We all struggle with prioritization. It is a challenge to figure out what we need to work on next; we are continually firefighting. How do we figure out what we need to work on next and remain focused and disciplined enough to finish those tasks? There is always a giant list of things to do. When we are using the rule of threes, it makes it easier to figure out and remember what we need to do next. Don’t lie and say — I get all my work done every day — or — I know exactly what I work on each day, I don’t need a list — um. No.

“printed sticky notes glued on board” by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

When you go home every day, or more specifically, when you stop working for the day, and everything on your plate is complete… wait wait. You mean everything on your workload is complete? Your desk is clean, the inbox is empty? Stop trying to kid yourself (and BS others). If that is the case, you must not be doing enough for any business, yours or the one you work for! There will always be work to be done, but that is a post for a different day. Today our focus is on making a list of threes. After that list is complete, then you can work prioritization.

Making your list. Making a list of things to do is pretty simple, nothing special about it. It is like making your grocery list. You have the items on your grocery list that you absolutely, positively need. Toilet paper. That is always on the list. The list of items that you cannot live without. That follows with the “nice to haves” or the ones that you do not need to meet Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but certainly makes it easier to bear. Your work list is very similar. The items that you absolutely positively have to do, the right things (not necessarily the fun things). the other items that you would like to do or would be nice to have.

Back to making our list. The key to making your list is placing them in three working groups of three. Why is that? So you can set prioritization between each group and then again within each group. You are probably saying — I don’t have nine things I am working on at one time. True, because that falls into a multitasking fallacy. However, groups of three and groups of six or any permutations are fine, but the PRIMARY list has three items. We all have at least three (3) things on our list of things to do. Humans like things simple, easy to manage, and having a list of three items, to focus and work on that little list of items keeps our attention. It is so you can begin eating the elephant. We freak out thinking — I can never get all of that done — we could never eat the entire elephant in one sitting. You have to eat one bite at a time, and putting those in groups of three allows you to digest the work needed.

Putting together a list of items you can always have more than nine. Ten. Twenty. Fifty. Fine, but if you have that many items on your list you really need to use this rule to help focus on items that are important to you or the business. All those extra items may actually fall away if you focus on your top three groups of three. This method will give you more clarity in your work and you will be able to focus, instead of worrying about all the other distractions outside of you. You can’t fix the world. You can’t boil the ocean.

Once you have these nine items, these three groups of three are complete, then you need to start placing them in a simple prioritization. Figuring out the first group of three will be your most important group. These are the items that you need to be working on first. Each group has its priorities. The first group of three is the most important, and within that first group, there is a priority. You work those first. If you cannot do anything with the first one, move down the list until you are through the list. You do that through each group of three. The second and third groups follow the same segregation and prioritization.

With practice, you will find the rules of segregation, exclusion, and prioritization will become easier. You have to be brutal with the list and be certain that the top three things are the top three. Focus on those. Remain disciplined. Only work those. No matter what. No distractions. If you are unable to work any of these priorities through the full list of nine, then you need to exercise your list again. Pick the right items to work on.

Go forth and be brilliant!