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The Rule of Three and Time Management

Updated: Feb 22

The Rule of Three and Time Management

The rule of three is a guiding principle that states ideas, themes, features, etc. presented in a series of three proves more memorable and effective than ideas, themes, features, etc. presented in other numeric series.


Apparently, we’re just wired to retain stuff better when information is presented in this format. Fewer than three elements do not allow for a pattern to evolve, and more tends to dilute our ability to retain the message. A few simple and memorable examples include:

·       Of the people, by the people, for the people

·       Stop, drop and roll

·       Ready, set, go!


For today’s discussion, I’d like to offer how applying a variant of the rule of three to your time management arsenal may prove beneficial. More specifically, how to best prioritize your to-do list in a world of the ever-changing schedule.


I understand that your days are packed with all sorts of “things to do”. And oftentimes you find yourself derailed throughout the day…by no fault of your own. And that’s the point. If we can only control what we can control, then our plan for a productive day must be highlighted by priorities we control, while allowing room for the inevitable interruption.


Borrowing a quote from Patrick Lencioni (author, consultant and speaker) who states “if everything is important, then nothing is” highlights the key point to a well-planned to-do list and embracing the concept of priority management. A well-planned effective schedule hinges on the discipline of prioritization.


Step One: reflect for a few minutes and then come back when you have your response to this question: Currently, what are your top three strategic initiatives? In other words, what three projects, objectives or goals are THE most important at this moment? The three above all else, and no more than three.


Step Two: review your to-do list and identify which three items you consider THE top priorities based on the criteria you captured in the first question? Highlight these three, but no more than three.


You have now created your “MUST-DO” list. And it has absolute power and authority over your all-encompassing to-do list!


you  cannot be distracted from completing these three absolute top priorities.

Your plan for the day now highlights your top-three line-items that must be addressed. By your own definition and criteria, you have deemed these three absolutely imperative and warrant your focus and attention. And your plan for the day MUST bear this in mind…you cannot be distracted from completing these three absolute top priorities.


Step Three: schedule your must-dos for the day while allowing wiggle room for interruptions and other “stuff”. Do not allow your three must-dos to fill your schedule entirely. There are many factors at play here, but trust me, you cannot plan a day stacked from morning through night exclusively with your top three. You must allow some time…and may I suggest a third of your day can easily be occupied with unforeseen interruptions as well as other line items that remain on your all-encompassing to-do list.


Don’t skip this third step. Scheduling and honoring your calendar are disciplines that must be embraced. Simply put, scheduled deadlines work. Have you ever noticed how productive the day before a vacation can be? The reason…deadlines. Scheduled deadlines have the ability to be your productivity secret sauce.


To summarize, the rule of three for time management includes:

·       Highlight your current top three initiatives

·       Identify your top three priorities from your to-do list and create your must-do list

·       Schedule, with deadlines, your must-dos allowing one third of your time for unplanned interruptions and/or other “stuff.”


Each day follow the sequence outlined above. As priorities can shift, your top three must-dos need to be reidentified each day. Plan accordingly.


Share your thoughts. Which of the above make the most sense for you? What else works for you that I may have missed? And if you would like to discuss taking your prioritization disciplines to the next level, reach out to me for a call. I’d be happy to add a conversation with you to my must-dos.


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