1-3-5 lists

I don’t know who exactly told me about 1-3-5 lists, but I love them (the person AND the lists!). I recommend 1-3-5’s to other clinicians and clients all the time.

So what is a 1-3-5 list?

It’s a prioritized to-do list. You can make it on your phone or a sticky note. First you write on the left side of the page one “1”, three “3’s”, and five “5’s.”

So it looks like this:

The singular 1 is the task you MUST complete that day. I recommend tackling this task first thing in the morning. If it’s something that doesn’t require being caffeinated, do it right before you have your coffee. I personally require a coffee IV, so I usually do these tasks after I have my coffee.

The three threes are tasks that should be done today. Maybe they’re going to be something that has to get done tomorrow, but their due-date is just a little later than your current number one.  Put these suckers in order. Try to get done your tasks that are going to have the most impact.

Your five fives are important, otherwise they shouldn’t be on your list, but they’re not things that HAVE to get done. Email is often on this section of the list. Believe it or not, email is not a MUST do for most people. If someone needs to get in touch with you they have other, much more direct means. I am proud to say that I do not have my email at zero right now. I have a backlog of emails and it’s ok. I’ll take a quick peek and see if there are any major emails, but I don’t let myself get distracted by unimportant tasks if I can’t help it.

In a perfect world,

I’d focus all my energy on #1 until it was done, then move on the first of the 3’s. I have a couple of longer time-blocks for report writing and on those days I get a lot more done on my 1’s and 3’s. On other days where I see more clients, I’ll be more likely to complete my 5’s, since they are usually less time-consuming than 1’s. Sometimes, a client will be running late and I have an unclear amount of time (they may not show up, they may be here as soon as I start something). At those times I usually knock out one or two of my “5’s.”

As you can see in my picture, I might mix my home and work tasks. Some days I might have more to get done at work, so I’ll make separate lists for work and home. I certainly don’t use these lists every single day, but they can be a fantastic way to refocus yourself. You might want to even use a second sticky note to hide all of the lower tasks and focus on one task at a time.

Here’s an example of a 1-3-5 list:

1 write 1-3-5 blog post draft                                        I must get this done.

3 take a picture of 1-3-5 list to add to post

3 add photos to the post                                               I should get this done.

3 ask Bill to review the post

5 clean out the dishwasher

5 vacuum the kitchen

5 brush the cat                                                                  If I have time, I’d like to get this done.

5 organize closet

5 vacuum cat hair off couches

I keep track of my work tasks in a notebook. I often use a bullet-journal approach with that notebook, but might further focus my actions by writing a 1-3-5 list in a box in a margin or on a new page. If you don’t know what a bullet-journal is, it’s basically an organized way of keeping track of all your tasks in one notebook. You write down each of your tasks in an actionable format. For example, I could have summed up the list above with “Post on my blog” and “do house chores.” Instead I wrote specific actions “write 1-3-5 post” and “take a picture” and “clean out the dishwasher.”

How do you know which task is the most important task for that day?

  • You set a deadline and to meet that deadline you must work on it today.
  • You know all the projects you are working on and all the next actions for each project and this action at this point in time is the one you will be most successful with.
  • You have energy for this action and you can finish it in the amount of time you have.
  • This action is part of the 20% of actions that have the most effect on your overall work performance.

Tips for writing effective to do lists:

  1. Make sure tasks start with an action
  2. Keep track of all your tasks in a reliable system
  3. Break tasks down into the smaller steps if it will make it seem easier (for example, I could have made my list have steps that included: write introduction paragraph, write example 1-3-5 list, explain 1-3-5 list, explain which tasks are important, list to-do list tips).

When to write your 1-3-5 list

I like to write my lists either before bed, so I can mull my tasks over when I’m asleep, or first thing in the morning. When I wait until the afternoon I know I’ve wasted half of the day in undirected activity. I want to make sure that the majority of my tasks during my day are in line with my own personal goals as well at the goals of my company.

When to review your list

Review your list at the end of each day. You may find that you completed more than you thought you could or you may find that you didn’t get any of your goals accomplished. If you’re finding it difficult to complete the tasks you set for yourself, maybe it’s time to review the goals or review the distractions. Why aren’t you getting things done? What are your personal barriers to success? How can you support yourself, so you will be successful?

  • Are you talking to your coworkers a lot? I find that some simple headphones plugged into my phone send the message loud and clear (to most people) that I’m not available to chat. I work in very close proximity to my coworkers and we all try to honor each other’s focus time, but it can certainly be hard, especially when we all like each other so much!
  • Are you doing tasks that aren’t on the list? If you are, I’d recommend that you put all tasks through your list. If you have to do it, add it to your list and then cross it out when you’re done. This way you’ll have a record for the tasks that are taking priority. Should these tasks be on your daily list? Do you need to advocate to get these distractions out of your way?

It’s important to remember that we don’t work for our coworkers, our clients, or our bosses. We work to support the lifestyle that we have outside of work.

But Kayla, I like my coworkers. They’re my saving grace and have helped me through many life struggles.

I get it. We all have different work environments and diverse needs, but at the end of the day I’m not working so that I can hang out with my coworkers more. I’m working so that my husband and I can have a nice house and feed our menagerie. I’m working so that I can spend quality time with him. I’m working so that we don’t have to struggle when kids come along.

Think about your priorities.

Imagine you’re very ill and about to die. You’re sitting with your loved ones and taking the opportunity to write your own obituary (pretty cool, not many people get to do that). What do you want it to say? What do you want your family and friends to think it should say? What do you want your coworkers to have to add? This exercise will help to make your priorities for the long-haul very clear. Do you think if you died today that your loved ones would write the obituary you want to have? What can you change to take a step towards that ultimate and final goal?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Make a bulleted-list of things you want people to think/feel about you when you die.
  2. Write down your top 4 projects/priorities at work and/or at home.
  3. Circle the goal you think is most important right now.
  4. Write an action that you can complete today that will get you closer to that most-important goal. This is your 1 goal.
  5. Write more actions for the other 3 projects, these are your “3’s”
  6. Fill in 5 more actions that you plan to do today that aren’t exactly working towards your goals, but should probably happen (e.g., cleaning out the kitty litter)

Let me know what you think about 1-3-5 lists! They’re one of my favorite tools in my productivity toolbox. Along with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach and the “Eat That Frog” pointers I’ve mentioned in previous blogs.

Sign up for my newsletter to get access to my goal-creator handout. Brainstorm your life goals and come up with some short-term and long-term goals for yourself.

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