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Conquer Your To-Do List with the 1-3-5 Rule: A Simple Path to Productivity Are you feeling overwhelmed by your never-ending to-do list? You’re not the only one. As a result of so many responsibilities, we can often become stressed and unproductive. According to...

By John Hall

entrepreneur daily

This story originally appeared on Calendar

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your never-ending to-do list? You’re not the only one.

As a result of so many responsibilities, we can often become stressed and unproductive. According to research from project tracking software provider iDoneThis, two-thirds of professionals use to-do lists, but nearly 41% of tasks are never completed.

Imagine if you could prioritize, focus, and actually achieve your goals with a simple system. Well, it’s possible, thanks to the 1-3-5 Rule.

Understanding the 1-3-5 Rule

Essentially, the 1-3-5 Rule emphasizes prioritization and focus to maximize productivity. It suggests you structure your daily to-do list as follows:

  • 1 Big Task. Think of this as your Everest. In other words, this is your most challenging, important, or impactful task. Maybe it’s a project deadline, a difficult conversation, or learning something new. At the same time, because of its importance, it most likely requires the most amount of time and energy. However, completing it will have the greatest impact on your goals.
  • 3 Medium Tasks. These tasks include administrative work, meetings, or follow-up calls. They continue to progress your goals. However, they require less energy and time than the “Big One.”
  • 5 Small Tasks. While these tasks may not advance your goals directly, they can make you feel productive and help you clear your plate. Responding to emails, organizing your workspace, or taking care of personal errands are some examples.

If you set a limit of nine tasks (1+3+5), you will force yourself to prioritize ruthlessly and avoid overloading yourself. In turn, this gives you more clarity and focus, allowing you to devote more time and energy to each task.

Benefits of the 1-3-5 Rule

There are two major productivity pitfalls that the 1-3-5 Rule addresses:

  • Overestimation. We often set unrealistic goals that cause stress and disappointment when we do not achieve them. As a result of the 1-3-5 Rule, you become realistic about what can be accomplished in a day, avoiding overwhelming yourself.
  • Lack of focus. Distractions and delays occur when we jump from one task to another like a pinball. Using the 1-3-5 Rule, a person can focus on specific categories and maintain sustained concentration.

Furthermore, the 1-3-5 Rule has several advantages over traditional to-do lists:

  • It’s a prioritization powerhouse. When you limit your list to nine tasks, you’re forced to consider what’s most important. With clarity, you can focus your energy and attention on the most important tasks.
  • You can say goodbye to procrastination. It is expected to put things off when you feel overwhelmed by a long list. You can get started more quickly with The 1-3-5 Rule, as its manageable structure reduces procrastination and boosts your momentum.
  • Gives you a sense of accomplishment. It keeps you motivated when you accomplish multiple small tasks throughout the day. By accomplishing mini-milestones, you fuel your progress and boost your self-confidence.
  • Promotes balance. By keeping various tasks in mind, you are sure to tackle both big goals and smaller, routine tasks that may otherwise be overlooked. By doing so, you avoid neglecting essential aspects of your day and achieve a sense of balance.
  • It’s flexible. There is no rigidity to the 1-3-5 framework, even though it provides a helpful structure. Consider your day’s demands and your own energy level when determining the number of tasks you need to accomplish.

The most important benefit of this rule is that it reduces stress and increases productivity.

Putting the Rule into Practice

The rule itself is straightforward, but to ensure you get the most out of it, you should approach its application thoughtfully and intentionally.

Get a good start to your day.

Before you start your day, list all the essential and small tasks you need to accomplish. At the moment, it’s just a matter of writing them down on paper or using a to-do list app.

To achieve your goals, determine what tasks or projects are most critical to you.

Prioritize ruthlessly.

Following that, you should categorize your tasks as follows:

  • Determine your most important task (MIT). If you’re stuck, this should be your list’s most impactful or urgent task.
  • Identify three medium-sized tasks that are equally important and not as critical as your MIT.
  • Put together a list of five small, quick tasks you can accomplish in a short amount of time.

The key is to prioritize your list based on their importance and urgency. When done correctly, you will have one large assignment, three medium assignments, and five small tasks for the day. The deadline, impact on your goals, and time and effort required should all be taken into account.

Make your ideal schedule.

As soon as you’ve identified your daily tasks, schedule them so that your most important work comes first. Consider what time of day you are most productive and plan your most important work around that time.

Don’t forget to build in breaks or buffer time between tasks as well. Creating a streamlined schedule can be made easier using an automated time-tracking tool.

Focus and complete.

The key is to focus on one thing at a time and give it your full attention until it has been completed. Try not to multitask or be distracted by other things, since this can decrease your productivity and make it harder for you to accomplish your objectives.

Here are some pointers you should keep in mind if you want to succeed:

  • Focus on your “1” first. You should devote your full attention and energy to the task that is most important to you. Do not allow yourself to be distracted or interrupted until you have completed the task.
  • Power through mediums. As soon as you have completed your “1,” move on to your medium-sized tasks. It is possible to improve efficiency by grouping similar tasks together.
  • Finish with your small tasks. You can gain momentum and a sense of accomplishment by completing small tasks. Additionally, they fill up any remaining time.

Reflect and adapt.

As you go through your list, reflect on your experiences and adjust the 1-3-5 format accordingly.

Beyond the Basics: Advanced Strategies

There are many uses for the 1-3-5 Rule, and you can customize it based on your own preferences and needs. A few advanced strategies to consider are as follows:

  • Timeboxing. Schedule specific time slots for each task to avoid multitasking and to ensure adequate time is dedicated to each.
  • The Pomodoro Technique. Keep your focus and prevent burnout by dividing your tasks into 25-minute intervals.
  • Batching similar tasks. To maximize efficiency and minimize context switching, group similar tasks together.
  • Saying no. When you receive requests that do not align with your priorities, politely decline them.


Lastly, remember that The 1-3-5 Rule is not a rigid system, but rather a tool. Therefore, do not be afraid to experiment, adapt, and find what works for you.

It is ultimately about prioritizing, focusing, and taking action with intention. And, with practice, you’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish with just nine carefully selected tasks.


What is the 1-3-5 Rule?

With the 1-3-5 Rule, you can prioritize your tasks and focus your attention. It suggests categorizing your to-do list each day into three parts:

  • 1 Big Task. This is your day’s most critical and impactful task.
  • 3 Medium Tasks. These are smaller tasks that contribute to completing your big task.
  • 5 Small Tasks. With these tasks, you can get things done quickly and feel accomplished.

Are there any limitations to the 1-3-5 Rule?

  • Estimating task size. When it comes to estimating how long a task will take, it can be difficult.
  • Not suitable for everyone. Some people with extremely rigid schedules or demanding jobs may not be able to follow this rule.
  • Doesn’t account for unexpected tasks. It is important to be prepared to adjust your list if circumstances change unexpectedly.
  • May not be effective for large projects. When breaking down and managing very large projects, the rule may not be as useful.

What if I have more than nine tasks to do?

No problem. The 1-3-5 framework can be adapted by delegating, postponing, or combining tasks.

Keep in mind that progress rather than perfection is the key to success.

Should I use specific time management tools with the 1-3-5 Rule?

Yes, you can! Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique can complement the rule, for instance.

Is the 1-3-5 Rule applicable to different aspects of life?

Absolutely! A rule like this can be applied to personal tasks, hobbies, or even project management.

Image Credit: Suzy Hazelwood; Pexels

The post Conquer Your To-Do List with the 1-3-5 Rule: A Simple Path to Productivity appeared first on Calendar.

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