It starts – and ends – with a question.
At the end of each working day, as part of my shut-down routine before dinner, I open my journal do a little time travel. I fast-forward 24 hours and ask: What three things will feel good to have done, this time tomorrow?
Then I write those down, circling the most important one, or the most difficult, so I get to that first in the morning.
The rule of three has a huge advantage: it’s simple, it’s do-able, and it moves you forward. When I have clients who are in overwhelm or struggling to set up systems to support them, this tends to be the first thing I suggest they try.
You can do this the night before as I do, or in the morning before you start work. The time travel part is important: you’re already feeling what it will be like, to have these tasks completed.
Choosing only three might be difficult at first.
But it helps you focus on what is important, what will really move you or your projects forward. If you finish all three, of course you can do more if you want to. But the key is to do your three, every day, so that you start trusting yourself and getting out of the habit of procrastination.
Make sure each task is do-able in the time you have.
On a day of back-to-back meetings, you might give yourself some reading to do on the train or something you can listen to in the car; a phone call to return or an important email to write, an appointment to schedule.
Even when you have a whole day to work uninterrupted, try to break tasks down into steps that can be completed in an hour or less, so that you have plenty of time to deal with regular daily work and other things that arise. What’s important is to start trusting yourself to always get these things done.
At the start of each week, do the same.
Fast-forward to the end of your working week, and decide what three tasks will move you forward most, if you complete them by the end of the week. Again, make sure they are do-able in your time frame. (If not, break them down to smaller chunks.)
You can then use this to guide your choice of daily tasks.
I make sure that at least one of my weekly three tasks will move a long-term project forward. Because it’s easy to get distracted by immediate deadlines, or fire-fighting, and never get to the big things you really want to do.
This works for almost everything.
- Want to go travelling? Spend an hour researching your chosen destination, checking plane fares, or finding a good hotel or Airb’n’b for your chosen dates.
- Want to learn a new skill? Block out time to study or practice.
- Want to establish a new habit? Make it one of your three things until it’s a firm part of your routine.
At the moment I’m writing a book.
Some days, all I manage is an hour of writing, 8-9am. And this is always one of my three tasks for the day. (I do this in a Zoom room with 100 or more other writers at the London Writers’ Salon. This gives me another important part of getting the important things done: accountability.)
In that time, I usually produce 500-1000 words. Which doesn’t seem like much. But if I put in a couple of extra hours at some point in the week, that’s a chapter drafted.
If you get good at this, you might want to try choosing three work tasks, three personal. But start with just three for everything.
Remember that’s 21 things a week, at least 90 a month, over 1000 a year. But once you get momentum, and learn to look what’s next on your list instead of procrastinating, you’ll end up doing much more. On things that really matter to you.
And that’s it. A deceptively easy productivity tip. Start today!
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Want my free 10-day course, Freelance Foundations: the secrets of successful creatives? Click here.
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