The 3-3-3 Method


How do you define a productive day?

I used to start the day just doing things on my to do list.

Now I focus on what’s important. I complete tasks that move me closer to my goals.

That’s why I like using The Rule of 3.

The I learned about the 3-3-3 Method.

It’s a simple technique created by Oliver Burkeman.

The Method works like this:

  • Spend 3 hours on your most important task.
  • Complete 3 shorter tasks or urgent to-do’s.
  • Work on 3 maintenance activities to keep life in order.

That’s it.

By taking action on these three priorities, you've had a good day.

Your most important task

What important goal are you working towards?

Whatever it is, break it down into daily actions.

Then spend 3 focused hours every day on your most important task.

Doing this generates momentum. This momentum enables you to make daily, weekly and monthly progress towards your goals.

3-4 hours of concentrated work is about all our brains are capable of.

By focusing on the first “3” at the start of your day, you’re staying within realistic biological boundaries for focused work.

Your shorter tasks

These are tasks you’ve been avoiding. Urgent to-dos or items on your “doom pile”.

They might take a few minutes each to complete.

The 2 minute rule is perfect for these tasks. If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it.

Your maintenance activities

Working on 3 maintenance activities allows you to make progress on other areas of your life.

These activities keeps your life moving forward. They’re items that make your life go smoothly.

Think health, self-improvement, relationships, housekeeping and more.

Why the 3-3-3 Method works

  1. The Method is loosely structured. It provides me with a framework for the day. I know I need to complete my 3 focused hours before anything else, or they’ll never get done.
  2. It takes less than the time available. On average, I get to control around seven or eight hours of my day. My 3/3/3 activities account for about six of these hours and give me a couple of hours slack.
  3. It’s not a comprehensive list of all my tasks. I don’t have to find time for all the things I want to do. Nor do I have to organise everything I need to do (chores, family activities, work calls etc). I pick a handful of tasks that are important and I focus on getting them done, no matter what. The 3-3-3 tasks are my baseline. On a good day I might do more. But that’s extra, not part of the plan.
  4. It develops “active patience”. The Method is trains me to be happy with achieving less on any individual day in order to achieve more over the long term.
"The man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly, not only preserves his health the longest, but in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work."
- Adam Smith

Doing less is not just a way to be kinder to myself, it's also an excellent way to get more done.

Small steps, big results

In the past, I’ve been guilty of two things:

  1. Setting unrealistic targets for the amount of work I can get done in a day; and
  2. Attacking the day without a plan and spending all my time working on one task or dealing with a backlog.

Both approaches work in the short term. But they’re not suitable for making meaningful progress.

The 3-3-3 Method helps me accomplish most of what I want to do.

Every day.

It’s a simple framework that provides structure to my day.

It’s also customisable based on my circumstances. Sometimes I control 12 hours of my day, other times I control 4.

The 3-3-3 Method can be applied regardless of the amount of time I have available.

Try this

Before wrapping up your workday, ask yourself:

  • What is the most important thing you'll dedicate 3 hours to?
  • What are the 3 small tasks you'll complete?
  • What are the 3 maintenance activities you'll work on?

Write your 3-3-3s somewhere visible and block time in your calendar for these activities.