The Rule of Three for Getting Things Done


Our world seems to move faster and faster every day. If you are like me, your “to-do” list never seems to get any shorter. Many of us are on the proverbial “hamster wheel,” spinning and running ever faster, but getting nowhere. We constantly react to what is put in front of us, and we dutifully add it to our list of things to get done. 

Human nature likes it when we check things off our list or cross them out. The more we cross off our list, the more productive we feel. The curse or challenge is when the important stuff is not getting done. The next level of productivity is leveraging getting the things done that move the needle in accomplishing significant projects or goals.

Focus on the things that add the most value to your business or company. The rule of three requires that each day you establish the three most important things you have to get done.

The rule of three helps you work deliberately. We get new tasks and outputs that demand our attention – phone calls, e-mails, a boss asking for a report. When you work deliberately and base your effort on critical things that bring value and impact, the superficial falls away. Are you a firefighter, putting out office fires, or are you working with purpose on crucial things? Walk into your office every day with a plan of the important things you want to get done.

The rule of three helps you keep on track. Human nature is to let our attention wander and to get distracted. Knowing what three important things you want to accomplish that day brings your focus back to the top three things to get done. 

The rule of three is simple and easy to remember. Many time management systems are complex. The rule of three is simple and easy to implement. It requires you to take a moment before the start of the day to identify the top three things you want to get done and that will have the most significant impact. It is not a long list of 10 or 15 things to do; just a list of three critical things to get done.

The rule of three helps you identify the unimportant things. Do you have things that appear on your list every day or every week and get carried over to the next list? Then it is time to delete, delegate, or do it. Keep asking:  “What brings the most value to my business, company, or group?”

Write your three key things down on paper. I use a 3×5 note card. Physically writing what you want to accomplish that day will help ingrain them in your memory. I know many people will use their “notes” on their smartphone or other electronic systems, but paper and pen work best for me.

Finally, be flexible with yourself, because there will be days when you need to put out fires, and you will need to react. Hopefully, those days will be fewer and fewer, as you develop this system.