Meet Alex, a young professional looking to become a web developer.
Alex is hard-working and driven, but he has a problem.
He has difficulty staying productive at work. He manages a multitude of projects, learns a lot of new things to stay updated in his industry, and manages all the everyday admin tasks like responding to emails and fixing bugs on websites of clients.
There’s also the never-ending stream of distractions, meetings, and office lunches he often has to attend. And not to mention the endless messages and requests for work revisions, new tasks from his bosses, and everyday office fires he has to put out.
How can Alex keep on top of productivity when he has to worry about his current workload, common office distractions, and new work and projects that come along?
We’re sure you, like most everyone, can relate to the struggle. After all, no one can really say work ever stops (or even slows down). Once one project is over, a new one has been waiting for you.
Given this, are there better ways to master your time and keep on top of things all at once?
We think so. Our recommendation? The 1-3-5 rule.
In this post, we explain what the current state of workplace productivity is like, as well as some common reasons that the average worker might be struggling with staying productive at work, regardless of their work situation.
Later on, we explain what the 1-3-5 rule is and how you can use it to be more productive at work while being less stressed.
In a frequently-cited study, the State of the Local Workplace released by Gallup, 85% of employees reported to be feeling disengaged at work, and the lost productivity resulting from this is costing businesses $7 trillion a year.
Indeed, anyone feeling disengaged at their job can get into several habits that make them misuse their time and be less productive at work. Here are some findings to illustrate common time wasters experienced by office employees:
Look at the common time wasters one more time, and ask yourself this: do you find yourself checking social media, taking personal calls, or engaging in office chit-chat?
You probably already know that these are affecting the way you can do quality work for your job – and you might not be aware of it, but sometimes you engage in these behaviors out of procrastination.
When you do personal errands during your working hours, for example, you might feel as though you’re more productive, but you’re actually squandering your limited time to do real work that propels your projects forward.
So now, let’s move on to the simple – yet powerful – productivity rule that can help you not only keep away from workplace distractions but also help you master your time at work and stay sane.
The 1-3-5 rule is simple: in order to stay productive at work every day, you just need to commit to accomplishing 1 Major Task, 3 Medium Tasks, and 5 Small Tasks.
Because it covers tasks from major, medium, to small, you can be sure that you’re making progress on big projects and deliverables, down to everyday tasks, like admin work or repeating daily commitments.
The 1-3-5 Rule in action. Img Source: 135list.com
There are several other productivity measures you can implement in your life to make sure you’re making the most of your time and energy, but this simple way of redoing our to-do lists can be a powerful tool for getting things done.
This rule cannot be more straightforward, and it’s even easier to apply. Ready to see how to incorporate the 1-3-5 rule into your own life? Here’s exactly how to get started.
At the beginning of each week, list down tasks you want to get done. These may be tasks that have spilled over from last week or are tasks you do on a regular basis.
You’ll also want to include a few urgent tasks that might come up that day, be it after a weekly team meeting or a new project or plan you’ve committed
And as you list your tasks, try to make them concrete and actionable. So recalling our friend Alex from the beginning of this post, he might put tasks like “Develop 3 new web pages for Client X” instead of “Client X deliverables.”
Once you’ve sorted out the tasks you need to do for the week, you can start to categorize them. Make columns to rearrange each task, or simply label them right beside your list.
As a rule of thumb, you can consider a task a Major Task if it takes about 3-4 hours to complete. Medium Tasks can take about 1-2. And Small Tasks may take less than 30 minutes to an hour each.
And aside from time, consider too the effort involved for each task. Some tasks might take a while but are actually quite simple and no brainer.
In this case, you might consider it a small task instead of a medium task because the effort involved isn’t great. You could probably get such tasks done sooner if you schedule dedicated, distraction-free time for it.
Next, you can plot out all the tasks into a daily 1-3-5 to-do list. You have the option of planning this every day – either the night before or in the morning. Or you can create a 1-3-5 to-do list for the entire week well in advance.
To avoid the lure of other tasks, use a dedicated space to write down your 1-3-5 list instead of having a long laundry list of to-dos at your desk.
If other tasks come up suddenly, you can schedule them after you’ve completed your 1-3-5 list for the day – or schedule it for the next day or week as part of your 1-3-5 list.
Ludovic Rembert of Privacy Canada has this to say about prioritizing which tasks to do first: “Tackle the biggest task of the day. The biggest task is usually hardest to accomplish, so it’s best to get it out of the way so you can proceed to other things.”
Or as Mark Twain put it: eat that frog first thing in the morning.
Using this logic, start your workday by diving straight into your 1 Major Task. It works for a few reasons:
The first is that we typically have the most energy and least distractions. The latter might be explained by how everyone at your office is also busy tackling their work in the morning, so you’ll be less distracted by noisy or interrupting colleagues.
A second reason this works is that, once you’ve tackled your biggest task for the day, you get to fuel momentum to finish the rest of the items on your 1-3-5 list.
By refusing to delay the biggest task, you also lessen the risk of falling into anxious procrastination – where not only do you keep delaying your work, but you also get more and more anxious the more time passes without its completion.
Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on just one particular task at a time. It’s tempting to seek reprieve in the form of welcome distractions like answering a notification or indulging in workplace gossip.
To beat that cycle of falling into distractions and sticking to one task until it’s done, use the Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro technique is essentially a productivity tool to help you commit to doing focused work. You start by doing 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5-minute break. This makes up one Pomodoro. After about 4 Pomodoros, proceed to take a longer break of about 15-20 minutes.
This technique also supports what science has found as our ultradian rhythm – meaning the human brain can do about 90-120 minutes of focused work before experiencing a period of lower brain activity.
What does this mean for you? Take those breaks! But in order not to overindulge, the Pomodoro technique can easily keep you committed to small 25-minute chunks of working time.
In his bestselling book Deep Work, Cal Newport writes about how we can do better work without distraction, especially in an era of social media, instant notifications, and entertainment on-demand.
Habits like checking notifications the moment they come on may have wreaked havoc on our ability to focus and do what Newport calls “deep work.” Luckily, the brain is a plastic thing and can be trained to learn good habits as quickly as it learned bad ones.
To practice deep work, one of the easiest things you can do is shut off notifications from messaging apps and social media sites. Implement other strategies that you know can help improve your focus, such as working without WiFi or eliminating noise.
It seems that every day, the workplace is getting more and more fast-paced – making productivity a top priority for all of us.
Luckily, we’re able to design a more productive workspace and environment.
Take the 1-3-5 rule, for example, which can change the way you tackle your big projects down to your smallest tasks. Use this to-do list trick every day, and see how it changes the way you do your work.
About The Author:
Kevin Payne is a content marketing consultant that helps software companies build marketing funnels and implement content marketing campaigns to increase their inbound leads.