The Productive Life

Lesson 4/17 - The Rule of 3


The Productive Life


Lesson Info

The Rule of 3

So, I'm gonna explore these ideas in turn. First, we'll do time, then we'll do energy, (chuckles) I had to remember the order in my head, then we'll do attention, (laughs) and share some strategies in each of these. And I wanna start with time, right? If so much about productivity is regaining time, I want to share some ideas here, four of them, in fact. The first one, is my absolute favorite rule, as it relates to productivity, and it's called The Rule of 3. Perhaps, the most enlightening experiment from the project, in terms from how much I learned, was one where, for one month, I worked 90 hour weeks. So, the first week I worked 90 hours, then 20 hours the next, then 90, then 20, to see what impact working these insane hours punctuated by these luxurious, lazy 20 hour weeks. I'll talk more about laziness later on, which is a favorite past time and topic of mine. There's a certain art to laziness, but the fascinating thing that I found when this experiment was done, when I looked thr...

ough the logs, you know, I felt infinitely more productive in these 90 hour weeks. But it turns out that I wasn't. I was just busier. And this is a pitfall that a lot of us fall into when we think about our productivity. There's no clear cut way of measuring our productivity, when we do knowledge work for a living. You know, maybe you're a programmer. You might think, okay, I wrote a thousand lines of code today instead of 500, but if those a thousand accomplished less than the 500 that you could have written, were they actually better? You know, the Gettysburg Address was like, 400 words, or something like that. I'm Canadian, but I study, I promise you I'm Canadian, but I know a lot about American History. So, but the fascinating thing about this experiment, was when I looked at the logs, I accomplished only a bit more in the 90 hour weeks, than I did in the 20, and we tend to look at how busy we are as a proxy for how productive we are, but when our busyness doesn't lead us to accomplish more, it's essentially just an active form of laziness, when we're wanting to do important work. And so, I started lookin' and pouring apart, how these two weeks differed. And, I found that these 90 hour weeks were so unproductive, because of a rule called Parkinson's Law. And Parkinson's Law, I see a couple of you nodding your head, it's this fascinating idea, that if you don't know the name Parkinson's Law, which not a lot of people do, you've probably felt the effects of it before. A Parkinson's Law, is this phenomenon, where our work tends to expand, to fit how much time we have available for it's completion. Right, so we have like, 30 or 40 hours of work to do, maybe it's a slow week, you know, everybody has a slow week every once in awhile, and you find that you know, you have 20 hours of work to do, but it's a 40 hour week, and so you tend to do a bit more email, you tend to do a bit more social media, you tend to agree to calls and coffee with people that wouldn't necessarily be important for you on other weeks, you know, your work expands to fit how much time you have for it's completion. And this definitely happened in the 90 hour weeks. But what about the 20 hour weeks then? Why were these so productive? When we definite productivity as accomplishing what what we intend to, I would argue that, that is exactly why. Because I had such a large constraint on how I had to manage my time that week, I had no choice but to work with a greater amount of intentionality. I had no choice but to step back and think, okay, what is the most important thing for me to work on in this moment? Right? That's the most important decision you need to make over the course of the day, is what do I want to work on in this moment. That's where the rubber meets the road, and that definitely happened during this experiment. And this speaks to a fundamental truth about our productivity, that not all tasks are created equal. There are some tasks, like mentoring a new employee, and watching Netflix, you know, maybe you're working from home that day. You know, it doesn't take much thought to see that mentoring a new employee is more valuable than watching Netflix that day. But then, there are sometimes, when it's not necessarily as cut and dry. So we have days when you know, we're deciding between doing email and writing a report. You know, you might decide both of these are essential. Email is crucial, but writing a report is a bit more important in the moment, a bit more valuable. For every minute you spend on it, you accomplish a bit more than on email. Now, over the course of the project, I experimented with so many different systems for managing what we have to get done. There are a lot productivity experts out there, and a lot of people who have their system for doing more over the course of the day. I experimented with everything from "Getting Things Done," to "Personal Kanban." I'll talk more about "Getting Things Done" later, because I think it's such a powerful system, it's this idea where our head is for having ideas, not for holding them. So, the more things we get out of our mind, like to-do's and calendar events, the clearer we can think. To "Personal Kanban," I tried keeping sticky notes everywhere, I wish I would have taken pictures of my office during this one, cause, you know, it wasn't just passwords on sticky notes. There was a cyber security guy in here when I was here last, he would kill me, I'm sure, if he knew what I was suggesting. To downloading hundreds of apps, but, none of these really made me care about what I had to do on a given day. And it's kind of a deficit that a lot of these apps have, where, you know, and this is probably the most common question that I get in an interview, or when I'm chatting with somebody is: What apps would you recommend for becoming more productive? But an app will never make you care about what you have to accomplish over a given day. And this is so essential, this idea, caring about what we what to accomplish. Intention behind our actions, it's almost like the wood behind the shaft of an arrow. You know, it's absolutely essential that it be there, so we can accomplish more. And the rule that I found, that let me accomplish more, in these 20 hour weeks, and beyond, in fact I still use this rule through today, was the simplest one of all, oddly enough. It wasn't a complex system, it's called The Rule of 3. There is something weird about the way our brain is wired, where we are wired to think in threes. We have sayings like good things come in threes, celebrities die in threes, third time's the charm, the good, the bad, the ugly, blood, sweat, and tears. Even a story, which is a sequence of dozens of events that happen one after another, we divide into three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. The Olypmics, at the time of filiming, just finished up. We award three medals there too, gold, silver, and bronze. And we even grow up immersed in stories, like the three little bears, the three blind mice, the three little pigs, the three musketeers, if we wanna settle a bet we play rock, paper, scissors. You know, we're wired to think in threes. And I think that's one of the reasons why this rule can connect with us at such a deeper, visceral level. And the rule goes like this. At the start of the day, you fast forward to the end of the day in your head, and you ask yourself, by the time this day is done, what three main things will I want to have accomplished? Just three. You have to separate what's important from what isn't. And, I recommend doing this exact same thing at the start of every week, as well. Cause you can prioritize things on that higher perspective. And, you know, if we did three things all day, every day, honestly, we