The feeling of having been productive is quite nice, isn’t it? I love the feeling of collapsing into bed, tired and happy, with a full day of great accomplishments behind me—cleaned spaces, projects finished, bills paid, laundry folded, errands complete.
But looking uphill at all the tasks yet to be finished? It can be daunting, to say the least, and the feeling is nowhere near as lofty. I hate nothing more than the feeling of overwhelm that comes from having too much to do, in too little time.
This concept hit home for me during one such instance. It was a Thursday. I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about how much I had to do. I got out of bed to make a list of what needed to get done by Monday and immediately felt my anxiety level rise. Some of the tasks were rather minor and routine (do some laundry because you are running out of underwear), others were more daunting (finish writing the content for your email course, slacker, and while you’re at it, write two blog posts).
As I looked at the list, I felt impending doom. I can’t do all this. There’s just no way I can make it through this list. We’re talking tears, people. I literally felt heavy, like there was a weight on my chest. With the thought of squeezing in all of these things, I could feel the prospects of a fun, relaxing weekend slipping away.
Enter the Rule of Three:
Thou shalt not schedule more than three tasks for yourself in a given timeframe.
The purpose of the Rule of Three is threefold (handy, huh?):
- By limiting yourself to a list of three, you force yourself to prioritize so only the most important tasks make it to the list.
- You also reign in wild expectations of how much you can truly accomplish in a short period of time.
- It feels SO MUCH BETTER to have a to-do list with only three items on it.
I took a deep breath and made a schedule for my pending 3-day weekend, assigning three tasks per day. There were a handful of items left over, which I decided could wait until the next week.
The effect was immediate. I felt better, and the weight on my chest lifted. Three tasks per day? I can do that. I was freaking out about this pile of tasks, but when I broke down the timing into bite-sized chunks, all of a sudden it wasn’t so bad. What was impossible five minutes ago now felt totally do-able.
Had I used my original list, I would not have stopped freaking out, and I know I would have gotten less done because I felt so discouraged by the perceived impossibility of finishing it all. Long lists feel awful, and that’s not good for productivity.
The result? Each day I accomplished my three tasks easily, with time to spare. Once I was done, I was free to do whatever else I wanted, so I still managed to feel relaxed and have a nice weekend. And by Sunday evening, 8 out of the 9 tasks were done (because with a clear head, I’d decided that one of them wasn’t actually as urgent as I’d first assessed).
I’ve also used the Rule of Three at work. No matter what I’m planning, at home or elsewhere, I don’t put more than three tasks into any window of time. Now that I’ve started doing this, I’m never going back to my old, anxiety-filled ways.
What’s your favorite way to cope with having too much to do in to little time?
Leave a note in the comments below!