1-3-5This very quick and simple yet effective technique will help you keep focused on what you really want to achieve tomorrow. The 1-3-5 rule for prioritisation is useful for those who are just starting on their productivity journey as well as seasoned productivity veterans.

Preparing the 1-3-5 list

  1. Take a clean page and write down the things you want to achieve tomorrow
  2. Put a number 1 next to the most important task – if you could only get one thing done tomorrow, this would be it
  3. Put a number 3 next to the 3 next most important tasks (i.e. three 3s) – these are the things that you should also get done but are not quite as important as the number 1
  4. Put a number 5 next to the 5 next most important tasks (i.e. five 5s) – these are things that are nice to get done but it won’t be so bad if you don’t get time to do them

Excellent! You’ve just created a simple prioritised list that will make your day much more productive tomorrow. Remember to also prepare your clothes, lunch, and other things to make the morning as streamlined as possible.

Using it the next day

When you wake up and go through your streamlined morning ritual you’ll get to work feeling fresh and ready to tackle your most important tasks. One of the benefits of the 1-3-5 list is that you now have something manageable and know exactly what you need to do first. Just having one huge list of tasks will have you scratching your head when you don’t know where to start, while not having a list at all is even worse as you will be constantly searching for what you should be working on.

First thing when you start to work is to focus on the number 1 on your list. That is, before going through emails or reading online news. If it’s a tough one just make sure you focus for 20 minutes. Since the morning is when you have the most energy, you’ll probably have so much momentum after 20 minutes that you can keep going. Short bursts like this are a great way to tackle difficult tasks. Working on your most important task first ensures that even if the rest of the day turns into going to endless meetings, firefighting issues or responding to queries, you’ve still had a productive day because you will have achieved something by starting with the number 1 on your list.

Next, select one of the number 3s – the one that feels most important at the time. Start work on this and proceed through the rest of your number 3s.

If you make it through all the number 3s, start with the most important number 5 and keep going. If you got this far then you must be having an extremely productive day. A lot of the time I don’t even get to the number 5s.

Extra tips

Make sure your list of tasks has been broken down into small manageable pieces. You don’t want a 1-3-5 list where task 1 on the list is “Finish project A” which requires a year of effort. The list won’t be workable this way because you’ll never be able to finish one item on the list.

Don’t feel like you need to complete each item before moving on to the next. For example if your number 1 takes longer than expected and you feel like you need to get onto some of the 3s on your list, cross off the number 1 when you’ve made good progress and move on. Re-enter the same item for tomorrow’s list. Today’s 1-3-5 list has already served its purpose by achieving progress on your most important task before any distractions came up.

Have you heard of any other techniques to help keep organised and productive with lists?