consider most significant—such as writing—are also projects that require the most concentration and discipline. It was so much easier to procrastinate, yet still gain a sense of achievement, by completing less demanding tasks.
But I was tricking myself. While I relished the instant gratification of checking things off my to-do list, I was sacrificing the more substantial satisfaction of accomplishing something that has deep meaning to me.
And the instant gratification didn’t last long. Though it felt good in the moment, at the end of the day I was left with a lingering haze of anxiety, like smoke from a recently extinguished campfire. I was painfully aware that I hadn’t made any appreciable progress on one of the most important callings of my life.
Several changes to my routine have helped me turn this situation around. But there’s one easy principle in particular that has made a big difference: the Rule of 3.
(Credit to Jeremy Anderberg, whose article Get More Done with the Rule of 3 introduced me to this concept.)
What is the Rule of 3?
Simply this: Each day, write down your three most important goals for the day. At the end of the day, if you’ve accomplished those three things, you consider the day a success.
Since beginning to implement the Rule of 3, I've found five main ways this practice helps me:
- It encourages me to revisit my priorities. What am I working toward? What are the main projects on my plate right now?
- It forces me to acknowledge that I am finite, time is limited, and there is only so much I can reasonably expect to complete in a given day. How am I going to make the most of the time I’ve been given?
- It requires me to triage tasks and determine what immediate steps will make the biggest impact on my major goals.
- It creates a sense of order to my day. I realize if I want to get those three things done, I need to focus on them early on. If I don’t, I put them at risk of being pushed later and later into the day, when I’m more likely to be tired or distracted by other things (like my adorable husband).
- It helps me feel better. It simplifies my day, and knowing I’ve succeeded if I’ve completed just a few main things has relieved a lot of pressure. Also, when I actually achieve my top three, I sidestep that anxious feeling that comes from not completing what is most important. Instead, I end the day with a sense of success.
The Rule of 3 is also an effective tool to use on a weekly, monthly, and yearly scale. It can be helpful to start with yearly or monthly goals, then break them down into steps to create weekly and daily goals. We’re always more motivated when we have a long range vision of where we’re headed.
I haven’t eliminated my to-do list, but this approach has changed the way my to-do list looks. I write and number my top three on one side of my daily planner, then on the opposite side I make a list of other tasks that I will pay attention to once my primary goals are done.
I don’t write my goals down every day (though I aspire to that!) and sometimes I only write down one or two main goals. This is usually when I have something bigger I need to get done that I know will take a significant amount of time, like completing an article.
Knowing I have just a few main tasks each day has made everything feel so much simpler and manageable. It gives me the freedom to let go of less important things or relegate them to a later part of the day. Sure, those daily tasks still need attention, but if the laundry doesn’t get done, it’s not the end of the world. On the other hand, if I don’t do my best to make progress toward my life calling, I may end up living—or worse, dying—with a sense of regret and disappointment that I didn’t fulfill my purpose. I’d rather have dirty laundry.
Proverbs 9:11 “I, Wisdom, will make the hours of your day more profitable and the years of your life more fruitful.” (TLB)
My prayer: Father, thank you that when I trust You, You promise to make my days more productive and my life more fruitful. Thank you that You promise to guide me and give me wisdom. Help me know how to best order my time and what my top priorities should be. Amen.
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