The idea for this habit comes to me from A Year of Productivity who himself found the idea in Getting Results the Agile Way. The way the rule of three works is that every day you write out a list including:
- 3 things you want to accomplish today
- 3 things you want to accomplish this week
- 3 things you want to accomplish this month
- 3 things you want to accomplish this year
What I love about this idea is that I tend to keep a very extensive to-do list, and don’t spend a lot of time prioritizing it or figuring out “okay, what do I have to do today” or even “what do I really want to get done today. On top of that, I rarely think about things I want to have done a year from now, but I can see the benefit in doing so.
There’s an additional benefit to this habit though. According to The Planning Fallacy, we are horrible at estimating how long it takes to do everything. If you have a friend working on a large project and you ask them how long they think it will take based on their:
- Optimistic estimate (everything goes perfectly)
- Realistic estimate (what will probably happen), and
- Pessimistic estimate (everything goes wrong)
Your safest bet is to assume it will take them longer than their pessimistic estimate. Luckily though, there is a way to combat the planning fallacy called taking the “outside view.” Normally, what we do when we try to figure out how long something will take, is go through a thought process like this:
- Well, it’s about 12,000 words, and I have 10 hours left before it’s due
- I’m pretty sure I can write 3,000 words in an hour (50 wpm)
- So I should be able to finish it in 4 hours…
But that’s a horrible estimate. What the outside view tells us to do is look at it like this:
- Well, it’s 12,000 words, and I have 10 hours left
- Last week I wrote a 10,000 word essay and that took me 7 hours
- The week before that I had an 8,000 word essay that took me 5 hours
- I should probably start working now, I might need the whole 10 hours
The reason this works is that we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future, but not so bad at figuring out patterns from old data. So if we want to start getting realistic ideas of what we can accomplish in a day, week, or year, we need more data of us making estimates, acting on them, and then succeeding or failing.
And that’s exactly what the Rule of Three gives us.
The Rule of Three Habit
I want to integrate a habit of writing out the rule of three into my daily schedule. I don’t want it to be a part of my initial morning routine though–I try to keep that time free of work since it can have a huge influence on how stressed or relaxed you are for the rest of the day.
What I’m thinking instead is that I should have a second morning routine, one for when I get to the office. I already have one in some ways: I get in, take out my laptop, make the coffee (first one in usually, love waking up early), set up my workspace, get some coffee, and then start working. There’s no reason I couldn’t write down my 9 things while I enjoy my first cup, and I think that’s where I’ll try putting it in. I’ll also use this time to reflect on the previous day’s list, and see if I accomplished those tasks for the day. On Mondays or Sundays (TBD) I’ll reflect on the “this week” list and see how it worked out. I’ve actually gone ahead and added this to my “Week 2: Habitual Morning Routine” updates, since I want it to work into that.
The second part of the Rule of Three, or of Getting Results the Agile Way, is the Monday Vision and Friday Reflection. These practices are related to the 3 goals for the week. On Monday you say: “What three things, if this were Friday, would I be most upset about if I didn’t complete them?” And use that vision to plan your outcomes for the week. Then on Friday you say “looking back on this week, what are three things that went very well, and three things that went poorly?” This reflection helps you plan better for future weeks, and is a good way to keep your long term goals in check.
I’ll keep updating on how it’s going!
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)