- Michael Thompson
Tell me if this sounds familiar: You wake up thinking about all the things you have to do. But after working like mad all day, you manage to complete only half the tasks on your list. You spend the rest of the evening feeling annoyed.
There’s a way to remedy this common feeling of overwhelm: Cap your to-do list at three things every day.
The advice comes from Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach. Unsurprisingly, he gets a lot of pushback whenever he suggests it — high-performing entrepreneurs tell him that three tasks a day just isn’t enough to be successful.
But after trying it myself, I suggest giving it a shot. If you’re like me, it may even help you to achieve your biggest goals.
Capping your daily to-do list at three items forces you to ask yourself: What actually matters most today? What truly moves your needle? Is posting multiple times a day on social media really taking your business to the next level? Or would spending time honing your craft be a better long-term investment? When you get clear on what matters, you naturally weed out what doesn’t.
It’s also simply good for your mental well-being. If each day you complete all the things you plan to get done — which is much more possible when there are three items rather than 23 — you can spend the rest of the evening celebrating your wins, rather than stewing over unfinished tasks. According to Sullivan, prioritizing time away from our work is one of the best things we can do for our work. After all, it’s impossible to see the opportunities around us if we only focus on what’s in front of us.
At first, I was skeptical that this approach would be helpful to me. But as a dad who works from home, I often struggle to transition between work and family mode, so I decided to give it a shot. This past summer, while my two boys were home from school, I capped my daily to-do list at three things and cut off work at 2 p.m. With that extra time to be present with my family, I ended up feeling more inspired than I ever had. I finally managed to turn my side hustles of writing and coaching into my full-time job.
It’s easy to try it for yourself. Every morning before you start working, sit down for 10 minutes and envision the three most important things you want to finish by the end of the day. Here’s a little trick I picked up from my wife: Instead of keeping this list on your phone or in your journal, try writing out each task on individual notecards. There, you can also note the steps you need to take to accomplish the task. Then, after you finish a task, place the card on top of the pile of the other actions you’ve already completed.
As the days, weeks, and months pass, this growing stack of completed cards will serve as a powerful reminder of all you’ve already accomplished. Looking at it will grant you the much-deserved permission you need to walk away from your work at the end of the day, guilt-free.