3, 2, 1 or Yet Another Productivity Tool

This is not a new idea at all… Ironically, you will find this in so many articles and books but many of us still seam to have difficulties in applying these concepts in practice. Leo Babauta was one of the authors that have tried to take great productivity ideas like the ones described David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and worked on simplifying these heavy / complex frameworks and defining more practical and easy-to-adopt strategies. But can this be further simplified?

Recently I have completed this “Learning how to learn” course on Coursera which I do recommend for the really interesting and practical techniques presented (some of them being summarized in my previous article). One interesting idea was to stop focusing on the product, on the end-goal and instead focus on the process, on building the right / sustainable routine. The reason behind this technique is that, most of the time, the end-goal is so far away or so complex that it may seem discouraging… This is the perfect opportunity for procrastination to kick in and to ruin all your plans.

You plan to lose 10 kg in the next 2 months? It’s sooooo hard… You plan to learn for that difficult exam or to get that monstrous certification? It’s soooo much work in front of me… If you look at the problem this way, it’s discouraging. And if you felt this way you need toy understand that it’s perfectly normal – most of us would feel the same…

Another way of looking at this challenges is to setup a routine that would take you to that goal with a pace you feel comfortable with. You will find out that replacing the above mentioned goals with “I’m gonna do 30min exercise every day and eat healthy” or “I will spend 2 hours each day studying” routines will transform the so-hard-to-achieve goals into something more easier to accept and with similar results.

So, now we know the theory… How do we turn this into practice? First, here is more theory. Here are some things you need to accept as absolute truth:

  • you cannot focus on something that really requires your attention / creativity more than 2 hours and still be productive
  • your brain cannot multi-task
  • not all your work is equally important and urgent

Now we are ready to define a simple strategy to put all this in practice – I call it “3, 2, 1” or, in more words, “3 tasks of 2 hours per 1 day”.

  • Step 1: make sure you properly label in 2 buckets: ToDo (work that is important for you and MUST be done at some point) and SomedayMaybe (things that are not that important but you want to process it whenever you have some spare time – e.g. read articles, see presentations, etc)
  • Step 2: for each day define (reserve) up to 3 slots of work of up to 2 hours each. It would be great if you could do this at the end of a day to plan for the next day (do not recommend to plan for more than 1 day ahead giving how much assumptions change from one day to another). Depending on your day (how fragmented / busy it is) you will find room in your calendar for 3 slots or less – that’s fine. Just make sure that:
    • you have at least one slot of work defined (otherwise you will simply not advance with your work)
    • one work slots should not be bigger than 2 hours (otherwise your productivity will simply drop)
    • do not plan for more that 3 work slots per day (even if your think can schedule more work)
  • Step 3: Each day, make sure you use the reserved work slots to work on the topics you planned for. The goal is not necessarily to finish something during that slot but merely to advance toward finishing a work that needs to be done. Remember: we are focusing on the process, not the goal. We are implementing a working routine instead of trying to define slices of work that may be finished in a work slot.
  • Step 4: when you finish going through the planned work slots and you find out that you have more available time in that day, you have several alternatives:
    • you may plan for another work slot for that day – NOT recommended
    • you may take topics from the SomedayMaybe list (this is a great opportunity to consume this list) – recommended
    • you may relax or rest or reward yourself for staying true to this routine – HIGHLY recommended

This process allows you to achieve several things:

  • first accept that you do not have the entire day available for doing work that matters to you but allows you to best take advantage of your whatever available time by splitting it into 2 hours chunks where you can keep your productivity levels high
  • then turns your shift from focusing on the end-goals to implementing a routine where you make sure that every day you have time reserved for advancing toward the end-goal. More over, this routine is a sustainable one: no more than 3 slots of up to 2 hours each per 1 day. Spending more effort on focused-work while claiming to be productive is doubtful
  • gives you the opportunity to be flexible depending on how each day looks like (how many meetings / interrupts you may have) and also gives you the opportunity to have time for rest, relaxation or consume the SomedayMaybe list if you feel like


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