probably wouldn't have a job after much of a period of time. We have to keep up with the minutia of what happens. But these three things are what we absolutely want to accomplish by the time the day is done. While a to-do list or a task list, or whatever system that you find connects with you the most, can capture the minutia, the little things that you don't want to slip through the cracks. And it works, for several reasons, as I'm sure you'll find. It only takes a minute, you know, three to five minutes at the start of the day, and it lets us choose not only what we do, but what we don't do at the same time. You know, we decide what we do before we do it, so we get to shut off this auto-pilot switch and work with more deliberateness behind what we do. And as shit crumbles all around us, over the course of the day, as the conditions change, we're able to adjust, and so the three emergencies that we started the day with, when the new emergency comes, we can weigh that against the original three, and actually think about how important it was. Takes a very small amount of time, we can prioritize things on-the-fly, and we can understand and have an awareness over time of how much we're able to do. And so, I found this in my own work, especially as a writer, I'm sure there's a few writers who are watching this. I found at the start, I would have a goal for an example of writing 500 words, and then I'd end up writing a thousand. And then the next day, I thought, okay, I have a bigger capability in me, my intention today will be to write two thousand words, and I wrote a thousand. But over time, I settled in to a pattern of understanding how much I was capable of doing every single day. And it let's us consider our constraints, and so some days are set for us, when we're at a conference, as an example, and the schedule is kind of set for us. That will inform the intentions that we set, because we'll have a bit less time to spend how we choose, but instead maybe we can change how we relate to the conference, like instead of, you know, attend conference, you know, meet five new, fascinating people at conference today. So we can kind of adjust around our constraints. And, my favorite reason this rule works is, whenever we work with guilt, or worry, or doubt, I don't know if those feelings ever come up for you guys when you're working, but that is a signal that you're working with a lack of intentionality behind what you're doing. You know, you feel guilt about how you spent your time in the past, right? You feel a bit of doubt when you're doubting what you're working on in the present. And you feel worry from the future. But, these feelings, they kind of fill the vacuum that working with a lack of intentionality leaves. And, I think you'll find that on the days your work with this deliberateness, this intentionality, with rules like The Rule of 3, that these feelings evaporate. And, we can carve out personal intentions, too, right? You know, we talk a lot about balance, but this is a way that we can decide every single day just how balanced we want to be. So we carve out three work intentions, but also three personal intentions. So I'll give mine for today, at the time of filming, just to illustrate. Today, help folks out in this course, number two is to review some edits that my editor sent me for book number two, and number three is to have fun in few media interviews that are going on later in the day. Personal, the first is to hit the gym. They're smaller because the course is happening and I have a bit less energy, second is to have a chat with Ardyn, who is my partner, and number three is indulge in a crappy meal. (laughter from audience) I can't wait, just gonna destroy a pizza after this is done. Two ways to level up even further with this idea. It's a very simple idea, which is why it's so easy and so sticky to do every single day, but two ways to level up even further. One, is to consider your most important task on a given day. And, so a lot of days, you'll have to adjust quite often on the fly, and you'll see that you replace your intentions often with new things that come in, but if you define one that is the most important, that you absolutely want to accomplish by the end of that day, you'll find that you end up accomplishing it more often. And over time, you'll create a pattern of greater productivity. The second idea is to set process goals. And so, a process goal is, instead of a goal such as, write one thousand words, your process goal might, instead of focusing on the end result, which is having written a thousand words, the process might be focusing deeply without distraction on writing for 90 minutes. Right? The focus is on the process instead of the end result. There's a great quote that I love from somebody named Lady GaGa, I think she's a productivity expert, and I heard this quote in an interview that she conducted, and she was talking about process goals, of all things. And she said, that the one hit wonders that I see fizzle out are the ones that get so big so quickly, that they forget about the little kid who sat in front of the piano, practicing for hours every day to get better. They forget about the process. Right, and this is a common trapping of success, often is that we get some success, and we become so successful that we stop doing the things that created our success in the first place. It's ironic, isn't it? But, focusing on the process can prevent us from doing that. So the first challenge, it's a two minute challenge, I even think that we have a timer set up back here. So the first two minute challenge is a very simple one, and if you flip to The Rule of 3 page, I think it's on. What page is it on? Two. Oh, shoulda put in on page three. (laughter) Man, it's such a missed opportunity. So, the two, the challenge is Technically, it is three. Technically it is three, I just messed up on the numbering, yeah, we should count the title pages. That reminds me of like, if you're reading a book, and there's like, Roman numerals for the prologue, like when you're tracking how many pages you're through on Goodreads, or something, that you should get credit for that, but I don't, that's just a pet peeve. So, the challenge for you is, by the end of today, keeping in mind your constraints, what three things will you want to have accomplished? Can we get the timer up here? There we go. And, go. Now, if you're watching this later online, there are expanded versions of these exercises in the notebook, but for the sake of this course, to keep things moving along cause it would look pretty bad if we broke for ten minutes, I've kept them all to two minutes, so we can keep up the pace and keep the course helpful. Awesome, so time's up. Does anybody wanna share their three things for today? I will. Yeah. So, every Friday I do a Facebook Live and so today is Friday, It is. And so my goals were to write the content for my Facebook Live, to go live at 6p.m., and then to have dinner with my Lamont, my partner. Love it. That's perfect, yeah, it's funny what you mentioned as well, it's funny how we don't take time do this, when, you know, when we just kind of work in this responsive auto-pilot way, without actually thinking about what we wanna accomplish. And it's so easy, right? It just takes a few minutes every day, but it's a quantum leap in how much more it allows us to accomplish, if you. And, not every day will I have three. You know, I might decide that I have two on one day, and sometimes my personal ones will be one or two, especially around travel, it just might be, you know, don't have too many drinks on the plane or something like that. But, the important part is that you decide. And, I think that's the key, as it relates to a lot of productivity advice. It's a lot about mindfulness, isn't it? It's a lot about this intentionality.

