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. I’ll describe how later on, but for now suffice it to say that it’s a few pages long – especially the honey-do portion.
So where do I start? Sequential isn’t appropriate since the tasks have varying levels of importance and time sensitivity.
Each morning I take a few moments to review my list and decide on the three key tasks, my “Big Three,” that I want to get accomplished that day. Just three, no more, no less. Sure, 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 then have time to work on a fourth task, but I won’t include it.
Those 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 there are other organizational or process issues to deal with.
I’ve used this Big Three method for nearly ten years and although simple, it has probably created the largest boost in my productivity. It is amazing how much gets done over a week, month, and year if just three key tasks are accomplished each day.
What happens if I don’t accomplish one of the Big Three? I reflect on my day’s activities, including the Big Three, at the end of each day. I try to understand what happened and what barriers were encountered, then I try to put countermeasures into place. 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? I’ve learned a lot about myself.