As a mom of three young children with a demanding job to attend to, my expectations for life and work have had to shift dramatically since the pandemic locked me in my house and promoted me and my husband to resident teachers. For the first couple of weeks, the energy of our many new roles helped us muddle through. But then we hit a wall, and I didn't have much faith we'd be able to ever get our focus back in this crisis to do either job well. It was then that a choice tip from time management expert Laura Vanderkam set me straight and helped me reclaim some small modicum of productivity again.
In Vanderkam's new podcast, appropriately titled The New Corner Office, she devoted one (short) episode to the idea that reducing your important to-do list to just 3 items would not only help you accomplish what you actually needed to do in the now shorter work-days that many parents face, but would help you to feel better about it in the process. A to-do list with 3 items on it sounded exactly like the type of idea I would discard in my normal work life. And that is perhaps exactly why I decided to try it now. Reader, it worked! And most importantly, I found that Vanderkam was right; I did feel a lot better about myself at the end of the day. And we all know how important that is in these times.
I immediately took the practice to heart and have been excited to see that I can usually get 3 important things done, and then I can usually have a nice time patting myself on the back for it at the end of the day. I was having such success, in fact, that I decided to go further, and I began to think about where else The Rule of 3 could apply.
Here are 3 more ways The Rule of 3 is helping me.
(Spoiler: they have nothing to do with work, and everything to do with keeping me sane in a crisis.)
1. I write 3 lines in my journal.
Many have touted the emotional and mental health benefits of journaling during this global crisis. But after publishing 9 books, I know full well that it's sometimes hard to stare at an empty page. That's exactly why so many "prompt" journals have seen such success. (I'm a fan of both The Five Minute Journal and The Five Year Journal, for example). That said, I think that one simple hack can turn any mostly-empty notebook into a mostly-filled journal. It's all about reducing the amount of text you plan to put down on the page. And herein comes The Rule of 3. Go for 3 simple sentences. (Okay, 3 LINES if you must.) It will only take you about 20 seconds, but you'll find that often by simply starting at all you will decide to stick around a bit longer. Soon, a page or 2 simply won't seem like too much at all and your pandemic diary will just about have written itself.
2. I meditate for 3 minutes.
Meditation is one more tool that mental health experts are touting to help us keep the pandemic anxiety at bay, and to stay mostly on track with our dramatically transformed lives. That said, in the midst of this global trauma, our brains are more fragmented than ever as we switch between screens and applications to get the latest stress-inducing news alerts. That means that it's even harder to control our monkey mind. Given how important mediation is, an application that offers simple guided meditations is a great way to give you a plug-and-play way to meditate. In fact, this is exactly what happened after I meditated for 200 days straight with the Calm app. That said, there's a barrier to setting aside 10 minutes to listen to anything right now. That's why you need to think of meditation in terms of 3-minute increments. It will be over quicker than you think, and when it is done it will encourage you to try a second session tomorrow (or, later today if you're really on a roll).
3. I do 3 laps in the (cold) pool.
Exercise is one more critical area of our lives that matters more than ever right now. If you're not trying to bring some movement into your day, experts agree it's a really, really good idea to start. After speaking with Arctic swimming fan Katja Pantzer, author of one of my favorite books, The Finnish Way, I had long wanted to try the endorphin benefits of the traditionally Finnish practice. Since it's now Autumn in my home the Southern Hemisphere I decided it was as good of time as ever to get in our pool and splash around. The other day, I did just that. It may not be the Arctic, but it was cold! I vowed to do 3 laps in the pool. Soon, 3 turned into 10 and a new tradition was born. Every day, I commit to 3. Anything else is a bonus.
Ultimately, The Rule of 3 has been a fun way to help me stick to some of the key habits I don't want to shake during the pandemic. Importantly, it's also helping me to build some new ones, all in the name of staying sane and (somewhat) productive in a crisis.