Class Description

The first 100 eligible purchasers of this class will receive 
The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy
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It’s a common refrain: “If I only I had more hours in the day, I’d be able to get everything done.” But since finding more hours isn’t an option, we search for ways to be more productive—to better use our limited time to not only complete our required tasks but also accomplish our loftier goals.

Chris Bailey, author of “The Productivity Project,” spent a year of his life conducting productivity experiments on himself in order to discover the secrets to living the most productive life possible. He’ll share his most insightful lessons on how to work deliberately rather than reactively, manage your energy better, avoid excessive procrastination and have more time to do what you find meaningful in life.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Slow down and work more deliberately.
  • Shrink or eliminate the unimportant from your life.
  • Focus on your highest-leverage tasks that give you the greatest return.
  • Schedule less time for important tasks.
  • Distract yourself from inevitable distractions.
  • Develop productive procrastination.
  • Use a healthy diet, sleep and exercise to be more productive.
  • Strive for imperfection.
  • Form good habits so your productivity is automatic.
  • Motivate yourself by understanding why you want to get something done.


Michael Duskus

I wasn't sure what to expect from this course, but I was happily surprised to learn very useful, practical approaches to being more productive in all aspects of my life. Chris's approach to dealing with time and productivity challenges we all face daily are simple to comprehend — and with a little discipline, easy to implement. I'm looking forward to reading his book, too. Additionally, the team at Creative Live are so great and make the experience memorable; from their smiles, warm greetings and professionalism to the great food provided, they know how to bring out the good vibes in everyone. We're definitely looking forward to attending more classes!

Helen Leung

I found Chris' book very useful, full of great ideas that are easy to implement, and totally fun to read. This seminar is the same: inspiring, practical, and very enjoyable. The productivity ideas that he introduced are crucial for reducing stress and enjoying our work and personal life more. Highly recommended!


A fantastic class that will NOT teach you how to be more productive in creating to-do-lists and completing as many tasks as you can, but will explain how to make right priorities and choices and how achieve what you want in a more efficient matter while having a holistic view of your productivity, including your approach to food, sleep and meditation. The class is packed with actionable tools and techniques and I recommend it to everyone who would like to start working less and achieve more. The teacher - Chris - has a great personality - he's very likable and relatable - and he delivers the message in a manner that makes it very easy to understand and act upon the message.