Three things. Two minutes. 30 seconds.
Yes, I like easy-to-memorize rules. I’m definitely one of those people who tries to do far too much in a day and can often feel anxious, stressed, and not just a little disorganized. However, productivity does not have to mean running around like a crazy person. These three little rules ring in my head when I need them throughout the day and have gone a long way in helping me prioritize and even relax a little, while still being satisfyingly productive. I hope they help you too.
Three things. Write down a three item to-do list. No more. Sometimes I do this the evening before, if not then in the morning when I’m planning the day. Three things is manageable and helps you focus your energy throughout the day. This is really great for handling big goals-just write one small step on your three things to-do list. If I’m having trouble narrowing my mental list of a million things down to three for the day I consider 1) big wins, would one action have a big meaningful result or move something significantly forward? 2)time sensitivity paired with priority. I stress the priority here as we can be tricked sometimes into thinking something is important when it is merely urgent (like, hitting up a sale that’s about to end. It ends today but would buying some on sale clothes further your goals? maybe yes, but if not, you might consciously choose a more important task).
Side note. I got the idea of big wins from articles on Ramit Sethi’s blog and have found the concept to be extremely helpful in prioritizing tasks.
Two minutes. Can this be completed in two minutes or less? Do it now. This little exercise does a couple of things for me. For one, it clears my head of a bunch of little piddling to-dos that I will inevitably forget because they’re small tasks to begin with. Two, they give me a little feeling of rewards because, hey, at least that’s done. Also, they bring a little consciousness to how I’m spending my time. For instance, if I’m a checking an e-mail and I know it’ll only take a minute to respond but I think to myself, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time to send even a short response to this e-mail,” then that is a little consciousness spark. “Hey, why am I checking e-mail if think I’m too busy to actually respond? Better get back to that report that I was mindlessly drifting away from…” I also use a variation of this to tackle tasks that feel overwhelming, like organizing my clothes. “I will spend exactly two minutes putting items from that wadded up pile on hangers”. Voila, progress.
30 seconds. I got this idea ingrained in me when I did some construction monitoring and we had to do daily safety meetings. The idea was, before you start any task, take 30 seconds to think about what you are about to do. When me mindlessly go into what is a typically routine task we risk injury. (Ugh, just this week I zoned out while digging and fell. On the ground. I fell.) Over the years I’ve started applying this to my life in general with great results. Stopping at your door before heading out and thinking “OK, I’m going to work and I’m not coming home until— oh yeah, I’m going to the bank after work….” That 30 second pause is usually just long enough for my brain to say ‘hey you forgot something’ or to snap me out of some far away thoughts and bring me back to the here and now, “Oh yeah, I should be looking around while backing up and not thinking about how annoying my coworker is right now.”
These three ‘rules’, if you will, have helped me a lot in having productive, yet not too-anxious and hectic days. If you try any of them I’d love to hear about it and if you have your own to share, please do!