THE BLOG

A Case for Scheduling Only 3 Things Per Day

02/12/2015 02:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

Many of us are drowning in overwhelm.

We live in a world of incessant pings, notifications, and tasks vying for our attention. We're swimming in a constant undercurrent of stress.

By the time we go to bed, instead of feeling satisfied, most of us are thinking about what we didn't do during the day and how we're going to have to play catch up tomorrow.

That's why it's more important than ever -- crucial, really -- to simplify.

I believe one of the absolute best things you can do for your sanity is to whittle down your action items. Besides the things you have to do (pick up kids, make dinner, etc), commit to 3-5 action items every day. That's it.

Sure, you might end up getting more than that done. But if you allow yourself to be proud of knocking out 3-5 things and treat everything else as gravy, life will start to feel a lot easier.

Here's the thing: having a long to-do list isn't helpful. When you have a huge list of things to do, you're going to naturally look for the quick wins. Instead of working on your most important items, you'll gravitate towards the short, trivial items so you can have the satisfaction of crossing something off your list.

It's crazy-making.

When you focus on your most important 3-5 things per day, you'll be thinking, "If I can only do 3 things, they better be important." And with that mindset, you'll zero in on tasks that will generate revenue, get you a bigger audience, or whatever is most important for you.

Here's how to do this:

Step 1: Every night, choose 3-5 things you want to accomplish the next day.

I recommend choosing 3 items at first, then working your way up to 5.

When you choose your top action items the night before, it helps you focus. Your brain can start finding solutions to whatever you'll be working on so you can hit the ground running the next day.

Step 2: Commit to it.

It's very easy to say, "Well, just for today, I'll do 10 things, and when I get things back in order, I'll go back down to 3-5."

Commit to a few action items. See how it goes.

If it helps you, take metrics. Record your stress level before and after implementing this, your productivity, or your end results.

Step 3: Start with the hardest or most creative item first.

When you first start work, you're at your strongest. You're the freshest, have the most willpower, and you can think the clearest (assuming you've had your coffee).

If you can knock out the task that takes the most energy from you, the rest of your day will be smooth sailing.

And if something feels too overwhelming for you, break it down into smaller steps and then attack one at a time.

If you have a bunch of errands that need to be taken care of, you can group them in as one "Errand" task.

Step 4: Feel proud of yourself.

If you can knock out 3 important things every day, you're in excellent shape.

Celebrate yourself, feel proud, and then figure out what your next day's commitments are.