Why I Only Set Three Tasks For My Day: My Three-Task Rule

It was 4:30 p.m. I just finished a shift for work and, after scrolling through my Instagram for thirty minutes, I felt anxious and guilty. Why? Because I wasn’t getting anything done on my to-do list. I mean, I just got off work and spent time to decompress – which in any other eyes seems completely normal. So why in the world was I feeling so guilty for it?

You see, I’m the kind of person that takes absolute pleasure in checking off things on my to-do list. I love to set long lists with specific deadlines to meet them, which I’m going to blame years of journalism school for that tendency. So of course, as I create a to-do list with a sort of indefinite deadline such as “do the laundry,” “write thank you notes,” or even, “paint nails,” I tend to push it off. If it’s not exactly timely, then I become the procrastination queen. Which, of course, leads to piling responsibilities and an anxious human being. Anyone else been here?

So, as I sat there after my Instagram binge, I decided to make some kind of change (currently I blame Gretchen Rubin for all my recent changes since Better Than Before is basically changing my life). Instead of making a long list of to-do’s with a deadline of “just get it done when you have the time,” I changed it to setting a simple three goals to finish by the end of the day. Yup, just three.

I set my three tasks for the day during my morning devotional & journal reflection – something I picked up last year, aka keeping me sane during grad school and wedding planning. Since Gretchen recommends in her book that tacking on a new habit with an already set routine is a helpful way to keep a habit going, I decided to add my task-setting during that time. I take just a few minutes and jot down my three tasks for the day. So the next morning, I set my first three tasks:

  1. Call Grandma Jan
  2. Mail & write 10 more thank you notes
  3. Write new blog entry.

At first, it felt too simple. By only setting three tasks for my day, does that give me the freedom to be lazy? To my surprise, it turned out to be quite the opposite. After getting my three tasks done, I felt such an incredible high for finishing my to-do list that I ended up working out, cooking dinner early, cleaned the kitchen, and even started knitting a new gift for a friend.  Finishing my to-do list gave me such energy that I couldn’t help but continue the habit.

So all week I continued what I dubbed my new three-task rule. I made my list in the morning over a cup of coffee, worked my shift, took a small walk or read for a bit after work, then dove in. Within an hour or two I finished my list, which would soon lead into a guilt-free night of taking care of myself, my husband, and my home.

Plus, let’s do the math. By the end of the week I got so much done that I couldn’t help but revel in my new accomplishments. Here’s my completed list after a full week of the three-task rule:

  1. Call Grandma Jan
  2. Write new blog entry
  3. Mail & write 10 more thank you notes
  4. Plan out blog entries for the month
  5. Brainstorm ideas for article pitches
  6. Mail & write 10 more thank you notes
  7. Design new 10-for-10
  8. Do the laundry
  9. Mail & write 10 more thank you notes
  10. Reach out to girlfriends for a coffee date
  11. Write & pitch one article idea to new publication
  12. Mail & write 10 more thank you notes
  13. Organize desktop/computer files
  14. Write newsletter
  15. Plan out meals for next week

Look how much I was able to get done in just one week! I was able to finally cross the finish line for wedding thank you notes, brave enough to write and pitch an article to a new publication, took the leap and asked new friends about hanging out, and even got milestones ahead of where I was for my blog this month. It felt good. I feel good.

So if you also look at to-do lists with an impending sense of doom, I recommend giving this new three-task rule a try. Even if you’re skeptical of how little your to-do list is, I’m sure that after a week of trying this method you’ll be hooked.

 

Photo Credit: Jazmin Quaynor / Unsplash