You can use the rule of three at multiple horizons, by setting your top three goals for the day, week, month, quarter, year, and even your life. This helps you focus on and work towards what’s most important to you, instead of spending all your time on doing tasks that don’t add up to much.
Setting your top three goals at multiple time horizons also helps you telescope in and out of each time horizon and see how these goals are connected to each other. And, if your short term goals and long term goals are not aligned, it gives you the ability to course correct.
You can set these goals from both the bottom-up and top-down directions.
David Allen from Getting Things Done recommends starting with a bottom-up approach to personal productivity, in which you start with the projects and tasks that have your attention now, and organise them into longer-term projects and areas of responsibilities. This will enable you to master your current game and build the confidence to play a bigger game.
The other approach is to start with a top-down approach, and start with your top three life goals. Then, you outline what you might achieve this year, in whatever context you are, to set you up to achieve your life goals. Then, you define three goals for the quarter that will help you achieve your year’s goals, and so on. Of course, you will have to do short-term projects that don’t add up to your longer term goals, but at least you have a structure for deciding what is important, and what isn’t.
I am a top-down thinker. I am intuitively drawn to the bigger picture, to the long-term, to the 20,000 feet helicopter view. For most of my life, I have set my goals top down, starting with a vision of who I want to become in the future, then aligning my actions in the present to that future.
However, I have learnt (the hard way) that top-down visioning is only useful when its supported by bottom-up execution. This time, I am following a bottom-up approach to goal setting, and starting with getting my current tasks, projects and areas of responsibilities under control. In GTD language, I am focusing on becoming better at closing my current open loops, before I create even more open loops.
So, I am focusing on what I might do to write and publish a blog post every morning, instead of thinking about how every word I write will add up to a book. I am focusing on what I might do to empty my mind every morning, so that I might engage with the day most effectively, instead of worrying about how my days are leading to my life goals. Of course, since long-term planning comes naturally to me, my long-term goals are always at the back of my mind, quietly guiding my day-to-day actions.
Getting back to the rule of three, start by thinking about whether you are a top-down thinker, or a bottom-up doer. If top-down is your natural mode, you might benefit most by focusing more on your short-term goals, and putting them together like pieces of a puzzle so that they add up to your longer term goals. If bottom-up is your natural mode, you might benefit most from taking a weekend off for yourself, and thinking about what your long-term goals are and how your short-term projects might add up to them. In either case, the rule of three can help you stay focused on what you need to achieve, both in the short-term and in the long-term.
If you already use a variation of this tip, and have had success with it, I would love to learn about your experience. And, if you have been inspired to start using the rule of three after reading this post, I would love to know what impact it has had. Do share your experience in the comments below or on Twitter @gauravonomics.