Time Management, To-Do Lists and the 3 + 2 Rule
Within minutes, I came across these two status updates from friends who work at law firms:
“I have too much going on”
“I haven’t even gotten to my to-do list yet”.
We can all relate. It’s impossible to escape the nonstop online (and offline) chatter on Twitter and Facebook, email, voicemail, and text messages, or the office pop-ins and water-cooler chats. How can you keep up? Should you even try? Can you really get to everything on your ever expanding, daily to-do list?
Most days you probably can’t. Not when to-do lists stretch beyond a reasonable number of tasks. Trying to check off every task will lead to frustration and feeling overwhelmed. And ultimately, to procrastinating and even longer lists.
After acknowledging that you can’t get to everything, it’s time to prioritize. We’ve discussed single tasking and tools that help you focus on the task at hand, like the Pomodoro technique, but prioritizing tasks to work on each day can be a challenge. Meet that challenge with the 3 + 2 rule.
The 3 + 2 Rule
After struggling with bottomless to-do lists, working all hours of the day and night and still feeling like I was coming up short, I came across a discussion of the 3 + 2 Rule – identify only 3 big things and 2 small things to do in a day. It’s simple: write down 3 primary activities you need to accomplish, each taking 1 to 2 hours, and 2 secondary ones that take 20 to 30 minutes each.
I’ve played around with this – like adding tasks and adjusting the time assigned to each and keep coming back to the 3 + 2 standard. Maybe it’s the structure that resonates and an awareness of the slippery slope of messing around too much with a process that works.
Coupled with practices like the Pomodoro technique, the 3 + 2 rule results in a more focused, productive day and a feeling of accomplishment with measurable goals: completed tasks.
Productivity tools and processes are not one-size-fits-all, so play around with elements of the 3 + 2 rule to suit your unique daily tasks and routine.
It’s also not realistic to assume you’ll have only five tasks on a given day, but start by prioritizing the two primary and three secondary tasks. Then add other, less urgent, tasks that you can tackle if time permits.