This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Like most people, I maintain a fairly long to-do list of personal and professional projects. It’s a few pages long—especially the honey-do portion. Because the list can be intimidating, I need a good strategy to tackle it. Going about it sequentially isn’t appropriate, since the tasks have varying levels of importance and time sensitivity, so each morning, I take a few moments to review my list and decide on the “Big Three” tasks that I want to get accomplished that day. Just three—no more, no less. Sometimes, one of the three may only take ten minutes, but if it rises to the importance of being one of the top three, then it deserves a spot. Maybe I’ll have time to work on a fourth task during the day, but I won’t include it on the list. By limiting the number to just three, you are forced to prioritize and focus on getting the best return in the short period of just one day.
The Big Three become the focus for the day, and I list them in my journal to ensure I stay on track. I try very hard not to insert another priority that may arise during the day, unless it absolutely, positively has to be there. (If such grenades are being launched into your schedule on a regular basis, then you might have other organizational or process issues to deal with.)
At the end of the day, I reflect on the day’s activities, including the Big Three. If I did not finish one of them, I try to understand what happened and what barriers I encountered. Did I underestimate the scope of a task? Was I distracted or interrupted? Did a different high priority task “grenade” get lobbed into my day? If so, why? Was it truly more important, or just more interesting? After figure out the barriers, I try to put countermeasures into place to do better next time. Through this process, I’ve learned a lot about myself.
I’ve used this Big Three method for nearly ten years and although it is simple, it has probably created the largest boost in my productivity out of anything I have tried. It is amazing how much you can get done over a week, month, or year if you just finish three key tasks every day.