The Rule of 3

Takeaway: If you’re looking for focus and purpose at the start of each day, use the Rule of Three technique.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 19s.


One of the simplest, most powerful time management techniques I’ve come across lately is the “Rule of 3″ (from the book Getting Results the Agile Way). With A Year of Productivity, I have a lot of stuff to tackle. Media interview requests that are coming in (!!), interviews to book, articles to write, and books to read. With so much stuff, it’s hard to figure out what to focus on. Needless to say, the Rule of Three has helped me immensely.

The rule is simple:

  • First, write down three things you want to accomplish today.
  • Second, write three things you want to accomplish this week.
  • Third, write three things you want to achieve this year.

That’s it.

The book has four recommendations for when you implement the rule:

  1. Start every day by figuring out what to focus on for the day.
  2. Test yourself throughout the day – do you remember what your three priorities are?
  3. Improve your estimates – pay attention to how long you think things will take, and improve your estimates as time goes on.
  4. Feel good about your results! Pat yourself on the back after you achieve what you set off to, for the day, week, and year.

The problem with a lot of productivity and time management systems is they require a lot of overhead, but the Rule of Three doesn’t. Every morning you think about the main three things you have to do, and then you do them. It’s a great technique to figure out what you need to focus on.

I’ll be diving deeper into the Agile Results methodology, and will write more as I discover and experiment with it.

If this is your first time here, welcome! Here are a few good places to start: Welcome (about the project), Experiments (the cool productivity experiments I’m conducting over the year), and Stats (interesting stats about the project so far).

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  • Nathaniel Eliason

    Also, Chris, I just wanted to tell you this was the article that got me hooked on your project. I’ve loved reading your stuff ever since!

    • ayearofproductivity

      You are the MAN! Thanks!

  • Nathan Szwerdszarf

    I’ve been doing a slight variation of this with my to-do list at work. I list 3 things (sometimes a bit more) I need to today on a post-it note. I dont give myself more room to make endless to-do lists – it makes it less daunting.

  • Ludvig Sunström

    Very practical article Chris.

    I don’t do this myself exactly, but I do a very similar thing.

    I can attest to the power of this habit. It’s one of these simple things that makes a big difference over time as you do it every day.

    • Chris Bailey

      Absolutely, I love how it gives me a few focal points for the day so I don’t just blindly respond to the fires that erupt throughout the day. What does your ritual look like?

  • Wan Muhammad Zulfikri Bin Wan

    Good advice for people who constantly loses sight of the things they are supposed to be doing.

    • Chris Bailey

      Absolutely, I totally agree :) One of my favorite rituals every morning is defining my three outcomes for the day for sure.

  • Li-ling

    I like the sounds of this – will be trying it out

    • Chris Bailey

      Awesome! Let us know how it goes :-)

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