Why you should try to accomplish only 3 things this New Year

Takeaway: This New Year, choose three main goals you want to accomplish—both in your work and home life. Three may seem like a small number, but this ritual will force you to separate what’s important from what isn’t, actually remember the intentions you set, and let you act towards these goals on a daily basis.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 31s.

The more frequently you set intentions, the more productive you become. Intentions are built to be acted upon, and especially when they account for the longer-term goals you set, you become more productive in all the best possible ways.

This is why, more than any other productivity tactic, I write about the Rule of 3. It’s one of the simplest productivity tactics out there—and that’s precisely what makes it so powerful.

As a refresher, here’s the rule:

When you wake up, fast-forward to the end of the day in your head. Ask yourself: by the time this day is over, what three things will I want to have accomplished?

The rule is lightweight enough to do at the start of every day (and every week), and has quickly become my favorite productivity ritual.

I think this same rule is worth practicing at the start of every year. This is true for several reasons:

  • We’re wired to think in threes. This is my favorite part of the rule. We have sayings like “good things come in threes,” “celebrities die in threes,” and “the third time’s the charm.” We divide stories into three parts—the beginning, middle, and end—and award three Olympic medals. While we typically can’t remember long lists of things we have to do, we can usually remember three things. This applies whether we use the rule every day, week, month, or year.
  • It’s hard to pick just three things to focus on. This is especially true over the course of an entire year. Picking just three things forces you to filter what’s important from what isn’t. The result is a trio of chosen goals you deeply care about, rather than goals that just sound good on the surface.
  • You can carve out work and personal intentions. In addition to the three work intentions I set every day and week, I also pick three personal intentions to ensure I have balance between my work and my life. Consider this at the start of your year.
  • You can act towards your most important goals on a daily basis. One of the more difficult aspects of investing in productivity is making sure our daily actions progress us towards our bigger, longer-term goals. By setting just three intentions for the year and considering those intentions when we set our weekly and daily intentions, we can regularly think about them and make consistent progress.
  • You can set intentions with your team. You can also use this rule to get your entire team on the same page, and guide them to work on what’s important. At a team level, this rule works brilliantly for setting weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals.

While setting just three goals for the year ahead may seem like a trivial goal, in practice, it’s anything but. Doing so will allow you to choose your focus for the year ahead, and will significantly increase the odds that you’ll achieve what you set out to do.

What three things do you plan to accomplish in 2017?


  • Great read! I would recommend writing everything down and place it somewhere you will see everyday. Put a sticky note on your monitor at work everyday with the 3 things you want to accomplish. Put your personal goals on your bathroom mirror. Writing it down makes the goal more concrete and is a better reminder than keeping it in your head or typing it in your phone.

    • So true—I love keeping my three daily and weekly goals on the whiteboard in my office too!

  • feelthebern

    Interesting thoughts. While I agree with the premise of the rule of 3 and having 3 things you want to get done for the day (MITs), I don’t necessarily think that it applies for the year. I mean, let’s say your 3 goals were to eat healthier, read more, and write more. How do you quantify those things? I’m more into creating a habit a month (from Leo Babauta’s The Habit Guide), so I’ll have 12 habits for the year that hopefully I would have made into a consistent practice.

    • I agree, you gotta pick the right tactic for you! I mostly wrote this from a place of having made a ton of New Year’s resolutions in the past, and not having followed through with any. When it comes to setting yearly goals (if that’s a practice you want to adopt), choosing just three goals is a lot more powerful than setting many more.

  • Samantha Brown

    Hi Chris. On my daily list of three should I put down things that are recurring and already a habit — like working out? It seems if I add these types of things (even though they are important) then the only thing I will ever do is eat right and exercise. I realize I had to add them when I was beginning my habits but what about now? Thanks for any information you can give. Sorry if it is an obvious question.

    • I think it’s worth setting three daily intentions, that may or may not feed into the three large goals for the year! The most effective items usually don’t involve habits—and instead involve something you have to willfully do, I’ve found.

  • Flower Violet

    The rule of 3 has had such a big impact on my life. This year I am focusing on 3 things each month – 2 new habits and 1 bad one to kick. For January, it’s meditation and veganism, plus quitting smoking. Hopefully it will work out over the whole year.


    • So amazing to hear! Good luck

    • I’m impressed with your goals. I wish you the best in accomplishing them!

  • Interesting read. generally I think it’s good to set goals to act upon. It helps us to be focus and working towards the said set goals. I really like the idea of setting 3 goals. Quite a motivational piece. Thanks for taking time to come up with this.

  • Thank you for this. I read it when it was first published but had to come back and read it again because I liked it so much. I can handle three things. I’m easily overwhelmed and therefore get nothing of significance accomplished. Thank you for setting some good boundaries.

  • John Domingo

    Chris, can you give me an example of three things you have picked in the past for the work side of things? Great read by the way. I really like how you can get so much meaning through in so few words, something I need to work on!

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